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Smoking is bad for you. Smokers have increased risks for heart disease, strokes, cancer, diabetes, and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema. It also increases risks for some eye diseases, immune system problems like rheumatoid arthritis, and tuberculosis. Another problem with long-term smoking is that it is really difficult to quit. Here is where a psychedelic medicine (psilocybin) may be very useful. Research done at Johns Hopkins University shows that psilocybin helps smokers quit.

Usefulness of Psychedelic Medicines

Most of the focus on psychedelics like psilocybin and MDMA is on their effectiveness in treating depression and PTSD respectively. Both are well along in FDA studies and MDMA is likely to be approved for treatment purposes this year. But the usefulness of psychedelics goes beyond these two purposes. Psychedelics help people with substance abuse disorders and, as a study at Johns Hopkins shows, psilocybin works when other approaches did not help folks quit smoking.

Resistant Smokers Treated with Psilocybin

Researchers at Johns Hopkins reported that they treated a small group of individuals who had failed numerous therapies to stop smoking. They set up a carefully controlled study in which they gave these individuals a therapeutic amount of psilocybin. The rate of success in this study was better than what is commonly seen in studies of various methods to quit smoking. And this was in a group that had already failed many previous therapies. The usual smoking abstinence rate from a typical treatment is 35% or less at six months. The group treated with psilocybin was 80% abstinent after six months. Thus the use of psilocybin beat out treatment with varenicline which typically has a 35% success rate and the nicotine patch or behavioral therapy which usually run a 30% success rate.

Resistant Smokers Treated with Psilocybin

How Does Psilocybin Work to Reduce Smoking?

Researchers were clean in their assertion that the study results do not necessarily indicate that taking psilocybin recreationally will help folks quit smoking. As with the use of psilocybin for treating depression and MDMA for treating PTSD, the medicine is used as an adjunctive measure along with cognitive therapy (coaching). The point is to help a person deeply consider their motivations which, in turn, can be effective in helping the person to decide to quit and follow through with a concerted effort.

Who Was in the Study to Test Psilocybin?

The folks in the study were ten men and five women. On average they had smoked 19 cigarettes daily for 31 years. Everyone had tried multiple times to quit without success. Ten reported use (minimal) of psychedelics and five had never used a hallucinogen. The average age was 51 and all were physically healthy and without any mental health diagnoses.

These individuals were given a psilocybin pill on each of three treatment occasions spaced 2 weeks and 8 weeks apart. The first dose was lower than the second two doses. Each treatment session lasted 6 to 7 hours. Psychotherapists or coaches were with the individuals throughout the sessions which were in home-like settings. Participants wore eyeshade and earphones and were relaxed and told to focus on inner experiences. In addition to the sessions when people took psilocybin, participants also had weekly sessions, one on one with a therapist, and were encouraged to do things like keep a diary of cravings, when they occurred and why.

Who Was in the Study to Test Psilocybin?

Who Did the Psilocybin Smoking Cessation Research?

This study was done by the same researchers who have been studying for more than 20 years. They say that psilocybin appears to help break the addictive patterns or connections in the brain that keep a smoking addiction going. Like with PTSD, thought patterns become engrained and hard to break. Psychedelic medicines like psilocybin help loosen these connections and create more neuron pathways in the brain. Like when treating depression with psilocybin the beneficial effects of therapy last long after the medicine is out of a patient’s system.

As a follow-up to this study the researchers plan to compare psilocybin treatment to other treatments like nicotine patches and use other modalities like MRI scans to compare brain activity in those in the two different study groups. These measures will be used to develop a psilocybin therapy plan for folks who have trouble quitting smoking.

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