Can Magic Mushrooms Actually Cure Problem Gambling?

By Betmaker Team

At a nondescript laboratory in the psychology department at Miami University in Ohio, a breakthrough for problem gambling may be found. The researchers there are working to develop a drug to treat gambling addiction. But how do you get rats to simulate the behavior of a desperate gambler pushing the button repeatedly on a slot machine?


A team of psychologists has installed flashing lights, and casino sounds to give it a little ambiance. The “gambling” rats are given two options: They can paw a lever and receive one sugary treat every time or touch another lever and receive three, but only some of the time. Researchers even modify the probability of the risky reward, just like some slot machines have better odds than others.


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The healthy rodents get pretty good at making optimal choices. But the stressed-out rats — those who had been put through a 15-day “stress paradigm” in which they are subjected to unpleasant experiences meant to mirror the stressors of human life — take the riskier option far more regularly.

Bet-Rivers-Banner-Sep-29-2022-03-57-25-53-PM-4In a soon-to-be-published paper financed in part by biotech firm PsyBio Therapeutics, Miami University researchers will announce that the stressed-out lab rats showed better decision-making when they were treated with a derivative of psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms. The rats, by the way, don’t go on a trip. The hallucinogenic part has been chemically removed.

Up to now, problem gambling treatment has been a mishmash of prevention, psychotherapy, and intervention — all extremely useful tools, particularly when combined with the increased visibility of responsible gambling practices. However, mental health workers in other addiction fields have found that pharmaceuticals can augment those efforts. While drugs such as Acamprosate and Naltrexone have been developed to treat alcoholics or drug abusers, none have proven particularly effective in treating gambling addiction.


That’s where Miami’s Institute for Responsible Gaming, Lotteries, and Sport's team comes in. While the psilocybin treatment option is not yet cleared for human testing, Miami is hopeful it could be in a matter of months. Miami researchers have found that chemical derivatives of the hormone oxytocin also have shown promise in treating gambling addiction.

Oxytocin derivatives are used for a variety of treatments, including for autism and schizophrenia, to help new mothers with lactation and to induce delivery in pregnant women. Oxytocin’s ability to crowd out the effects of another hormone, dopamine, on the brain seems to be part of the mechanism.

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