Of all the benefits psilocybin provides, one of the wide-ranging applications might be in helping people quit smoking. Studies now reveal psilocybin’s efficacy for aiding in smoking cessation, making it possibly the new and best method to cure a nicotine addiction.
Smoking is one of the hardest habits to quit, and many people fail. Could psilocybin be the new answer to get people to effectively quit smoking? This independent news publication covers stories in the expanding cannabis and psychedelics fields, for which we put out the Cannadelics Weekly Newsletter to provide readers with daily updates. Subscribe, and get yourself access to a ton of deals on lots of cannabis and psychedelic products, from vapes and edibles, to smoking devices and cannabinoid compounds like Delta 8 & HHC. Head to our ‘best of’ lists for product offers, and make sure you only purchase the products you’re most comfortable using.
The smoking issue
I want to say this first – smoking anything is bad, and it doesn’t matter what it is. Smoking is smoke inhalation, and it deals with breathing in smoke from anything lit on fire. No, it’s not any safer or healthier to smoke cannabis over tobacco; however cannabis is not addictive like nicotine, and a cannabis smoker will rarely fill their lungs with smoke as frequently as a cigarette smoker will.
When it comes to the issue of smoking cigarettes, the main problem is that tobacco has nicotine, and nicotine is addictive. That, and the US government is continually trying to remove safer ways for smokers to get their nicotine fix via vaping. If a person has an addiction that’s difficult to break, and if they’re not provided a way to help them with it, they’re less likely to stop.
That’s why the US banning Juul products is a horrifying move, as the products are uniformly safer than smoking (despite possibly coming with some detractions). More shocking is that this was done instead of banning cigarettes, bringing up an even more important question of how the US government is misinterpreting the dangers of smoking, for which it puts out the damning evidence of deaths. The only thing such a ban does, is push people who have gotten off of cigarettes, back onto them. The ridiculous line of demonizing vaping has even been called out by the UK, which recently released a report about plans to phase out cigarettes, in which vaping would be promoted.
How bad are cigarettes? Way worse than opioids, that’s for sure, and most think of that as the prevailing drug issue in America. No, cigarettes are technically a much bigger problem. While opioids caused the overdose deaths of close to 100 thousand people in the US in 2021, cigarettes are responsible for the deaths of 480,000 yearly in the US. Not only that, cigarettes come with that compounding ability to hurt those who aren’t smoking, via secondhand smoke; which itself kills as many as 41,000 a year.
In terms of the break down of illness that smoking causes, approximately 163,700 die a year from cancer; 160,000 die from cardiovascular diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and vascular disease; and 113,100 die from respiratory illnesses like pneumonia, influenza, and COPD. What about those 41,000 yearly secondhand smoking deaths? What are they dying of? Approximately 7,333 from lung cancer, and 33,951 from heart disease.
Can psilocybin help people quit smoking?
Psilocybin is one of the hallucinogenic components found in magic mushrooms, though its counterpart psilocin, is really the compound of interest. Psilocybin occurs in greater amounts, but is biologically inactive until it breaks down into psilocin, making psilocin the actual part we care about. That detail is perhaps less important to the general public, than what the compounds – once in the body – are able to do.
One of the big indications of how psilocybin can help people quit smoking, came from a 2017 study entitled Long-term follow-up of psilocybin-facilitated smoking cessation. In this study, investigators were concerned with long-term follow-up of one year or more, after psilocybin treatment from a previous pilot study. The study consisted of only 15 adults, which means it used a very small sample size; and though all 15 made it to a 12-month review, only 12 returned for a 16-month follow-up.
At the 12-month mark, 10 of the 15 participants were not smoking. At the 16-month point, nine were still not smoking. When asked at the 12-month mark about their experience with the psilocybin, 13 out of 15 said it stayed in their minds as being in their top five most spiritual and memorable experiences.
This research is spoken about in an interview with Dr. Albert Garcia-Romeu of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who was a apart of the aforementioned study, along with Dr. Matt Johnson. The interview was conducted by Psychology Today. Of the results they’ve come across, explained Garcia-Romeu, “Our most effective treatments typically have long-term success in around one-third of people who use them, which leaves lots of room for improvement. Our early pilot study published in 2014 found that for 15 smokers who got 2-3 high doses of psilocybin with CBT, 80% quit smoking and remained abstinent 6 months later.”
Subsequent to this srudy, Dr. Johnson (also of Johns Hopkins), along with researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and New York University, received $4 million in study grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, to test if psilocybin can indeed help people quit smoking. As the National Institute on Drug Abuse is a federal agency, this is now the first time in 50 years that a federal agency has funded research on a classic psychedelic for therapeutic uses.
Other research does exist on this topic. In a review from 2022 called Associations between classic psychedelics and nicotine dependence in a nationally representative sample, investigators “tested whether lifetime use of classic psychedelics (tryptamine, lysergamide, and phenethylamine) is associated with lower odds of current nicotine dependence.” For the study, the data of 214,505 adults was used from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (2015–2019). No actual study was performed by investigators, as all information was taken from these other investigations.
Researchers found that psilocybin lifetime use was associated with “reduced odds of current nicotine dependence”, which was also the case with mescaline. However, the opposite was seen with LSD. This is a little odd, as LSD was the first psychedelic investigated for helping with addictions, and was the main point of interest in the mid-1900’s when doctors like Humphrey Osmond conducted the Saskatchewan trials, showing the efficacy of the compound in getting alcoholics to stop drinking. Perhaps this is an indication that the model used by researchers in the more recent study, is flawed, or it could indicate that LSD is not good at helping quit nicotine addictions. Either way, the takeaway of the authors? “These results make the case for further research into the efficacy of both tryptamine and phenethylamine psychedelics in promoting smoking cessation.”
How psilocybin (and hallucinogens in general) help people quit smoking
Psychedelics (or, rather, hallucinogens) have been eyed in recent years for their ability to help with psychological disorders. How exactly do they do this? While research into this topic continues, and answers are hardly concrete at this point, it seems psychedelics like psilocybin can help the brain essentially reformulate. The term ‘neuroplasticity’ “refers to the brain’s ability to modify, change, and adapt both structure and function throughout life and in response to experience.” Getting the brain to change doesn’t seem easy, though investigations into different hallucinogens have turned up positive results.
This is seen in a 1998 ketamine study on people with anorexia. After the ketamine administration, nine out of 15 treatment resistant cases were able to lower their number of compulsive thoughts, something relevant to drug addiction as well. According to the study authors of that investigation, they believe, “memory is a neocortical neuronal network, excitation of which involves the hippocampus, with recall occurring by re-excitement of the same specific network. Excitement of the hippocampus by glutamate-NMDA receptors, leading to long-term potentiation (LTP), can be blocked by ketamine.”
The point being? Researchers believe ketamine allowed these patients with very deep and reinforced neural pathways, to interrupt their regular thought cycle, and create new neural pathways. The same idea is once again relevant when going through drug withdrawal, as the ability to create new neural connections could be the difference between successfully quitting something like smoking, and failing.
It was also shown in an MDMA study run by the organization MAPS: Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. MAPS is currently in Phase III of trials to get its drug approved for treatment resistant PTSD, and already has results from its previous Phase II trials. In these trials, two months after the MDMA treatment was given, 61% of participants – all of whom had treatment resistant symptoms, no longer self-identified as having PTSD. A full year after treatment, and 68% no longer qualified as PTSD.
And what of those original alcohol studies in the 1900’s conducted by Osmond using LSD? That a single dose of LSD along with psychotherapy, consistently showed a rate of 40-45% of test subjects not relapsing within a year. All of the subjects were hard-core alcoholics. Over 2,000 patients were used in this research between the start point in 1951, and the end of the research in the late 1960’s, which became impossible to continue when LSD was made illegal. Before starting with the Saskatchewan trials, Osmond did a more limited study on just two individuals, one who quit immediately after one dose of LSD, and one who quit within six months of administration.
There are about a million products out there advertised to help people quit smoking, but the reality is that they don’t work. If they did, there would probably be a lot less smoking. Psilocybin is currently studied for several different applications, and one of the big ones is related to helping people quit smoking. Psilocybin might have some competition in this domain, as it seems several other hallucinogens, including ketamine and MDMA, look to be useful for this purpose as well. Perhaps in the future, those who want to quit smoking, will have a range of mind-altering drugs to aid them in their battle.
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