In the late 1990s, when Johns Hopkins researchers wanted to conduct a study to test the mental health benefits of psilocybin, they were unsure their own institution or the U.S. Federal Drug Administration would approve.
Research involving psychedelic compounds such as psilocybin and lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) had halted worldwide decades earlier “largely in reaction to the widespread misuse and sensationalized media coverage of harms caused by psychedelics,” says Roland Griffiths, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research.
The Johns Hopkins Institutional Review Board, a group that reviews and monitors research studies, scrutinized the risks and benefits of the proposed study, and ultimately gave its approval. The research culminated in a 2006 report, published in the journal Psychopharmacology, showing that giving a single dose of psilocybin to healthy participants produced experiences that had substantial and sustained personal meaning. Staff and researchers who regularly prepare participants for and are present during psilocybin sessions carefully screen subjects. For this study, enrollees had to be in good physical and mental health, with no prior use of psychedelics.
“That [early] approval is a great credit to Johns Hopkins as an outstanding research institution,” says Griffiths, the Oliver Lee McCabe III Professor in the Neuropharmacology of Consciousness. “I am confident that lesser institutions would not have approved such a study out of concern about the reputational risk of any association with psychedelics, which had been so widely sensationalized and marginalized.”
He says the recent grant is a significant milestone in what has been called the “psychedelic renaissance,” the beginning of which is often credited to the 2006 Johns Hopkins study.