If you go to your doctor for a little pharmacological help with your smoking habit, you’re likely to get a prescription for varenicline. Also known as Chantix.
This drug is considered the most effective smoking cessation prescription available. It works for between 19 and 44% of the people who take it… depending on who you ask. (The drug manufacturer says 44%, but independent studies suggest a lower success rate.)
It also has some unpleasant side effects like nausea, headaches, trouble sleeping, and constipation.
Still, smoking has some pretty unpleasant side effects, too, so taking a drug makes sense if it will help you quit.
But what if there were a better way?
It’s looking very much like psilocybin — the active compound in magic mushrooms — may blow Chantix out of the water as a smoking cessation aid.
In a study conducted by Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, psilocybin was 80% effective at helping smokers quit. Eighty percent!
Now, this study was small, but the results are very promising.
In the study, researchers worked with long-time smokers who had repeatedly tried to quit and failed.
The psilocybin treatment was paired with intensive cognitive behavioral therapy sessions. Participants had one-on-one counseling sessions weekly. They kept journals detailing their smoking behavior, including what triggered cravings.
Then on their designated quit day, the smokers received a dose of psilocybin in pill form. They took the hallucinogen while under observation of a trained guide, and with the instruction to relax and focus on their inner experiences.
They had two follow up sessions at two weeks and eight weeks. After six months, 80% of participants were still smoke free.
Doctors designing the study said that psilocybin doesn’t interfere with the body’s uptake of nicotine. Instead it, “can lead to deep reflection about one’s life and spark motivation to change.”
Just think about the differences between conventional treatments and what researchers are seeing with psilocybin.
On the one hand you have a 12-week course of a pharmaceutical drug with many side effects and about a 35% success rate. On the other you have between one and three does of a naturally derived drug with very few side effects and a success rate that lands somewhere between 50 and 80%.
And the results last.
In one study, 80% of participants were smoke free after six months, a fact verified through biological testing. After a year, 67% continued to be smoke-free — still almost double the success rate of Chantix.
The advantages of psilocybin treatment are clear.
One of the participants in one of the Johns Hopkins psilocybin studies shared a bit about her experience.
She’d been a smoker for decades. She’d tried to quit using nicotine gum, nicotine patches, even going cold turkey. She’d never enjoyed more than a few days of success.
In her mind-altering psilocybin session, she recalls crying for hours. The hallucinogen called to mind many deep-seated fears. They took on the shape of dark clouds she felt were trying to suffocate her. But her mother, who had passed away, also appeared to her.
She became determined to succeed. After going through the study, she now finds cigarettes repulsive and can’t even bring herself to touch one. Eighteen months after her experience, she was still smoke-free.
Researchers aren’t entirely sure why treatment with psilocybin is so effective at curing smoking addiction.
They can see that the brain functions differently while on the drug. Areas of the brain that normally operate independently of each other begin communicating. Other pathways shutdown, typically those that are most used.
Psilocybin also doesn’t numb the patient to the experience. Most people come away from their psychedelic session with a very clear memory of what they experienced, of the new insights they discovered, and with a sense of motivation to make the changes they desire in their lives.
Psilocybin treatment isn’t safe for everyone.
Different people react differently to psychedelic drugs like psilocybin. Some people experience feelings of unity and connection. Others experience fear. For people with a predisposition to psychosis, the experience can cause lasting damage.
So, it’s not a good idea to launch yourself into a DIY psilocybin treatment regimen for your addictions. (Although, if you’re looking for inspiration, you can read a recounting of a reporter who did just that.)
People participating in these studies undergo rigorous screening for any risks.
But there’s the problem. To take advantage of this treatment, you need access to a study. Psilocybin isn’t yet FDA-approved.
So, unless you live in Oregon, where mental health professionals now have the option of using psychedelics in their practices, if you want to quit smoking using psilocybin, you may have to take matters into your own hands.
If you’re determined to proceed with your own smoking-cessation treatment outside of the supervision of doctors, it would be smart to talk with a licensed mental health professional first. Ask to be screened for potential vulnerabilities to psychedelic drugs, especially if this will be your first encounter with them.
Put in some groundwork before you go on your “trip.” Consider how you feel about quitting smoking. Think about the things that trigger you to smoke. Articulate what it will mean to you to not be a smoker anymore.
Then when you do dose yourself, invite someone to be there with you, to guide you and offer you comfort and support if things get uncomfortable while your mind is altered.
Incredible Mushrooms, of course, doesn’t recommend any illegal activity.
The recognition of psilocybin’s potential for medical and mental health uses is growing. Researchers are exploring psilocybin as a treatment for depression, PTSD, and anxiety.
And as they rack up more successes, the federal government is shifting its view. It probably won’t be too long before more people are able to safely enjoy the mental health benefits of shroom-based treatments.
That’ll be a good day.
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