BY: QUENTIN STUCKEY
The realization and medical research on the adverse effects of smoking in the 1960s gave birth to a new type of health industry. The media created a dramatic shift in cultural attitude when people were no longer being encouraged to smoke cigarettes, but rather to quit the tobacco leaf once and for all. This is a booming industry to this very day.
For some people going cold turkey and never igniting a cigarette ever again is an effective method for quitting but for many others it isn’t as simple as that. Smokers will chew gum designed to fulfill the nicotine craving, inhale vapour with e-cigarettes or place nicotine patches all over their body; any possible method to help them kick their unhealthy addiction. There may be a more unconventional approach to quit smoking that was never previously thought of, which involves the use of psychedelic drugs.
In an article published in the Science of Us section of New York Magazine, medical research was conducted by The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse to determine whether the psychedelic drug psilocybin (aka magic mushrooms) could help people quit smoking. Psilocybin is primarily known for its powerful mind-altering effects which include distortion of senses, euphoria, hallucinations, possible anxiety, disorientation and changes in patterns of thinking as defined by the Government of Canada’s Health section.
The study took fifteen middle-aged smokers and conducted a fifteen week cognitive behavioural therapy training course. During the course, the participants learned different psychological techniques to improve the quality of their thoughts. It was during the fifth week that the smokers were given a moderate dose of psilocybin, which was then followed by a high dose during the seventh week. The participants were then given the option of taking a third dose during the thirteenth week.
One year after the study was completed, the researchers discovered that ten out of the fifteen participants had stopped smoking tobacco as confirmed by a drug test. Thirty months later the researchers performed further drug tests and discovered that nine out of the ten smoke free participants were still abstaining from smoking. According to the publication, the data adds up to a sixty percent success rate of quitting.
The participants in the study described their psychedelic trip as being spiritually significant with thirteen of the participants ranking the experience as one of their top five most personally meaningful. This comes as no surprise as psychedelic trips often rewire the brain to seek out more meaningful connections and higher principles, according to psychiatrist Matthew W. Johnson who was also the lead author of the study.
The researchers however feel that the results are not as clear cut as they appear. They are in the midst of running another trial run which will compare the quitting rate with the use of psilocybin compared to the nicotine patch, while also using the cognitive behavioural therapy course used in the first study. The team is also reportedly utilizing the technology of MRI scanning to determine the physical changes that occur in the brain before and after the study.
The possibility of psychedelic drugs helping people quit smoking does not reside in the physical or chemical compounds of the substances themselves but rather in the mental effects on the user. People tend to re-evaluate their life choices and the very fabric of their being while under the influence of psychotropic drugs, which could discourage impulse and pleasure seeking behaviours like smoking cigarettes. One thing is certain: naturally occurring, consciousness altering drugs may be the better alternative to over the counter, government regulated medication when it comes to giving up an addictive vice like smoking.