Brain and Body

“Magic Mushrooms” Could Cure Smoking Addictions, Study Says

October 30, 2015 | Kelly Tatera

Ornamental mushrooms in a garden
Photo credit: Janine/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Scientists are exploring the possibility of making “mushroom pills” to treat smoking addictions in controlled settings.

Many long-term smokers fail time after time to kick the unhealthy habit of smoking tobacco. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cigarette smoking kills about 480,000 Americans annually, making it the number one preventable cause of disease and death in the country. There’s behavioral therapy, nicotine patches, gum, sprays, and lozenges, but all of these treatment methods are highly ineffective. A potential solution? Psychedelic mushrooms.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University decided to explore how psilocybin, the active ingredient in “magic” mushrooms, affected long-time smokers in their attempts to quit. The average age of the participants was 55 years old, and they smoked an average of 19 cigarettes per day for 31 years. All of them had repeatedly tried to quit but failed each time, and some had experimented with hallucinogenic drugs in the past but never thought to use them as a treatment for their nicotine addictions.

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The results were quite impressive. After just six months, the study showed an 80 percent abstinence rate among the long-time, heavy smokers. For reference, varenicline, a prescription drug considered to be one of the most effective addiction treatment options for smokers, only has a 35 percent success rate. Nicotine gum and patches and other behavioral treatments have success rates of less than 30 percent, according to the researchers.

So do these findings mean that all heavy smokers should munch down some magical mushrooms and their addictions will be cured? Definitely not. The researchers emphasize that this study isn’t to be used as justification to perform a do-it-yourself therapy session by dropping some ‘shrooms. The study participants took the drug in a controlled setting, and also underwent behavioral therapy throughout the study.

However, the results are undoubtedly exciting, and patients could potentially be administered psilocybin pills in the future. As long as the treatment occurs in controlled settings with medical professionals, the effects of magical mushrooms could lead to the best long-term solution to quit smoking yet.

Dr. Matthew Johnson, the study's lead author and an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, wrote in a press release, "When administered after careful preparation and in a therapeutic context, psilocybin can lead to deep reflection about one's life and spark motivation to change."

As long as the hallucinogenic experience proceeds safely, psychedelics are known to create new ways of thinking about yourself and the world. Steve Jobs was even quoted saying that taking LSD was one of the two or three most important things he had done in his life. A spiritual, psychedelic experience can transform your life in a number of ways, and at least for now, there’s no scientific reason to exclude a smoking addiction from that list.

Johnson plans to continue his research on the effects of psilocybin on an addicted smoker’s brain, including MRI scans to study brain activity in participants. So until more details are smoothed out, don’t jump to the conclusion that magical mushrooms are the answer to your problems. But the potential to use psilocybin pills to evoke beneficial and lasting changes in people’s lives is certainly an innovative medical endeavor, to say the least.

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