Why do people stop smoking cigarettes after taking psychedelics?

It’s not just Doja Cat – there are many users of LSD or psilocybin that have reportedly given up cigarettes after a psychedelic experience.

Pop superstar Doja Cat recently spoke to Rolling Stone about drugs, and how an acid trip, despite being a bad trip, led to her giving up cigarettes. Here’s what she said:

“I was smoking lots of cigarettes. But I quit smoking because of the acid I took. I haven’t been able to smoke a cigarette since then. It’s unbearable to smoke one. It’s very interesting how that worked.”

Doja cat psychedelics smoking

But Doja Cat isn’t alone, and her experience actually speaks to a long history of psychedelics being used as a treatment for addiction. LSD specifically was heralded as a breakthrough method of treating addiction when it was first being studied in the 1950s, but most of that research ground to a halt when the US made the substance illegal in 1966.

Now that the drug – as well as psilocybin, which is the active psychedelic ingredient in magic mushrooms – are being approved in clinical trials once again, these hypotheses are being revisited.

Alongside promising results in trials for treating mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder, psychedelics are being studied for their potential benefits for people who suffer harmful substance addictions.

This research takes time, trial, and error, and while promising, could take years to come to fruition as an actual treatment option you could undertake with a psychologist or psychiatrist. Those that have been completed in relation to alcoholism, for instance, indicate a short-term withdrawal that was not maintained after one year.

But outside of the hospitals and medical centres where these studies are  being held, many people are experiencing anecdotal moments where they’ve taken psychedelics and very suddenly wanted to stop smoking.

A 28-year-old Australian man who wished to remain anonymous recalled his experience taking LSD and lighting a cigarette during his trip:

“It wasn’t an ‘aha!’ moment like a conscious decision. I lit a cigarette and found it to be entirely unenjoyable. Almost like experiencing it for the first time.”

“And I was annoyed because I enjoyed what smoking brought me, which really was an excuse to go sit outside by myself after work or during a party where I could be alone.” 

“But the desire to smoke was there in one moment and gone in the next.” 

His realisation happened very early into this particular trip, after about an hour:

“I was sitting in the back yard with my mates about an hour or so into the trip, and went to light a cigarette and felt a sense of judgment from mates which I almost always did when having them watch me smoke.”

“And then I was repulsed. And thought, oh no, I have to break up with my good friend (smoking) because I don’t love them anymore.”

A leading theory on how LSD in particular affects your brain (explained in far better detail by neuroscientist Dr. Robin Carhartt-Harris in Michael Pollan’s book How to Change Your Mind) is that it unlearns a life’s worth of learned behaviour.

In other words, by opening up pathways in your brain that may have been closed for decades, it can make you reconsider or reexamine the things that have become habitual to yourself.

Our friend continued:

“I think I was also ready to quit and was looking for an excuse to start but I didn’t realise it would just temporarily switch it off.”

“The biggest thing I think is I didn’t want to smoke anymore. I was addicted but was actively repulsed by it.”

And while he admitted that he has been consuming nicotine with a vaporiser since that trip, he hasn’t taken smoking cigarettes back up at all.

“I’m almost one year without a cigarette.” 

“Vaping was incredibly helpful it quitting smoking, because it meant I didn’t have that awful taste and smell which I think the cessation actually stemmed from. But vaping then increased my nicotine intake, and cravings went through the roof.”

Currently there is still no way to legally treat an addiction to nicotine with LSD or psilocybin in Australia – if legislated, this would likely involve a therapy session with a sober psychologist or psychiatrist to help you through the process.

The substances themselves are still illegal to possess, sell, and consume, but 10.4% of Australians aged 14 and over tried hallucinogens in 2019. In the same year, 11% of Australians smoked tobacco daily, compared to 24% in 1991.

So attitudes to tobacco are changing, irregardless of people using psychedelics. The rise of vaporisers have also caused a noted downturn in the amount of people smoking cigarettes – something the government media has been effectively telling us is disgusting since the ’90s.

However, tobacco is still highly addictive. And to some of those who can’t seem to shake their cigarette use through normal means, LSD or psilocybin are certainly proving to be useful tools.