Johns Hopkins opens 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 in Baltimore, Maryland, according to an announcement released by the university yesterday.
Psychedelics are a class of drugs that produce unique and profound changes of consciousness over the course of several hours. The Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research is believed to be the first of its kind and will focus on how psychedelics affect behavior, brain function, learning and memory, the brain's biology, and mood. Researchers at the center will study the mind and identify therapies for diseases such as addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and Alzheimer's disease.
At Johns Hopkins, much of the early work with psychedelics has focused on psilocybin, the chemical found in so-called magic mushrooms. Further studies will determine the chemical's effectiveness as a new therapy for opioid addiction, Alzheimer's disease, PTSD, post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome, anorexia nervosa, and alcohol use in people with major depression. Researchers hope to create precision medicine treatments tailored to individual patients' specific needs.
The center will provide support for a team of six faculty neuroscientists, experimental psychologists, and clinicians with expertise in psychedelic science, as well as five postdoctoral scientists. The center's faculty will also train graduate and medical students who want to pursue careers in psychedelic science, where there have historically been few avenues for career advancement.
In the absence of federal funding for such therapeutic research, the new center will rely on gifts from private donors, the statement said.
In 2000, the psychedelic research group at Johns Hopkins was the first to achieve regulatory approval in the U.S. to reinitiate research with psychedelics in healthy volunteers who had never used a psychedelic. Their 2006 publication on the safety and enduring positive effects of a single dose of psilocybin sparked a renewal of psychedelic research worldwide.
Since then, the researchers have published studies in more than 60 peer-reviewed journal articles. Their research has demonstrated therapeutic benefits for people who suffer from conditions including nicotine addiction and depression and anxiety caused by life-threatening diseases such as cancer. It has paved the way for current studies on treatment of major depressive disorder. These researchers have also expanded the field of psychedelic research by publishing safety guidelines that have helped gain approval for psychedelic studies at other universities around the world and by developing new ways of measuring mystical, emotional, and meditative experiences while under the influence of psychedelics.
The group's findings on both the promise and the risks of psilocybin helped create a path forward for the chemical's potential medical approval and reclassification from a Schedule I drug, the most restrictive federal government category, to a more appropriate level. Psilocybin was classified as Schedule I during the Nixon administration, but the team's research over the last decade has shown psilocybin to have low toxicity and abuse potential.
"The center's establishment reflects a new era of research in therapeutics and the mind through studying this unique and remarkable class of pharmacological compounds," said Roland Griffiths, PhD, the center's director and professor of behavioral biology in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and the Department of Neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "In addition to studies on new therapeutics, we plan to investigate creativity and wellbeing in healthy volunteers that we hope will open up new ways to support human thriving."