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  • Writer's pictureMartin Polanco

Could Psilocybin Hold the Key to Quitting Smoking?

Originally posted October 20, 2016

Using psychedelics to treat addiction is nothing new. Ayahuasca, LSD, Ibogaine, and psilocybin have all shown to be effective when it comes to helping addicts overcome addiction…and for good reason. They’ve been shown to work remarkably well in treating addiction at the root of the problem—the brain.

Because psychedelics are deemed by the federal government to be some of the most dangerous drugs in existence, research on their benefits have been difficult to discover. There are those, however, that have been able to perform studies on psychedelics with promising results. One study that did just that was performed at John Hopkins, and what was found could change the lives of cigarette smokers (and most likely other addicts) forever.

Psilocybin (the compound found in “magic mushrooms”) has shown therapeutically benefits in the past for people suffering from depression, substance abuse, and cluster headaches. Researchers at John Hopkins decided to see if this psychedelic substance could help people struggling to quit smoking cigarettes. The results they found were remarkable.

The study consisted of 15 people who had, on average, smoked for some thirty years. 10 males and 5 females participated in the study, all of whom had tried (unsuccessfully) to quit before. Several of them had “quit” up to six different times. Anyone who’s ever attempted to quit smoking for good knows just how difficult and demanding this addiction really is.

Participants were given three separate doses of psilocybin over an eight-week period. The first dose of 20mg/70kg was given on the first day, with two subsequent doses of 30mg/70kg over the next eight weeks. Each session was performed in a home-like setting, where participants were carefully monitored as they were urged to relax and concentrate on what was going on within.

Along with the psilocybin, participants also engaged in cognitive behavioral therapy. Therapy sessions were specifically designed to encourage smoking cessation. Members of the study kept a journal where they could record when they felt they most needed a cigarette. They also were involved in private counseling where they were encouraged to talk about their feelings and how quitting smoking was affecting them.

The combination of taking psilocybin and engaging in cognitive behavioral therapy certainly seemed to work. The cessation rate of those that participated in the study, six months after it concluded, showed promising results. Eighty percent of those that participated in the study were still cigarette-free, with no plans on picking up their habit again.

Kathy Connelly was one of the participants who had been smoking for over 30 years. She’d quit before, but had always returned to back to her habit. This all changed after she took place in the study performed at John Hopkins. She said she gained a different perspective about smoking from the study and had a “feeling like why would you smoke? This tiny cigarette is so insignificant compared to everything else that matters in the world and it doesn’t even make sense.” She also said that the study made her realize “it was kind of funny” she would even use it and that smoking “just seemed absurd.”

Smoking cessation with the help of psilocybin has shown the most promising results of any stop smoking treatment available. According to Matthew Johnson, associate professor of psychiatry with the Behavioral Pharmacology Research Unit at John Hopkins, 12 out of 15 people were abstinent from smoking six months after the trial was over…statistics that far surpass any other treatment currently used. “So even with for example the best medications,” he said, “varenicline, Chantix, the FDA approved method for smoking cessation with the highest general success rate, that is in the range of 30-35 percent.”

It seems that psilocybin is smoking the competition when it comes to approved smoking cessation treatments. Unfortunately, it could be a long time before current smokers see psilocybin available as a viable option. Because psilocybin is on the list of Schedule Class I Substances deemed dangerous (and extremely illegal) by the FDA, the chance of them being used as an anti-smoking treatment any time soon isn’t highly likely.

Psilocybin is considered, by the powers that be, to have no medical value and to have a high potential for abuse. And although psilocybin mushrooms are used recreationally, there isn’t any reports of anyone being physically dependent on them, unlike other drugs like heroin and cocaine that are in the same scheduled class.

It seems however, that quite the opposite is actually the case. People that have taken psychedelics (psilocybin included) say that it’s like going through years of therapy. Some of the biggest breakthroughs in trauma and addiction have been made through the use of psychedelics such as psilocybin. It could be decades though, before any of these substances are made widely available through the administration of medical professionals. As long as the FDA stands against them, psychedelic research and further studies will remain at a virtual standstill.

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