Clinical Trial Assessing Psychedelic to Treat Phantom Limb Pain

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The Psychedelics and Health Research Initiative (PHRI) at the University of California (UC) San Diego has received a $1.3 million grant to fund a clinical trial investigating the therapeutic potential of psilocybin in treating phantom limb pain. Psilocybin is a naturally occurring psychedelic compound produced by many species of fungus, including so-called "magic mushrooms."

The grant will fund the first randomized, placebo-controlled human clinical trial examining the safety and efficacy of psilocybin in patients suffering from chronic phantom limb pain. The trial is also designed to elucidate the brain mechanisms involved, including possible alterations in brain circuitry.

"The therapeutic potential of psilocybin is unique among pharmaceutical agents that are used as analgesics," said Timothy Furnish, MD, clinical professor of anesthesiology at UC San Diego School of Medicine and a co-principal investigator.

"Most analgesic drugs are taken at least daily to treat the symptoms of chronic pain, but they do nothing to change the underlying pathology," said Furnish. "Psilocybin has the potential to ‘reset' altered cortical brain circuits associated with certain chronic pain conditions. This reset could result in a drug that works on an extended basis (days or weeks) or perhaps even constitutes a ‘cure.' The signals for such a change are strongest for pain conditions involving significant reorganization of pain circuits in the brain. We have already seen evidence that psilocybin may reset these circuits."

Editor's note: This story was adapted from materials provided by UC San Diego Health.