Quitting smoking is not easy. From nicotine withdrawal to figuring out what to do with your hands, making the decision to stop smoking cigarettes requires strength, resolve, and commitment.
Nicotine addiction keeps smokers lighting up, despite knowing the harm cigarettes can cause to the human body. It’s a well-known fact that nicotine is one of the most addictive substances out there. And, once you start smoking, chances are you’ll fall into a decades-long nicotine habit – if you even choose to quit.
But when you’re finally resolved to quit, kicking the habit can still prove challenging. While there is no shortage of methods available to assist with curbing nicotine craving (strips, patches, gums, sprays, therapy, exercise, etc.) and replacing bad habits, they don’t work for everyone.
If you’ve tried and are finding that you’ve exhausted all your options to successfully quit smoking for good, you might be interested to hear John Hopkins researchers are in early-state discovery of a unique and ‘magic’ means to say goodbye to cigarettes.
What makes this research stand out is that it is funded by the National Institute of Health. Having the support of NIH is a big step into the validating of psychedelic therapies..
What is Psilocybin?
Before we dive to the science, let’s cover the basics.
If you’re not already familiar, psilocybin is the psychedelic component found in what is conversationally known as magic mushrooms. Psilocybin, when ingested, converts to psilocin, the naturally occurring hallucinogen responsible for the psychedelic response. The driving force behind this reaction is psilocin’s structural similarity to serotonin, meaning that when it is metabolized, it can tap into serotonin receptors and trigger the same responses. This means that as a psychedelic, psilocybin can result in sensory distortion and solicit feelings of euphoria when consumed.
Psychedelics and magic mushrooms are not new drugs. There’s a whole era (mid-1960s-mid-1970s) where counterculture was influenced by psychedelics. However, they are classified as controlled substances, and therefore not legal.
Today, psilocybin mushrooms have becoming more widely known, having creeped into the legal ‘grey area’ as several US states legalize psilocybin for personal use and increasing investigation in potential therapeutic uses of psilocybin and psychedelics come to light.
Yep, you read that right. Psychedelics are the subject of medical interest, particularly as a means to treat mental illness, showing promise whereas other treatments failed.
Having the medical community turn their attention to psychedelics is proving to be a boon for more acceptance of these drugs for other uses. When it comes to medical uses, psychedelic drugs, like psilocybin, are being studied under the strict eye of medical professionals and administered in measured doses.
There are currently more than 50 clinical trials for psilocybin worldwide.
How Psilocybin Helps with Smoking Cessation
Taking a giant step away from the ‘psychedelic experimentation’ of decades past, today’s version of experimentation with psychedelics involves a lab and medical equipment.
For psilocybin, studies have predominantly focused on treatment of mental health conditions like addiction, major depressive disorder, and PTSD, but that’s not to say other avenues aren’t being explored. Case in point, the use of psilocybin to promote smoking cessation.
A 2014 pilot study from John Hopkins had 15 participants enter a 15-week smoking cessation open-label program. In this study, participants were aware of their specific treatment dosages and results were promising with 80% of participants shows a seven-day point abstinence at the 6-month mark. The encouraging results are what prompted further investigation.
With the success of the 2014 study, John Hopkins embarked on a new study. The study included finding of 80 participants with longstanding habits of cigarette smoking. The findings, while still in their preliminary stages, showed that a combination of preparatory counseling and ingestion of psilocybin capsules coupled with guided counseling had positive results for helping participants quit smoking.
While more research is definitely needed to prove the hypothesis, it appears that the hallucinogen combined with cognitive behavioral therapy was effective at making changes in the brain, which allowed participants to break their longstanding habits.
The theory with psychedelic therapy to facilitate smoking cessation is psilocybin helped participants be more open towards new experiences and enabled them to explore their relationship with cigarettes and ultimately increase the neuroplasticity of their brains, allowing change to occur.
Final Thoughts: Risks and Considerations
It might surprise you to learn that research shows psilocybin mushrooms pose low risk for physical addiction. And, given the medical interest in psilocybin, we also know it can be administered safely under the guidance of a trained health professional. But… just like any other controlled substance, fear persists with regards to the potential for abuse and misuse lingers.
This is due to the intense psychological experiences that psychedelic substances like psilocybin solicit. For example, concerns linger regarding individuals with mental health disorders – diagnosed or unknown – like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. It has been shown that these individuals are at a higher risk of adverse effects when using psilocybin.
While the conclusions are encouraging, there is still a long way to go before psilocybin moves into the legal realm. It’s encouraging to see the many studies underway, but that doesn’t negate that more research into the benefits of psilocybin therapies, like that for smoking cessation, are needed.
In the case of quitting smoking, the current findings suggest that psilocybin combined with other therapies can be an effective tool promote behavioral changes in individuals. Like with any other medicine or therapy, more funding, research and concrete results are needed. But even with these early-stage findings, there is hope that in the future we will see further success and broader adoption of this novel method of smoking cessation take the stage.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention this, but it is important to remember that these therapies, while exciting, should only be attempted under the guidance of a qualified medical professional.