Could "Magic Mushrooms" Help You Stop Smoking?

By Paul Gaita 09/26/18

A new study examined whether psilocybin could help long-time smokers put down their butts for good. 

man snapping a cigarette in half

Once dismissed as a remnant of '60s counterculture, and eventually banned as a Schedule I drug, psilocybin—the naturally-occurring psychedelic compound found in certain species of mushrooms, thus earning them the sobriquet "magic mushrooms"—has in recent years been ushered to the forefront of medical and psychological research for its reported efficacy in treating any number of health conditions, including depression and alcoholism.

Now, a new study suggests that psilocybin may also help to curb smoking, as evidenced by the results of six years of research involving smokers who had tried and failed to quit smoking on multiple occasions.

The study found that through controlled psilocybin use and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), more than half of the participants had successfully quit smoking after a six-month period—a higher rate of abstinence than with CBT alone, according to researchers.

The study, conducted by researchers from Johns Hopkins University, involved 15 study participants—10 men and 5 women, all at an average age of 51, and who smoked, on average, slightly less than a full pack (19 cigarettes) daily for 31 years. All had attempted to stop smoking on previous occasions, but had failed.

The study authors administered treatment to the participants and then followed up with them over a period of six years, between 2009 and 2015.

The treatment consisted of carefully controlled and monitored psilocybin use in conjunction with CBT. After a period of more than two years, the researchers invited the participants to take part in a follow-up interview to determine if and how the treatment affected their smoking. Twelve of the original 15 participants took part in the interview.

What researchers found was that the 12 participants had not only succeeded in complete smoking cessation after six months, but also experienced a host of additional emotional and psychological responses to the treatment.

Participants said that through a combination of the treatment, counseling, a "strong rapport" with the study team, and a sense of momentum after taking part in the study all contributed to their achieving abstinence.

They also reported "gaining vivid insights into self-identity and reasons for smoking" from the psilocybin treatment, and the sense of "interconnectedness, curiosity and awe" continued after the treatment had ended. Participants also said that they felt an array of "persistent" positive feelings, including "increased aesthetic appreciation, altruism, and pro-social behavior" as a result of their participation.

The researchers concluded that the results of their study underscored the value in continuing research into what some have labeled "psychedelic therapy," and recommended future research trials.

Their findings also supported previous study findings by Johns Hopkins researchers, which suggested that lifetime smokers treated with psilocybin experienced twice the rate of abstinence than those who used the FDA-approved drug Chantix.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.