OCT 17, 2019 2:40 PM PDT

How 'Magic Mushrooms' Can Help Smokers Quit

WRITTEN BY: Nina Lichtenberg

 

The Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research at Johns Hopkins Medicine does not look like your average doctor’s office – there are couches, paintings of natural scenery, and glowing Himalayan salt lamps.

This is a place where patients are undergoing the latest treatments for drug addiction. By taking a pill of a drug called psilocybin – the active chemical in “magic mushrooms” – people experience a “trip”. Patients first undergo behavioral cognitive therapy to prepare them for the psilocybin session. Therapy helps solidify a subject’s intention, like quitting smoking. After taking a psilocybin dose, patients may experience disorienting or frightening hallucinations. This is partly why a trained guide is present to offer support throughout the session – which lasts six hours. The experience is different for everyone.

Despite some unpleasant risks, people come out of these sessions in a positive light with a different sense of self-efficacy. “They actually feel more empowered to rewrite the narrative of their lives,” says Dr. Roland Griffiths, head of the research center.

Psilocybin coupled with therapy may be more effective than other smoking cessation treatments, such as prescription medications or the nicotine patch.

“We had incredibly high success rates,” says Dr. Matthew Johnson, an experimental psychologist at the Johns Hopkins University. “80% of people were biologically confirmed as abstinent from smoking six months after the fact. And then at two and a half years on average, 60% of people were biologically confirmed as abstinent from smoking. That just completely dwarfs the best success rates that are out there.”

But how exactly does psilocybin help smokers kick the habit?

Researchers say that they don’t know for certain yet why patients experience lasting changes but suspect that it may be due to a restructuring of the brain. Psilocybin seems to temporarily rewire the brain – sections that don’t normally talk to each other communicate more, and parts that do communicate talk less, says Johnson.

One analogy is to imagine living in a city where you stop talking to your neighbors, but then you start talking to people way across town you normally don’t talk to. "That can lead to novel ways of looking at oneself, thinking about the world in a different way, having insightful experiences," Johnson says.

This hypothesis has yet to be proven, but neuroimaging studies have shown that when people take psilocybin, their brains show increases in neural connectivity in regions that typically do not communicate; such as those involved in self-awareness, memory, and emotion.

Researchers think of this psychedelic therapy as a powerful, surgical intervention compared to other types of chronic treatment. “What we’re talking about is a single session, six hours, that produces some kind of plastic change that can result in enduring positive changes in attitudes, moods and behavior,” notes Griffiths. “So many interventions in psychiatry require either a number of sessions, like in psychotherapy or with a drug like an SSRI. It could be months or years of regular prescription of those kinds of compounds.”

Not everyone should use psilocybin – those with predispositions for schizophrenia and other mental illnesses may be harmed by using the drug.

Given its therapeutic potential for treating addiction and other diseases such as depression, perhaps it’s time to give psychedelics another look, says Johnson.

Source: NPR, WAMU

About the Author
You May Also Like
DEC 18, 2019
Drug Discovery & Development
DEC 18, 2019
Stroke Drug Enhances Stem Cell Therapies for Spinal Cord Injuries
Using rat models of spinal cord injuries, Yasuhiro Shiga, MD, PhD, thought treating them with stem cell therapy would point to nowhere but the nature of re...
JAN 21, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
JAN 21, 2020
Brain scans of teens predict their risk of binge drinking
We’ve seen teenage binge drinking widely represented in popular culture. There is, however, a dark side to what many consider harmless fun. Mounting...
JAN 16, 2020
Neuroscience
JAN 16, 2020
Early-life Stress and Pollution Lead to Cognitive Impairment
Children exposed to high levels of stress at home from early on and high levels of air pollution while still in the womb are more likely to develop attenti...
JAN 19, 2020
Neuroscience
JAN 19, 2020
New Proteins Found in the Optical Processing of Lazy Eyes
Ophthalmology – Amblyopia: By Christine Law M.D.   Researchers in the Bear Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found surprising con...
FEB 03, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
FEB 03, 2020
Brain Organoids May Not be Living Up to the Hype
Cells can be grown in special ways to create three-dimensional, miniature models of organs. But how good are they?...
FEB 26, 2020
Neuroscience
FEB 26, 2020
Why Alzheimer's may be a Sleep Disorder
Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia in which amyloid-beta protein builds up in the brain, killing off surrounding neurons and causing cognitive...
Loading Comments...