Johns Hopkins University announces new center for psychedelic research

The center will use psychedelics to study the mind and therapies for addiction.

September 4, 2019, 3:06 PM

Johns Hopkins University is launching a new center for psychedelic research that will use psychedelic drugs to study the mind and therapies for diseases like addiction.

Dr. Roland Griffiths, a professor in the department of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who will spearhead the new research center, told ABC News that the establishment of the new center is "an opportunity to bring this research we've been conducting with psychedelics for more than 20 years to the next level."

Much of Griffiths' early work with psychedelics at Johns Hopkins has focused on psilocybin, the chemical found in so-called magic mushrooms.

"We're exploring a variety of health effects of psilocybin in healthy volunteers to investigate the underlying neurology," Griffiths said.

The center received $17 million in funding by a group of private donors, which Griffiths said has the potential "to move psychedelic research forward and the potential for a quantum leap that pulls potential for so much promise in understanding the mind, brain and behavior."

"Johns Hopkins is deeply committed to exploring innovative treatments for our patients," Paul B. Rothman, dean of the medical faculty and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine, said in a statement. "Our scientists have shown that psychedelics have real potential as medicine, and this new center will help us explore that potential."

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, according to Johns Hopkins.

Associate professor of psychiatry Matthew Johnson, the new associate director of the psychedelic research center, said he's eager to do more work and "capture more 'Aha' moments."

"On a 10 point scale I'm at 100. I'm as excited as you can be about something in my professional career," Johnson said. "It's something Roland [and others] have worked on for over a decade and now we have a high level of support."

He added that the center is going to look at opioid addiction, as well as the combination of alcoholism and depression, and find evidence to treat both, in addition to looking at the brain mechanisms to discover "how psychedelics can treat addiction and the nature of that."

"The addiction angle is really fascinating," Johnson continued, adding that they will dig deeper into research on how LSD can be used to treat alcoholism and explore other successful studies using psilocybin.

Johnson also said he hopes to uncover "the big picture role that the drug use is playing in ones life," with respect to the side effects and issues that are "quintessentially common" among users.

Previously, Johns Hopkins psychedelic research group became the first to achieve "regulatory approval in the U.S. to re-initiate research with psychedelics in healthy volunteers who had never used a psychedelic," according to a university press release. "Their 2006 publication on the safety and enduring positive effects of a single dose of psilocybin sparked a renewal of psychedelic research worldwide."