Psilocybin Could Soon Be a Legal Treatment for Depression: Johns Hopkins Professor, Roland Griffiths, Explains How Psilocybin Can Relieve Suffering

Much of the recent sci­en­tif­ic research into psy­che­delics has picked up where researchers left off in the mid-20th cen­tu­ry, before LSD, psilo­cy­bin, and oth­er psy­choac­tive drugs became coun­ter­cul­tur­al means of con­scious­ness expan­sion, and then banned, ille­gal sub­stances the gov­ern­ment sought to con­trol. Sci­en­tists from sev­er­al fields stud­ied psy­che­delics as treat­ments for addic­tion, depres­sion, and anx­i­ety, and end-of-life care. These appli­ca­tions were con­ceived and test­ed sev­er­al decades ago.

Now, thanks to some seri­ous invest­ment from high-pro­file insti­tu­tions like Johns Hop­kins Uni­ver­si­ty, and thanks to chang­ing gov­ern­ment atti­tudes toward psy­choac­tive drugs, it may be pos­si­ble for psilo­cy­bin, the active ingre­di­ent in “mag­ic mush­rooms,” to get legal approval for ther­a­py in a clin­i­cal set­ting by 2021. “For the first time in U.S. his­to­ry,” Shel­by Hart­man reports at Rolling Stone, “a psy­che­del­ic drug is on the fast track to get­ting approved for treat­ing depres­sion by the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment.”

As Michael Pol­lan has detailed in his lat­est book, How to Change Your Mind, the pos­si­bil­i­ties for psilo­cy­bin and oth­er such drugs are vast. “But before the Food and Drug Admin­is­tra­tion can be peti­tioned to reclas­si­fy it,” Brit­tany Shoot notes at For­tune, the drug “first has to clear phase III clin­i­cal tri­als. The entire process is expect­ed to take about five years.” In the TEDMED video above, you can see Roland R. Grif­fiths, Pro­fes­sor of Psy­chi­a­try and Behav­ioral Sci­ences at Johns Hop­kins, dis­cuss the ways in which psilo­cy­bin, “under sup­port­ed con­di­tions, can occa­sion mys­ti­cal-type expe­ri­ences asso­ci­at­ed with endur­ing pos­i­tive changes in atti­tudes and behav­ior.”

The impli­ca­tions of this research span the fields of ethics and med­i­cine, psy­chol­o­gy and reli­gion, and it’s fit­ting that Dr. Grif­fiths leads off with a state­ment about the com­pat­i­bil­i­ty of spir­i­tu­al­i­ty and sci­ence, sup­port­ed by a quote from Ein­stein, who said “the most beau­ti­ful and pro­found emo­tion we can expe­ri­ence is the sen­sa­tion of the mys­ti­cal. It’s the source of all true sci­ence.” But the work Grif­fiths and oth­ers have been engaged in is pri­mar­i­ly prac­ti­cal in nature—though it does not at all exclude the mystical—like find­ing effec­tive means to treat depres­sion in can­cer patients, for exam­ple.

“Six­teen mil­lion Amer­i­cans suf­fer from depres­sion and approx­i­mate­ly one-third of them are treat­ment resis­tant,” Hart­man writes. “Depres­sion is also an epi­dem­ic world­wide, affect­ing 300 mil­lion peo­ple around the world.” Psy­chotrop­ic drugs like psilo­cy­bin, LSD, and MDMA (which is not clas­si­fied as a psy­che­del­ic), have been shown for a long time to work for many peo­ple suf­fer­ing from severe men­tal ill­ness and addic­tions.

Although such drugs present some poten­tial for abuse, they are not high­ly addic­tive, espe­cial­ly rel­a­tive to the flood of opi­oids on the legal mar­ket that are cur­rent­ly dev­as­tat­ing whole com­mu­ni­ties as peo­ple use them to self-med­icate. It seems that what has most pre­vent­ed psy­che­delics from being researched and pre­scribed has as much or more to do with long-stand­ing prej­u­dice and fear as it does with a gen­uine con­cern for pub­lic health. (And that’s not even to men­tion the finan­cial inter­ests who exert tremen­dous pres­sure on drug pol­i­cy.)

But now, Hart­man writes, “it appears [researchers] have come too far to go back—and the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment is final­ly rec­og­niz­ing it, too.” Find out why this research mat­ters in Dr. Grif­fiths’ talk, Pollan’s book, the Mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nary Asso­ci­a­tion for Psy­che­del­ic Stud­ies, and some of the posts we’ve linked to below.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How to Use Psy­che­del­ic Drugs to Improve Men­tal Health: Michael Pollan’s New Book, How to Change Your Mind, Makes the Case

New LSD Research Pro­vides the First Images of the Brain on Acid, and Hints at Its Poten­tial to Pro­mote Cre­ativ­i­ty

Artist Draws 9 Por­traits While on LSD: Inside the 1950s Exper­i­ments to Turn LSD into a “Cre­ativ­i­ty Pill”

When Aldous Hux­ley, Dying of Can­cer, Left This World Trip­ping on LSD, Expe­ri­enc­ing “the Most Serene, the Most Beau­ti­ful Death” (1963)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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