Psychedelics Research and Psilocybin Therapy

The Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research is leading the way in exploring innovative treatments using psilocybin. The molecular structure of psilocybin, a naturally occurring psychedelic compound found in 'magic mushrooms,' allows it to penetrate the central nervous system and the scientific and medical experts are just beginning to understand its effects on the brain and mind and its potential as therapeutics for mental illnesses.

Backed by $55 million in funding, researchers build on previous work and expand research on psychedelics for illness and wellness: (1) to develop new treatments for a wider variety of psychiatric and behavioral disorders with the aspiration of treatments tailored to the specific needs of individual patients and (2) to expand research in healthy volunteers with the ultimate aspiration of opening new ways to support human thriving.

Psilocybin Research and Potential

Roland Griffiths, Ph.D., presented a TEDMED talk in 2015 about the therapeutic and consciousness potential of psilocybin. Research to date demonstrate safety of psilocybin in regulated spaces facilitated by medical team over a series of guided sessions; and as a part of cognitive behavioral therapy, psilocybin helps in reducing anxiety in some cancer patients, and in facilitating smoking cessation for some.

The Neuroscience of Psychedelic Drugs, Music and Nostalgia

With controlled psychedelic substances, there is a potential to alter the entire brain for a period of time and thus provide relief from negative emotions that cloud the mind. Capturing this controlled relief, Dr Frederick Barrett's research suggests that, under the right conditions, psychedelics may have the potential to treat a wide range of mood and substance disorders.

Center Highlights

  1. 2000 (Research) : Regulatory approval to resume psychedelics research

    A group of Johns Hopkins researchers was the first to obtain regulatory approval in the United States to resume research with psychedelics in healthy volunteers who had no previous experience with psychedelics. 

  2. 2006 (Milestone) : Milestone study launching the revival of psilocybin research

    The publication "Psilocybin can occasion mystical-type experiences having substantial and sustained personal meaning and spiritual significance" on the safety and enduring positive effects of a single dose of psilocybin is widely considered the landmark study that sparked a renewal of psychedelic research world-wide.

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  3. 2008 (Document) : Guidelines for safety

    The Center’s team emphasizes safety as a cornerstone of psychedelics research. These recommended techniques in this publication, "Human hallucinogen research: guidelines for safety," have been adopted by others in the field.

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  4. 2014 (Document) : 'Magic mushrooms' help longtime smokers quit

    Johns Hopkins researchers report that a small number of longtime smokers who had failed many attempts to drop the habit did so after a carefully controlled and monitored use of psilocybin, the active hallucinogenic agent in so-called "magic mushrooms,” in the context of a cognitive behavioral therapy treatment program. 

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  5. 2016 (Document) : Psilocybin eases existential anxiety in people with life threatening cancer

    In a small double-blind study, Johns Hopkins researchers report that a substantial majority of people suffering cancer-related anxiety or depression found considerable relief for up to six months from a single large dose of psilocybin — the active compound in hallucinogenic “magic mushrooms.”

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  6. 2018 (Research) : Reclassification recommendation for psilocybin

    In an evaluation of the safety and abuse research on the drug in hallucinogenic mushrooms, Johns Hopkins researchers suggest that if it clears phase III clinical trials, psilocybin should be re-categorized from a schedule I drug—one with no known medical potential—to a schedule IV drug such as prescription sleep aids, but with tighter control.

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  7. 2019 (Document)

    Psychedelic use may lead to treatments for alcohol abuse

    Online survey of over 300 people with Alcohol Use Disorder reported reducing or abstaining alcohol use after taking a psychedelic drug such as psilocybin, LSD or DMT. This study adds to growing evidence for supporting further investigation of psychedelic-assisted treatment for alcoholism or substance abuse.

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    Johns Hopkins launches center for psychedelic research

    A group of private donors has given $17 million to start the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research at Johns Hopkins Medicine, making it what’s believed to be the first such research center in the U.S., and the largest research center of its kind in the world. In the absence of federal funding for such therapeutic research in people, the new center will rely on the gifts announced today to advance the emerging field of psychedelics for therapies and wellness.

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  8. 2020 (Document)

    Psychedelic Drug Psilocybin Tamps Down Brain’s Ego Center

    The brain scans after psilocybin use showed that the claustrum was less active, meaning the area of the brain believed responsible for setting attention and switching tasks is turned down when on the drug. The researchers say that this ties in with what people report as typical effects of psychedelic drugs, including feelings of being connected to everything and reduced senses of self or ego.

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    Psychedelic Treatment with Psilocybin Relieves Major Depression, Study Show

    In a small study of adults with major depression, Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers report that two doses of the psychedelic substance psilocybin, given with supportive psychotherapy, produced rapid and large reductions in depressive symptoms, with most participants showing improvement and half of study participants achieving remission through the four-week follow-up.

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  9. 2021 (Milestone) : First Federal Grant for Psychedelic Treatment Research in 50 years

    Johns Hopkins Medicine was awarded a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to explore the potential impacts of psilocybin on tobacco addiction. This is the first NIH grant awarded in over a half century to directly investigate the therapeutic effects of a classic psychedelic, consistent with a recent study published online that searched NIH funding and found zero grants were awarded between 2006 and 2020. Johns Hopkins Medicine will lead the multisite, three-year study in collaboration with University of Alabama at Birmingham and New York University.

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  10. 2022 (Milestone) : Psilocybin Treatment for Major Depression May be Effective for Up to a Year

    Previous studies by Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers showed that psychedelic treatment with psilocybin relieved major depressive disorder symptoms in adults for up to a month. Now, in a follow-up study of those participants, the researchers report that the substantial antidepressant effects of psilocybin-assisted therapy, given with supportive psychotherapy, may last at least a year for some patients.

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