Psilocybin mushrooms in Hazerwoude-Dorp, The Netherlands. Photographer: Roger Cremers/Bloomberg

Psilocybin mushrooms in Hazerwoude-Dorp, The Netherlands. Photographer: Roger Cremers/Bloomberg

Researchers at Johns Hopkins Universityin Baltimore used psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, in a novel treatment that helped a dozen people quit smoking. The findings adds to growing body of evidence that suggests psilocybin, combined with counseling, can be a highly effective tool against addiction and depression.

Volunteers were given each a 20 milligram pill of psilocybin in a safe and controlled living-room environment to avoid so-called ‘bad trips’. Participants had their eyes covered and were exposed to soothing music for the first couple of hours following psilocybin ingestion. While tripping, the participants were in constant contact with researchers who counselled them and employed behavior modification therapy. Of the 15 participants,12 reported they remained smoke-free after six months. A fantastic success rate, thought it would be interesting to see the experiment replicated over a larger sample size.

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For comparison, drugs like Chantix, recognized as the most potent smoke-free aid, has a success rate of only 35% at six months, while more common  methods like nicotine patches and gums are even less successful.

“The rates of quitting were so high, twice as high as what you typically see with the gold standard medication,” said Matthew Johnson, a study research and an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins. “It is a very small study, but it’s an indication that something very strong is going on here. It answers the question of whether this is worth pursuing.”

The mushroom made me do it [?]

What about replacing a drug with another? Far from the highly addictive effects of nicotine, psilocybin doesn’t leave users craving for more. The volunteers were given a higher dose two weeks later from the first round to compensate for tolerance, however most of them declined to join in a third round. It’s also worth mentioning that those who had a transcendent experience, where people say they went into a mystical state that helped them feel unity with themselves and the universe, tended to have more success, the researchers said.

“The last thing people want to do is use this again the next day,” Johnson said. “This is outside the box. When a typical drug goes in the body it has an effect, and when it leaves the body the effect is gone. The fascinating thing is that the experiences with these hallucinogenic compounds can change people.”

It’s still unclear how much of the psilocybin contributed to ridding participants of smoking. The researchers plan on replicating the experiment, this time employing only behavioral changing therapy without the help of magic mushrooms.

Findings were reported in the journal Journal of Psychopharmacology.