For the first time in 50 years, the US government has issued a federal grant for studying psychedelics. In a groundbreaking move, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) issued nearly $4 million in funding to John Hopkins University, New York University, and the University of Alabama in Birmingham to study the therapeutic effects of psilocybin for smoking cessation.
The study will be led by John Hopkins and conducted simultaneously across the three universities to allow for a diverse pool of participants in an effort to improve confidence that the outcomes can be replicated across different demographics.
“The historical importance of this grant is monumental,” says principal investigator Matthew Johnson, Ph.D., Susan Hill Ward Professor in Psychedelics and Consciousness in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “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.” reported a recent John Hopkins press release.
John Hopkins is optimally positioned to lead this study. Their pilot study led by Dr. Johnson on the effects of psilocybin paired with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for smoking cessation published in 2014, demonstrated that "...the abstinence rate for study participants was 80 percent after six months, substantially higher than typical success rates in smoking cessation trials...". Most conventional smoking cessation therapies report an average of 30% abstinence rate at the 6-month point.
John Hopkins is currently undertaking a double-blind randomized trial involving psilocybin-assisted CBT sessions focused on pinpointing negative patterns of thought that can lead to behavioral and mental health problems. "The researchers suggest psilocybin might help break the addictive pattern of thoughts and behaviors that has become ingrained after years of smoking, thus helping people to quit the habit." reports John Hopkins.
While research into the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics has been ongoing in varying degrees for the past 20 years, the federal government's funding of this research, for the first time in half a century, offers new hope and a likely change of tone with the potential to support the expansion of research, breaking of social stigma, and providing safe and equitable access for patients in need.