Another recent pilot study, at Johns Hopkins, looked at the potential of psilocybin to help people quit smoking, one of the hardest addictions to break. The study was tiny and not randomized—all 15 volunteers received two or three doses of psilocybin and knew it. Following what has become the standard protocol in psychedelic therapy, volunteers stretch out on a couch in a room decorated to look like a cozy den, with spiritual knickknacks lining the bookshelves. They wear eyeshades and headphones (playlists typically include classical and modern instrumental works) to encourage an inward journey. Two therapists, a man and a woman, are present for the duration. Typically these “guides” say very little, allowing the journey to take its course, but if the experience turns frightening, they will offer a comforting hand or bit of advice (“trust and let go,” is a common refrain).
The results of the pilot study were eye-popping: Six months after their psychedelic session, 80% of the volunteers were confirmed to have quit smoking. At the one-year mark, that figure had fallen to 67%, which is still a better rate of success than the best treatment now available. A much larger study at Hopkins is currently under way.
When I asked volunteers how a psilocybin trip had given them the wherewithal to quit smoking, several described an experience that pulled back the camera on the scene of their lives farther than ever before, giving them a new, more encompassing perspective on their behavior.