A team of scientists are giving hallucinogens to smoking addicts to help them cut the habit. BBC Future‘s Tim Maughan visited the lab where this surprising research is emerging:
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Nicotine patches, chewing gum, cold turkey. Giving up cigarettes can be tough, but there are many strategies smokers can try. Matthew Johnson wants to add another: he says he can help smokers quit by giving them another drug – psilocybin – that has been illegal for years in much of Europe and North America. And yes, he realises that sounds unconventional.
“The idea that this research sounds counterintuitive, it makes sense to me,” he tells me as we sit in his office at Johns Hopkins’ Behavioural Pharmacology Research Unit in Baltimore.
Johnson is a behavioural pharmacologist who has been researching the relationship between drugs, the brain, and human behaviour for more than 20 years. The last 10 of those have been spent here at Johns Hopkins, where he and his team have focused on psilocybin, a naturally occurring psychedelic and the active ingredient in ‘magic mushrooms’.