Smokers who had previously experienced many failed attempts to quit the habit were finally able to do so after two or three doses of psilocybin — the active ingredient in magic mushrooms — during a cognitive behavioral therapy treatment program. The study is published in The Journal of Psychopharmacology.
The researchers from Johns Hopkins emphasize that the findings are not an endorsement of do-it-yourself psychedelic drug use for quitting smoking. Instead, the study involved controlled administration of the drug in the context of cognitive behavioral therapy.
“Quitting smoking isn’t a simple biological reaction to psilocybin, as with other medications that directly affect nicotine receptors,” said study author Matthew W. Johnson, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
“When administered after careful preparation and in a therapeutic context, psilocybin can lead to deep reflection about one’s life and spark motivation to change.”
“At six months follow-up, the success rate of psilocybin was 80 percent, much higher than rates of other cessation trials,” said Johnson.
In fact, only about 35 percent of those who take varenicline — widely considered the most effective smoking cessation drug — are still cigarette-free at six months. Other smoking cessation treatments, such as nicotine replacement and behavioral therapies, have success rates that are typically less than 30 percent, Johnson adds.
The study was small: ten men and five women, all mentally and physically healthy with an average age of 51. On average, the participants had been smoking 19 cigarettes a day for 31 years and had repeatedly tried and failed to stop smoking.
Ten participants reported minimal past use of hallucinogens, with the most recent use being an average of 27 years before the study began. Five had never used hallucinogens.
After letting the participants know what their psilocybin experience might be like, the first dose was administered by pill the day each participant planned to quit smoking. Two subsequent sessions, with higher doses of the drug, were held two weeks and eight weeks later.
Participants were closely monitored by researchers in a comfortable, homelike setting for each session — between six to seven hours. Most of the time, participants wore eyeshades and listened to music through earphones; they were encouraged to relax and focus on their inner experiences.
The researchers suggest psilocybin may help break the addictive pattern of thoughts and behaviors that have become ingrained after long-term smoking. The benefits also seem to continue after the drug has worn off.
Source: Johns Hopkins