Nicotine is one of the hardest addictions to break. Despite wide exposure to health information that tells us that smoking can cause a host of killer health problems, more than 17 percent of Americans over age 18 — 40 million people — continue to smoke cigarettes, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Smoking remains the leading cause of preventable disease and death. While many smokers say they want to quit, nicotine’s intensely powerful grip on its users means only 35 percent of people who try to quit smoking are successful.
Perhaps they should try a different drug: hallucinogenic mushrooms. More than 200 species of mushrooms contain naturally occurring hallucinogenic compounds collectively known as psilocybin. A Johns Hopkins study found that smokers who took the mushrooms in a controlled environment under supervision experienced visions or hallucinations that led to a new understanding of their situation as a smoker and gave them the willpower to quit. Of the 15 people in the study, 12 quit smoking permanently.
A 2013 Gallup poll found that 85 percent of smokers have tried unsuccessfully to quit at least once. Of that group, 45 percent tried at least three times. A multi-billion industry has sprung up around these wishful quitters; nicotine patches, gum, prescription drugs, therapy, prayer, e-cigarettes and hypnosis are popular quitting methods, but only a tiny fraction of former smokers credit those tricks with helping them quit. Willpower or the “cold turkey” method was slightly more successful; 48 percent of successful quitters found mind over matter the key to breaking free of addiction.
Matthew Johnson, an associate professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins and the lead author of the study, was inspired to explore the potential of “magic mushrooms” when he read about a similar experiment in the 1960s in which alcoholics were cured of their addiction with the help of mushrooms. Other studies have found mushrooms helpful in easing OCD, clinical depression and anxiety experienced by cancer patients. Psilocybin may even ease the prevalence of domestic violence. A study conducted by the University of British Columbia found a connection between psychedelic drugs and reduced rates in domestic violence, possibly due to increased feelings of well-being, interconnection, and empathy.
Researchers are still trying to understand exactly why mushrooms are such a successful
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