Johns Hopkins to lead first federally-funded psychedelic study in decades

For the first time in around five decades, the US government has issued a federal grant for the study of psychedelics. The funds have been granted to three universities: New York University, Johns Hopkins University, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The grant is intended to study the psychedelic compound psilocybin as a potential therapeutic tool for addressing addiction.

Once a promising tool for mental health, psychedelics have been scheduled substances in the United States for decades, effectively bringing most research on the compounds to an end. Despite their continued illegality, psychedelics have once again exploded in popularity, particularly the practice of "microdosing," with users giving anecdotal reports about benefits ranging from better mental performance to improved mental health and sociability.

Renewed public interest in psychedelics and claims made about their potential benefits have fueled a new era of research into the compounds in the US, including psilocybin, which is the psychoactive chemical found in various edible mushroom species. The new federal grant was issued by the NIH's National Institute on Drug Abuse to study psilocybin as a potential way to help smokers overcome their addictions.

According to Johns Hopkins University, it will lead the three-year study in collaboration with the other two educational institutions. The universities will simultaneously conduct their own parts of the study, evaluating whether psilocybin may be suitable as an addiction treatment for smokers. The grant offers up nearly $4 million in funds for the study, which the universities say will feature a "diversified pool of participants" made possible, in part, by the research's multi-state design.

The study's principal investigator Matthew Johnson, Ph.D., first started evaluating psilocybin as a potential smoking cessation therapeutic 13 years ago, according to the university, including a pilot study published in 2014 that offered very promising results. Of particular interest is the existing research's evidence that psilocybin may be substantially more effective at helping smokers quit compared to existing treatment options available.

Johnson said in a statement:

The historical importance of this grant is monumental. We knew it was only a matter of time before the NIH would fund this work because the data are so compelling, and because this work has demonstrated to be safe. Psilocybin does have very real risks, but these risks are squarely mitigated in controlled settings through screening, preparation, monitoring and follow-up care.