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Magic Mushroom Compound can Help People Quit Smoking

Sep 12, 2014 03:21 AM EDT
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Psilocybin, the active hallucinogenic agent in so-called "magic mushrooms", can help people quit smoking, a federally funded study from Johns Hopkins has found.

Magic mushrooms are known for their mind-altering effects. The new study shows that the active ingredient in these mushrooms- Psilocybin- can be used in people who have been unable to quit smoking despite several efforts.

The researchers report that people using Psilocybin had an 80 percent abstinence rate at six months. The most effective therapy for smoking cessation - varenicline - has a six month success rate of roughly 35 percent. Other therapies such as behavioural changes as well as nicotine replacement treatments have a success rate of less than 30 percent over a half-year period. The study shows that the magic mushroom compound is more effective than the most successful smoking cessation therapy so far.

The latest research included 10 men and five women who were physically and mentally healthy. The participants had an average age of 51 years had smoked roughly 19 cigarettes a day for 31 years. All the people in the study had decided to go cold turkey and had made several attempts to stop smoking. Five participants had never used hallucinogens, while ten had used the drug recreationally.

The participants were given a dose of the drug the day they decided to quit smoking. Two more doses of the drug were given two weeks and eight weeks later. During each session, two members of the research team closely monitored the participants. All the participants listened to music during the sessions and were asked to reflect on their experience of using the drug.

The scientists, who conducted the current study, have received federal funded to study the psychoactive effects of psychedelic drugs. They said that psilocybin might work by causing a sort of "spiritual awakening" in people. The participants abstained from smoking long after the effects of the drug had worn out, suggesting that the compound doesn't just affect the nicotine receptors in the brain, but alters the way the brain responds to novel experiences.

The researchers warn against "do-it- yourself" approach of using magic mushrooms to quit smoking. The latest study was carried out in control setting and under medical supervision.

"Quitting smoking isn't a simple biological reaction to psilocybin, as with other medications that directly affect nicotine receptors," Matthew W. Johnson, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said in a news release. "When administered after careful preparation and in a therapeutic context, psilocybin can lead to deep reflection about one's life and spark motivation to change." Johnson is one of the study authors.

Other research teams are trying to use psilocybin as a treatment for depression in people with major depressive disorder. Recently, Imperial College London had found that psychedelic drugs activate several areas of the brain at the same time, sending users to a dream-like state.

Psilocybin has earlier been used to treat alcoholism and heroin addiction. The researchers said that the drug sends people into a transcendental state and there is anecdotal evidence that people using magic mushrooms for recreational purposes have quit smoking.

"They'll say, 'Lo and behold, I had a cigarette in my hand and thought: What in the world have I been doing?' " Johnson explained in an earlier article in the Wahingtonian. "Psilocbyin opens a window of opportunity with a very altered experience of oneself and of oneself in the world."

The study is published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology. The Beckley Foundation, National Institute on Drug Abuse and others supported the research.

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