The Legal High That Helps Treat Addiction (M)

The key is the production of theta waves: a particular type of electrical activity in the brain that puts the mind into a healthy altered state of consciousness.

The key is the production of theta waves: a particular type of electrical activity in the brain that puts the mind into a healthy altered state of consciousness.

Addicts can get a totally safe, legal high from mindfulness meditation that also fights their addictive behaviours, a study finds.

In fact, anyone can achieve a self-transcendent, blissful state using mindfulness.

The key is the production of theta waves: a particular type of electrical activity in the brain that puts the mind into a healthy altered state of consciousness.

Professor Eric Garland, the study’s first author, explained the significance:

“With high theta activity, your mind becomes very quiet, you focus less on yourself and become so deeply absorbed in what you are doing that the boundary between yourself and the thing you are focusing on starts to fade away.

You lose yourself in what you are doing.”

Practising mindfulness

The research, the largest ever study on treating addiction with mindfulness, included 165 people with a history of long-term opioid usage.

Half were given an 8-week course called Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement which has been shown to reduce opioid misuse by 45 percent.

The other half were given supportive psychotherapy.

People in the mindfulness group learned various standard mindfulness practices, such as focusing attention on the breath and the body.

(Here is PsyBlog’s guide to mindfulness meditation and here are some mindfulness exercises to try.)

Over extended periods of time, participants practiced bringing their focus back from the mind’s natural wandering.

Bliss and love

The results showed that after practicing mindfulness people showed twice as much theta brainwave activity.

In comparison, those who merely had supportive therapy displayed no change in this regard.

People experiencing the largest increases in theta wave activity reported greater feelings of self-transcendence.

They felt their ego fading away to be replaced by a sense of oneness, blissful energy and love.

Professor Garland said:

“Mindfulness can create a pathway for us to transcend our limited sense of self.

Civilizations have known for thousands of years that self-transcendence, the experience of being connected to something greater than ourselves, has powerful therapeutic benefits.”

Pure awareness

The increase in theta waves helps addicts gain self-control over their addictive behaviours.

Professor Garland said:

“Rather than seeking a high from something outside of yourself like a drug, meditation can help you to find an even greater sense of pleasure, peace and fulfilment from within.”

Professor Garland likens this to the 11th step of the popular 12-step addiction treatment program, which involves ‘seeking conscious contact with a higher power through prayer or meditation’.

The study’s authors quote the Shiva Sutras, aphorisms from a 9th century yogi:

“When the yogi is established in pure awareness, his craving is destroyed… thus he savors his own inherently blissful nature which illumines itself with the rays of its consciousness… Thus [at] the very moment the yogi abandons the craving.”

The study was published in the journal Science Advances (Garland et al., 2022).


Get FREE email updates to PsyBlog

Hello, and welcome to PsyBlog. Thanks for dropping by.

This site is all about scientific research into how the mind works.

It’s mostly written by psychologist and author, Dr Jeremy Dean.

I try to dig up fascinating studies that tell us something about what it means to be human.

Get FREE email updates to PsyBlog. Join the mailing list.

Author: Jeremy Dean

Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology. He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book "Making Habits, Breaking Habits" (Da Capo, 2013) and several ebooks.