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Psilocybin / LSD as a Treatment for Tinnitus

Psilocybin is the next big thing in treating mental health disorders, such as depression. Psychiatrists and psychologists are busy creating trials for this hallucinogenic drug; there have been promising results in cases where the patient was not getting much benefit from traditional anti-depressant therapy.

Microdosing is a term used to describe taking tiny amounts of a drug, usually on a regular basis. This is a current trend, and one of the drugs people are microdosing is psilocybin, which is the active ingredient in magic mushrooms.

Naturally, tinnitus sufferers are wondering if it will help tinnitus, and are sharing information with other sufferers.

Psilocybin is a Class A drug, so it's worth pointing out that buying Class A's on Instagram is a really bad idea. You're highly unlikely to be buying the real thing, and that's good because the real thing can lead to hallucinations, psychosis, a bad trip, lasting flashbacks.

Ah yes, you say, but we're talking about micro doses, and what could be the harm in that? Well, the supplier might not be giving you the "right" dose, and we don't yet know what the right dose would look like, because it hasn't been approved yet. The only thing we do know is that there are case reports of people getting tinnitus from taking psilocybin!

I am intrigued by these amazing preliminary studies coming out for psilocybin as a potential treatment for: severe depression, bipolar disorder, anorexia, substance abuse and post traumatic stress disorder. These studies started decades ago and, after a period of unpopularity, are now going full steam ahead. We may well have a game-changing treatment for these terrible conditions. One qualitative study had the test subjects describe their experiences of psilocybin, and they were reporting better processing of emotions and a newfound perspective. They reported better sleep and greater calmness. These are obviously very positive, yet other participants had "distressing sensory experiences" (including auditory and visual hallucinations), agitation, insomnia, mania, terror, confusion and tinnitus...

“It’s [...] tinnitus ear ringing. And like I’ve been checked for like tinnitus before because like I’ve had that, like my ears ringing before. And they said like my ears were perfectly fine. […] But I will say like after I have like tripped a couple times […] it is like a bit more prominent.” (1)

A systematic review in 2020 looked at 30+ studies for long term effects from psychedelic drugs, and found tinnitus to be a notable side effect. Psilocybin was noted to be the drug most often used in the studies covered by the review.

"..,the most common effects include afterimages of color, “floaters” in field of vision, difficulty concentrating, and tinnitus, persisting after using a psychoactive drug". (2)

I think that, as with any novel treatment, we need to separate out tinnitus (the perception of sound) from tinnitus distress disorder (which is soon to be its own diagnosis). By tinnitus distress, I mean the problems that people have when they have not yet habituated to their tinnitus. There are a massive number of people in the world with tinnitus, and a proportion of them - not all - are significantly distressed by it. Those of us who have habituated have the ringing, whooshing or buzzing, but are not adversely affected. Because we have habituated to the signal, we rarely notice it. Those who are severely distressed by their tinnitus are a special group. They often suffer from comorbid depression and anxiety, tend to be later in life, and tend to have higher levels of hearing loss.

Psilocybin can give you tinnitus, and it can exacerbate it (make you perceive it more often or more intensely). This information doesn't tell you whether you will suffer more from it.

Promising results from psilocybin for other psychological disorders may lead us to new research on whether this drug can alleviate tinnitus distress disorder, and that would be incredibly useful. For now though, I would caution against taking this - currently illegal - drug. It is well tolerated in clinical studies, using controlled doses, but for you as an individual it could be catastrophic if you are the unlucky one who has a ' bad trip', worsening tinnitus or recurring hallucinations.

There are proven treatments to reduce your tinnitus distress (and by reducing the distress they reduce the intensity and frequency of the tinnitus). These treatments are: information; CBT; Mindfulness. All have been shown to reduce tinnitus distress scores, when given by someone who knows what they are doing.

There may be people out there who are choosing to ignore this evidence in favour of marketing psilocybin to you as a treatment for tinnitus. On the available evidence, they are either well-meaning-yet-reckless people, or charlatans who simply want your money. A charlatan will be online, pretending to sell you "micro doses" of an illegal drug - and since it is still a Class A it is more than likely it does not contain any actual active ingredient, otherwise they risk prison. A well-meaning person might actually give you an effective dose, which is worse.

CBT is available via your GP or privately. Mindfulness courses are available privately. Information on tinnitus is everywhere (Tinnitus UK is a great free resource). I have structured a 2-hour crash course designed to help you habituate, which you can see here.

NB: I have read 20+ papers while putting this article together, but these are the only ones I quote from:

1)“A sense of the bigger picture:” A qualitative analysis of follow-up interviews with people with bipolar disorder who self-reported psilocybin use. DelaCrosse, et al, 2022

2) Long-term effects of psychedelic drugs: A systematic review. Aday et al, 2020;

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