Psilocybin-Facilitated Treatment for Addiction: Smoking Cessation

Matthew W. Johnson, PhD

Abstract: One of the intriguing lines of investigation into the therapeutic application of hallucinogens in the 1960s and 1970s was in the treatment of drug dependence. Prior research in non-dependent individuals has shown that under carefully prepared and supportive conditions, psilocybin can facilitate highly salient experiences with enduring personal meaning and spiritual significance, and moreover, that such experiences can lead to increases in personality openness. Embedding such highly meaningful experiences and resulting personality openness into drug dependence cessation may provide an enduring motivation for remaining abstinent. Cigarette smoking is a good model for studying drug dependence because users are less likely to be challenged by the many social and economic impairments that often accompany dependence on other drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and alcohol. We are conducting a pilot feasibility study in which psilocybin, administered under highly supportive and prepared conditions in up to three sessions, is combined with cognitive behavioral therapy for smoking cessation. Preliminary results are encouraging, with all five participants having quit on their first psilocybin session and showing biologically confirmed abstinence at all follow-up visits (up to one year for the first four participants).

Matthew W. Johnson, PhD is Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Dr. Johnson is an expert in addiction and the behavioral and psychological effects of psychoactive drugs in humans. He has published human drug administration research with cocaine, nicotine, caffeine, various sedatives, and hallucinogens including psilocybin, dextromethorphan, and salvinorin A. In 2008, he published recommended safety guidelines for the re-emerging field of human hallucinogen administration research, and in 2011 the first placebo-controlled study of the psychoactive effects of salvinorin A in humans. In published research with psilocybin he has examined mystical-type effects, persisting changes in attitudes and behaviors, personality change, and psilocybin effects on headache. He is currently studying the effects of psilocybin on a meditation program, and psilocybin in the treatment of anxiety and depression among cancer patients. Dr. Johnson is also principal investigator of an ongoing pilot study examining the putative anti-addiction efficacy of psilocybin in the context of tobacco smoking cessation.

Also available on
Help translate and caption videos on