Johns Hopkins University has announced gifts totaling $17 million from the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation, author and technology investor Tim Ferriss, WordPress co-founder Matt Mullenweg, TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie, and investor Craig Nerenberg to launch a Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research.
Believed to be the first such initiative in the United States, the center will be housed in the university's School of Medicine and will conduct research on how psychedelics affect behavior, brain function, learning and memory, and mood. To date, much of Hopkins' work on psychedelics has been focused on psilocybin, the chemical found in so-called magic mushrooms; further studies will determine the chemical's effectiveness as a new precision-medicine therapy for opioid addiction, Alzheimer's disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome, anorexia nervosa, and alcohol use in people with major depression. The initial gifts in support of the center will fund its operations for five years, enabling it to support a team of six faculty neuroscientists, experimental psychologists, and clinicians with expertise in psychedelic science, as well as five postdoctoral researchers.
In 2000, JHU's psychedelic research group became the first in the country to achieve regulatory approval to re-initiate research on psychedelics in healthy volunteers who had never used them. The group's 2006 publication on the safety and enduring positive effects of a single dose of psilocybin paved the way for current studies on its use in the treatment of major depressive disorder and helped create a path forward for its potential medical approval and reclassification. In the absence of federal funding for such research, however, the center will continue to rely on private funding.
"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, a professor of behavioral biology at JHU and the center's director. "In addition to studies on new therapeutics, we plan to investigate creativity and well-being in healthy volunteers that we hope will open up new ways to support human thriving."
"We have to take braver and bolder steps if we want to help those suffering from chronic illness, addiction, and mental health challenges," said Alex Cohen, president of the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation, which has long supported Lyme disease research. "By investing in the Johns Hopkins center, we are investing in the hope that researchers will keep proving the benefits of psychedelics — and people will have new ways to heal."
(Photo credit: Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine)