The Beckley Foundation is proud to be collaborating with the distinguished team at Johns Hopkins University led by Professor Roland Griffiths and Assistant Professor Mathew Johnson, in the first study in modern times to harness the profound psychological effects of a psychedelic to aid the treatment one of the most difficult addictions to break: nicotine addiction in cigarette smokers.
Psilocybin, like other classic hallucinogens such as LSD, does not appear to be addictive, and may even help people who are hooked on addictive drugs – e.g. narcotics, nicotine and alcohol – to break their habit when combined with psychotherapy.
The work carries on a line of investigation which started forty years ago, before research with classic hallucinogens was prohibited. Research in the ‘60s highlighted addiction treatment as one of the areas in which classic hallucinogens showed the greatest potential benefits. People who experience the mystical mental state generated by these chemicals seem less inclined to pursue addictive behaviours.
Entheogens, such as Psilocybin, can bring about mental states that are indistinguishable from the mystical and visionary states (Griffiths et al., 2008). This research has suggested that the mystical/spiritual experiences that psilocybin can promote might be integral to the efficacy of psychedelic-assisted treatments of addiction. This idea is supported by the last phase of psychedelic research 40 years ago, which highlighted addiction treatment as one of the areas in which psychedelics showed the greatest potential benefits. The states of consciousness associated with Psilocybin use may provide a valuable opportunity to overcome addictive behaviours.
The current study will finally see this potential explored within a modern scientific framework, with the aim of providing an important new means of treating intractable addiction. Using the knowledge gathered from previous psychedelic research, combined with a modern understanding of addiction, this study has developed an addiction-treatment programme that combines cognitive behavioural therapy and psilocybin-occasioned mystical experience.
Participants in this study are cigarette smokers who have attempted to quit smoking several times unsuccessfully. Volunteers will receive careful preparation and three sessions in which they will receive psilocybin. Cognitive behavioural therapy and on-going interpersonal support will be integrated with psilocybin sessions in order to help participants quit smoking. Structured guidance will be provided during the sessions and afterwards to facilitate integration of the experiences. Questionnaires, interviews, and biological measures of smoking will be used to assess the treatment’s effects on consciousness, mood, and smoking.
So far four long term heavy smokers have been run in this study and all have been able to quit smoking and remain long-term abstinent. Participants 1 and 2 have completed the entire trial including the 12 month follow up; Participant 3 has completed the 6 month follow up; Participant four has completed the first psilocybin session and 1 week follow up. All participants have shown verified abstinence at all follow up time points. On self-report measures, 3 participants report not smoking even a single puff since their first psilocybin session. These results are very encouraging in comparison with relapse rates for other medications used to treat addiction to nicotine. However, we plan to run at least 15 further participant’s in this pilot study before a large scale clinical trial will be embarked upon.
As the first exploration of a classic psychedelic for the treatment of addiction in 40 years, this project has huge potential to develop our understanding of psychedelics, their impact on health and well-being, and their therapeutic potential, and to open up an important new front in combating some of the most intractable psychological problems of modern times.