The use of illicit drugs in therapy: An introduction

Anna Ross*, Jake Hawthorn

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Purpose of Review: The use of certain illicit substances as a form of therapy, and particularly as an adjunct to psychotherapy, has gained increasing media and academic attention over the last decade, culminating in what has been coined “the psychedelic renaissance.” This section in Current Addiction Reports has been developed in order to highlight the new and emerging research around these and related substances, and how they may be effective in treating not just “problematic” substance use itself but also some of the underlying causes such as trauma-related disorders, depression, and anxiety. It will also consider the therapeutic use of other still largely illicit sub-stances such as cannabis, heroin-assisted treatment, and the prescribing of stimulants for stimulant addiction. The purpose of this review is to introduce the section “illicit drugs in therapy” and to highlight the links between the different disciplines involved in addiction research. 

Recent Findings: Generally speaking, research on substance use focuses on single substances and excludes underlying comorbid mental health conditions or other underlying factors. In the social sciences this link has been developing for some time (cf. Journal of Addiction and Mental Health). However, it is increasingly being recognized in clinical addiction science that addiction often occurs alongside other factors such as mental health conditions, trauma, and poverty, and that many people will use more than one substance, known as polysubstance use. The recent resurgence in the use of illicit substances in the treatment of addiction has sparked an interest in the addiction research field: landmark studies included two proof-of-concept studies—psilocybin-assisted therapy for smoking cessation at Johns Hopkins University and psilocybin-assisted therapy for alcohol addiction trial at the University of New Mexico. 

Summary: This review therefore introduces core concepts, terms, and historical development in order to highlight the emerging research in this area, and to encourage further reviews on research specific to illicit substances in therapy.

Original languageEnglish
JournalCurrent Addiction Reports
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 8 Sept 2023

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • addiction
  • illicit drugs
  • psychedelic
  • therapy
  • treatment

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