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Psychedelics could work to effectively treat problem gambling, according to newly published academic research.

A new paper published in the Journal for Behavioural Addictions argues that further research into the viability of treating gambling disorders with psychedelic-assisted therapy (PAT) should be considered.  

The article highlights promising results that have been found when using such methods to treat other conditions including anxiety, depression, PTSD and substance abuse.

For example, a recent study involving patients with depressive disorder found that 71% of participants had “clinically significant responses”, while 54% were in remission by week 4 of the study.

The paper’s author is Pedro Romero, a qualified counsellor with a PhD from the University of Gibraltar who is investigating the use of PAT to treat problem gambling.

Romero has worked in several safer gambling roles within the industry, including as head of safer gambling policy at William Hill and head of safer gambling at 888.

He told NEXT.io that his experience has shown patients with gambling disorder typically present with multiple co-morbidities.

“Gambling disorder is more of the symptom of the underlying conflict rather than the issue itself. If you’re depressed, maybe you gamble, you feel a little bit better – and then you end up with two problems.”

Psychedelics could tackle root cause of disorders

As such, he highlighted PAT as an intriguing avenue for tackling the root cause of mental disorders.

The paper said that individuals with these conditions often demonstrate rigid cognitive processes. The idea is that psychedelics, such as LSD, psilocybin and DMT, could help to break these patterns.

“Psychedelics, by increasing the entropy of the brain, help to process information and emotions differently from the usual functioning and thereby help the person to gain new insights and facilitate the therapeutic process,” the paper reads.

The state of research into this field, especially in problem gambling, is in its infancy.

Nevertheless, the paper argued the promising results so far mean that academics should consider further exploration of the treatment’s potential.

As to what form this future exploration might take – Romero said it might be too early to consider a full-scale clinical trial.

He said researchers could consider studying individuals who take part in retreats, perhaps with psychological and integration support, as a first step prior to larger studies.

“It will be very interesting to see if it has an impact – my hunch is that this is going to be a game changer,” he said.

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