As Stoptober dawns, the dangers of smoking – and the difficulties involved in quitting – take up residence under the spotlight once more. Regular smokers have a 50/50 chance of dying from smoking-related diseases. Public Health England say that, if you stop smoking for 28 days, you’re five times as likely to be able to quit for good. Less encouragingly, though, statistics indicate that 90% of those who manage to quit will relapse at some point. Around 20% of those who use nicotine replacement aids, such as gum and patches, manage to remain smoke-free for at least 6 months. For Varenicline, the most successful drug treatment currently in use, the figure is 35%. But which all-natural compound can boast an 80% success rate?
That would be psilocybin, the active ‘psychedelic’ ingredient in magic mushrooms. In a 2014 trial, 12 of 15 participants remained smoke-free six months after undertaking three “guided trips”. Researchers are now in the process of conducting follow-up trials. So how does it work? According to Matthew W. Johnson, the study’s lead author, the process is more akin to that of a religious conversion than that of taking medication. The transcendental experiences which tend to result from taking psychedelic drugs can be, literally, life changing. Two months after the initial study ended, two thirds of the participants identified their psychedelic experience as one of the five most personally meaningful and spiritually significant of their lives, with a third regarding it as the single most meaningful and significant.
When asked to point to the reasons for their success in quitting smoking, they cited changes in their values, such that they had begun to prioritise their “long-term holistic benefit” over their “immediate desire”. A simple shift in perspective, perhaps, but one notoriously difficult to achieve. Having consumed magic mushrooms under Johnson’s supervision, Charlie Gilmour reported finally being able to describe smoking as “simply something other people do,” continuing, “The illusion is shattered; the urge has gone. I see someone with a cigarette and feel precisely nothing.”
Psychedelic compounds have also shown promise in the treatment of alcoholism, OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), cluster headaches and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). But, although research regulations have begun to relax, Johnson warns that, as soon as you pick a magic mushroom, “you are guilty of possession of a Class A drug”. In addition, the safety and efficacy of the treatment may be compromised in the absence of medical supervision. There’s a way to go until psychedelic therapy becomes available on the NHS, but someday in the not-too-distant future, taking a trip to the doctor’s could take on a whole new meaning.