Jordan Peterson on Overcoming Addiction

Despite what we’re about to go through, Jordan Peterson has said some undeniably beautiful things during his extended run in the limelight (which we hope continues indefinitely) and he is to be commended for those statements. Furthermore, he is among the world’s experts (from a clinical perspective) on the larger subject of addiction and so any criticism of him in this vein should be done so with careful reflection and proper citations. With these qualifiers aside, let us get to it.

**One quick note: we’ve just been made aware (February 9th, 2020) of the update Jordan’s update regarding his recent health issues. In no way is he being hypocritical by seeking clinical treatment for the problems he is currently suffering from. We condemn all of the hit pieces that have been written since his hospitalization and we’re working on a piece to address those articles now. In the meantime, we hope Dr. Peterson a speedy and thorough recovery and look forward to seeing him back on. 

In a free form debate with the atheist Matt Dillahunty the topic of addiction, specifically overcoming addiction, arose. What would happen in the following few minutes has been the subject of great ridicule in the social science community, however has been mostly glossed over by the rest of society. First, the interaction.

Matt: I agree people take drugs and report experiencing something that is supernatural. We have no way of confirming that something mystical or supernatural has actually happened. What this is..

Jordan: It stops people from smoking.

Matt: But you can stop smoking without any supernatural intervention.

Jordan: No, not really.

Matt: You can stop smoking without supernatural intervention?!?

Jordan: There aren’t any reliable means for reducing smoking cessation. You can take a drug called Bupropion (anti-depressant).

Matt: Is that supernatural?

Jordan: No. But if you give people magic mushrooms (psilocybin) and they have a mystical experience they have about an 85% chance of smoking cessation. In one treatment.

Matt: Sure

Jordan: Yeah but that’s kind of like evidence you know.

The study in question was done by Matthew W. Johnson , PhD, Albert Garcia-Romeu , PhD & Roland R. Griffiths, PhD where 15 people (small sample, but I digress) were given psilocybin (a reliable serotonin 2A receptor agonist) in conjunction with rigorous cognitive behavioral therapy. The question is about it’s longitudinal effectiveness, or how well will the treatment fair over time in keeping smokers abstinent as well as how does that compare to existing treatments.

Alright so at 12-month follow-up 10 participants (of all 15 participants) were confirmed as smoking abstinent (67%) which is impressive compared to other options. However there was yet another followup at greater than 16 months (it’s hard to get all respondents to followup at exactly the same time), where only 12 of the 15 participants responded with 9 responding that they were smoking abstinent.   

Not only was the data set extremely small (15) for the claims being made by Peterson but after 12 months the relapse rate fell in line with expectations (though the researchers perhaps shouldn’t be criticized considering it’s a pilot study and getting the requisite number of preferred participants is difficult and expensive). I can imagine people making the religious argument about the nature of free will and that the spiritual experience that transpired was one that “provided an opening” for one to form a new life. However, even in this abstract theological domain, the results seem difficult to swallow. If the spiritual experience was what got people to abstain from smoking, then presumably what was revealed to them was the value of quitting smoking. If the power of local environmental effects could push people to resume smoking, then how powerful could the spiritual experience been?

Full video below. 

Should we become aware that Jordan has changed his opinion or should new evidence be submitted that we have either misconstrued his opinion or failed to include important statements from him, we will 1) make the correction, 2) note the correction here, 3) issue a mea culpa that attempts to explain and improve on how we missed this. 

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