Can magic mushrooms help smokers quit? Johns Hopkins is looking into it

Cigarette smokers often face a difficult time trying to quit, and researchers in Maryland are looking into whether magic mushrooms can potentially be used to help them give up the habit.

Thanks to a $4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, Johns Hopkins University is getting ready to lead a study looking into whether psilocybin, the psychedelic compound found in magic mushrooms, can help smokers put down their cigarettes for good.

“There’s a number of forms of addiction, including alcoholism and tobacco addiction, that appear to be sensitive to this intervention with the psychedelic drug psilocybin,” said Matthew Johnson, a professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University.

Johnson, who will lead the study, said similar previous research has been promising, showing “high quit rates” for smokers.

“People essentially have these deep therapeutic sessions, where they have insights and they take on different perspectives,” Johnson said. “People tend to find it very meaningful, and they draw life lessons from those experiences, including how they’re relating to their addictive behavior.”

The study, which may be up and running before the end of the year, will include about 70 participants. Those who are given the drug will be monitored closely for five or six hours.

“They lay on the couch; we’re playing music and they’re wearing eye shades,” said Johnson. “We really want them to focus internally and think about themselves and their smoking behavior.”

The fact that the money is coming from the National Institutes of Health is significant, Johnson said.

“There hasn’t been federal funding for administering one of these classic psychedelic drugs like psilocybin for therapeutic purposes in about the last 50 years,” Johnson said. “It really is, I think, a stamp of legitimacy that there is scientific promise to this research.”

In addition to work done at Johns Hopkins, the study will also include research carried out at New York University and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

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Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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