Study Finds Magic Mushrooms Could Aid in Smoking Cessation

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12 out the study’s 15 participants quit smoking entirely after six months of high-dose psilocybin treatments.

Today is International Psilocybin Mushroom Day, a day of education and action celebrated around the world for the fourth consecutive year. 9/20 hasn’t quite obtained the cultural cache of 4/20, the international day of celebrating cannabis. But it’s not for lack of trying on the part of psilocybin advocates like Nicholas Reville and his all-volunteer 920 Coalition. Under the slogan “Mushrooms are Medicine,” Reville and 920 have brought together over two dozen organizations to host psychedelic-centric events in major cities from Europe to the U.S. and Latin America. Unlike many cannabis events, however, 920 Coalition events are all about research and drug policy. And their pro-shroom claims are bolstered by studies like the one conducted by Johns Hopkins researchers into the use of psilocybin to treat smoking addiction. So in honor of 920, here’s a brief on one of the most landmark recent studies on magic mushrooms.

Johns Hopkins Researchers Update Study on Magic Mushrooms and Smoking Cessation

Dr. Matthew Johnson is a behavioral pharmacologist with Johns Hopkins’ Behavioral Pharmacology Research Unit in Baltimore, Maryland. For twenty years, Johnson has researched the relationships between drugs, the brain, and human behavior. The last decade of his work has focused almost exclusively on psilocybin, the psychedelic compound that naturally occurs in mushrooms.

From 2009 to 2015, Johnson and a team of researchers worked with fifteen study participants to see if controlled psilocybin treatments could help them quit smoking. And their findings were remarkable.

The study’s participants were 10 men and 5 women, all mentally healthy. Their average age was 51. And on average, they smoked 19 cigarettes, just under a full pack, every day for 31 years. All had tried to stop smoking multiple times, and failed.

But after carefully controlled and monitored psilocybin use, coupled with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), 12 of the 15 participants successfully quit smoking entirely after six months. Researchers said the abstinence rate is much higher than typical smoking cessation trials using CBT methods alone.

How Do Magic Mushrooms Help End Addiction?

The Johns Hopkins study builds off research conducted more than a half-century ago, in the 50s and 60s, into the use of psilocybin and LCD to treat addiction. But as those substances leaked from labs into the counter-culture, they became harshly criminalized and research into their use as medicine was put into what Johnson calls a “deep freeze.”

Now, Johnson and his team are working to revive it. They call it psychedelic therapy. The participants receive high-dose psilocybin capsules. So unlike typical CBT, participants don’t receive encouragement to talk about their smoking habits. Instead, researchers encourage participants to go inward, especially as the drug begins to take effect.

That inward introspection, researchers say, leads to profound and mystical experiences that prompt people to reevaluate why they smoke. According to the study’s authors, participants “reported gaining vivid insights into self-identity and reasons for smoking from their psilocybin sessions.”

Furthermore, those involved said those insights lasted after the effects of the drug wore off. For some, insights gained during the treatments even created positive outcomes in other aspects of life, from appreciation for the arts, altruism and other pro-social behavior.

And this isn’t some New Age mysticism either. Studies show that people who survive heart attacks, another profound experience, find unprecedented success quitting smoking. Johnson says tripping on magic mushrooms in a safe, controlled environment creates its own profound experience. And this leads to a cognitive realignment that makes it easier for people to abandon their addiction to smoking.

Is Legalizing Medical Psilocybin Next?

Johnson and his team at Johns Hopkins aren’t the only researchers working on hallucinogenic treatments for addiction and other health problems. Researchers at NYU are investigating how psilocybin can treat anxiety in cancer patients, for example. These compounds have incredible therapeutic potential that has yet to be fully investigated.

And putting things like that, psilocybin begins to sound very much like cannabis did just a few decades ago, and even today. Medical and therapeutic potential, non-addictive recreational use without dangerous physical side-effects; the similarities are undeniable. But there’s no doubt that in terms of “branding” and mainstream awareness, magic mushrooms are nowhere in the same league as cannabis currently is.

As more studies demonstrate the potential efficacy of psychedelics, however, the narrative could soon begin to change. Will magic mushrooms walk the same path toward legalization and broader acceptance as cannabis? Time will tell. Until then, Happy Magic Mushroom Day!

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