'Magic Mushrooms' Show High Success Rate for Smoking Cessation

By Victoria Kim 09/17/14

Though a small study, researchers found that taking psilocybin can have a positive effect on quitting smoking.

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According to a study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology last week, psychedelic mushrooms helped 12 long-time cigarette smokers quit the habit and showed a unique promise that may lead to new approaches to treat other types of addictions.

Study volunteers—including a teacher, lawyer, and a museum worker—took a 20 milligram pill containing psilocybin, the active hallucinogenic agent in psychedelic mushrooms, in a comfortable, homelike setting. During the session, which lasted six to seven hours, volunteers covered their eyes and listened to music as they were closely monitored by researchers, and were encouraged to relax and focus on their inner experiences.

After six months, 12 of the 15 volunteers had stopped smoking. Volunteers who described having a “transcendent experience,” which is described as going into a mystical state that helped them feel unity with themselves and the universe, saw more success.

“The rates of quitting were so high, twice as high as what you typically see with the gold standard medication,” said Matthew Johnson, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University and a corresponding author on the study. “It is a very small study, but it’s an indication that something very strong is going on here. It answers the question of whether this is worth pursuing.”

The volunteers smoked on average 19 cigarettes a day for 31 years. All of the volunteers returned for a second session two weeks after the first session— this time, with a higher dose of psilocybin. Several of the volunteers declined when offered a third experience.

The researchers emphasize that their findings are not an endorsement of a do-it-yourself psychedelic mushroom session for people who want to quit smoking. Maintaining a carefully controlled and comfortable environment helped the researchers minimize the potential for the volunteers to experience the acute anxiety that can occur in “bad trips.”

“Quitting smoking isn’t a simple biological reaction to psilocybin, as with other medications that directly affect nicotine receptors,” said Johnson. “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.”

Next on Johnson’s agenda is comparing smoking success rates for people who take psilocybin versus those who use nicotine patches.

“This is outside the box. When a typical drug goes in the body it has an effect, and when it leaves the body the effect is gone,” Johnson said. “The fascinating thing is that the experiences with these hallucinogenic compounds can change people.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr