Smoking tobacco is a vicious addiction that's hard to break. Research points out that psilocybin – in combination with cognitive behavioral therapy – might help smokers to quit. Psilocybin seems to work on psychological mechanisms, stimulating healthier lifestyle choices. Interestingly, the level of meaningfulness of the psychedelic experience is related to the degree of success of the therapy.
Smoking: major global threat to public health
It's one of the most widespread and vicious addictions in the world: smoking tobacco. From China to Argentina, from South Africa to Iceland, billions of cigarettes are smoked each day. According to the World Health Organization, smoking kills several five million people per year and the annual costs to the world economy are around one trillion (!) dollars. Tobacco addiction is one of the largest causes of preventable premature death, says the WHO. It's quite ironic that one of the major global threats to public health is caused by a legal drug.
Most smokers will testify that their habit is very difficult to break. Like many other addictions, tobacco creates both a psychological and a physical dependence. People who attempt to quit smoking usually try a wide array of methods; from nicotine patches to nasal sprays, from going cold turkey to seeking psychological counseling. Only a small percentage of smokers succeeds to kick the habit. People all over the world are desperately looking for a way to quit.
Psilocybin mushrooms: a potential ally in quitting smoking
When it comes to novel ways to quit smoking, research points to a surprising ally: magic mushrooms. Or, to be precise: cognitive behavioral therapy in combination with psilocybin - the psychoactive component in magic mushrooms. According to Matthew Johnson, psychiatrist and researcher at John's Hopkins University in Baltimore, psilocybin treatment for addictions may become available in a decade*. Johnson did a small study with 15 long-time smokers, who received 2-3 doses of psilocybin over a 13 week period. Participants were accompanied by two trained guides while they experienced the effects of the psilocybin. During their trip, they were encouraged to journey inward, while wearing eye shades and listening to music. In addition to the psilocybin sessions, participants took a 15-week training in cognitive behavioral therapy. The effects were astonishing. 80% of the participants successfully stopped smoking! They were still ‘clean’ at a six months follow-up. To put this amazing result in perspective: in other therapies, the percentage of people who manage to quit is around 17%. Although there are some limitations to Johnson’s study (mainly its small sample size and lack of a control group) these promising results have definitely caught the attention of the scientific world. More research into the addiction-quitting potential of psilocybin is underway.
Psilocybin helps people to quit smoking by psychological mechanisms
It appears that the psilocybin experience helps people to break the psychological addiction to tobacco. Johnson explains: “after the psilocybin sessions, it was easier for [participants] to make decisions that were in their long-term best interest, and they were less likely to make decisions based on short-term, hedonistic desires. They also reported an increase in their self-efficacy, their confidence in their ability to remain quit.” So far, the evidence points to psychological mechanisms in which psilocybin can assist in quitting smoking. However, there is probably also a biological component to the success of this novel therapy. “We suspect here may be long term changes in brain network dynamics, although we don’t have definitive evidence for that yet”, says Johnson.
Meaningful and mystical experiences are related to the degree of success
For many people who take magic mushrooms, the psilocybin experience is very spiritually and personally meaningful. In fact, for many people this is one of the main reasons for going on a mushroom trip. The internet is full of trip-reports that indicate that mushrooms can cause mystical experiences. Seeing one's life from a bird's eye perspective, feeling at one with the universe, gaining insight in one's past actions, experiencing true forgiveness, feeling unconditional love, getting a glimpse of the divine, gaining spiritual and philosophical insights… these are just a few of the commonly reported psychedelic effects of psilocybin mushrooms.
So it's not surprising that Johnson's research subjects also reported very profound personal experiences. At a one year follow-up, 13 out of 15 participants ranked their psilocybin sessions in the top five of most spiritually significant and personally meaningful experiences they’d yet had in their lifetimes. This corresponds to other research that has been done by Johns Hopkins on psilocybin and mystical experiences.
Johnson explains that stronger mystical experiences are associated with success in quitting smoking. And the opposite also seems to be true. The three people in his study that did not manage to quit, had less meaningful experiences during the psilocybin sessions. This finding is interesting, because it suggests that the very nature of the mushroom experience is an essential part of the medicinal process. In pharmaceutical language, the psychedelic experience is not a 'side effect' of the drug that should be avoided. It is the psychedelic experience that offers people another perspective on their addictive behavioral, and that empowers them to make healthier choices.
Do you smoke .. and are you eager to quit, maybe magic mushrooms could be a sollution for you as well! Let us know what you think.