Psilocybin increases the success of smoking-addiction treatment, research suggests

close up photo of lighted cigarette stick

The use of the psychedelic drug psilocybin, in combination with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), is more effective than current smoking cessation treatments, according to a recent study published online this July in The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse. The study provides preliminary evidence that psilocybin-use, as part of a structured treatment program, holds considerable promise in promoting long-term smoking abstinence.

Smoking remains a leading public health concern, with almost 6 million tobacco-related deaths per year worldwide, and that number projected to rise further. Therefore, there is an urgent need to explore innovative treatment approaches, especially given that even the most successful available smoking cessation treatments fail to promote long-term abstinence in most people.

Psilocybin is a naturally occurring psychedelic compound produced by more than 200 species of mushrooms. It increases serotonin, which is a chemical that influences mood, and is showing promise as a treatment for several psychiatric illnesses, as well for the treatment of addiction.

The study, by Matthew Johnson, Albert Garcia-Romeu and & Roland Griffiths of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, assessed the long-term effects of a program which combines the use of psilocybin with CBT aimed at smoking cessation. The study was a follow-up to an earlier pilot study which found that this combination resulted in substantially higher smoking abstinence rates after 6 months compared to other medications or CBT alone.

Participants underwent a 15-week combination treatment consisting of four weekly preparatory meetings integrating CBT, elements of mindfulness training, and guided imagery for smoking cessation. They received a moderate (20 mg/70 kg) dose of psilocybin in week 5 of treatment, and a high dose of psilocybin (30 mg/70 kg) approximately 2 weeks later. Participants also had the opportunity to participate in a third, optional high-dose psilocybin session in week 13 of study treatment.

The results revealed that at 12-month follow-up, 10 participants (67%) were confirmed as smoking abstinent. Furthermore, 13 of the participants (86.7%) rated their psilocybin experiences among the five most personally meaningful and spiritually significant experiences of their lives.

The researchers highlighted, “In controlled studies, the most effective smoking cessation medications typically demonstrate less than 31% abstinence at 12 months post-treatment, whereas the present study found 60% abstinence more than a year after psilocybin administration.”

They concluded, “These results suggest that in the context of a structured treatment program, psilocybin holds considerable promise in promoting long-term smoking abstinence.”