Psychedelic Science: Therapeutic Implications and Ethical Challenges by Roland Griffiths, PhD
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This presentation will review research conducted at Johns Hopkins over the past two decades with psilocybin, a classic psychedelic substance which is the principal active component of the so-called “Magic Mushroom.” Classic psychedelics are a class of psychoactive compounds that produce a unique profile of changes in thoughts, perceptions and emotions, often including profound alterations in meaning and beliefs about the nature of reality, that are rarely experienced that are rarely experienced except in naturally-occurring mystical experiences, and acute psychosis. A robust and provocative finding is that administration of psilocybin to carefully screened and well prepared and supported participants can result in “peak” experiences to which participants attribute enduring positive changes in moods, attitudes, and behavior for months and possibly years after a single session. Notably, such effects have been documented in the majority of participants from a series of studies in healthy volunteers and in patient populations. This research has immediate applications in therapeutics and for understanding the neurobiology of consciousness, and has broad implications for advancing our understanding of the neuropsychopharmacology of prosocial and ethical behavior. The findings demonstrating enduring changes in personality, meaning, and beliefs raise important questions about informed consent of participants as well as questions about the potential for adverse effects to the culture at large.
Roland Griffiths, Ph.D., is Professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and Neurosciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. His principal research focus in both clinical and preclinical laboratories has been on the behavioral and subjective effects of mood-altering drugs. His research has been largely supported by grants from the National Institute on Health and he is author of over 400 journal articles and book chapters, and has trained more than 50 postdoctoral research fellows. He has been a consultant to the National Institutes of Health, to numerous pharmaceutical companies in the development of new psychotropic drugs, and as a member of the Expert Advisory Panel on Drug Dependence for the World Health Organization. He has conducted extensive research with sedative-hypnotics, caffeine, and novel mood-altering drugs including. In 1999 he initiated a research program investigating the effects of the classic psychedelic psilocybin that includes studies in healthy volunteers, in beginning and long-term meditators, and in religious leaders. Therapeutic studies with psilocybin include treatment of psychological distress in cancer patients, treatment of cigarette smoking cessation, and psilocybin treatment of major depression. The Hopkins laboratory has also conducted a series of internet survey studies characterizing various psychedelic experiences including those associated with acute and enduring adverse effects, mystical-type effects, entity and God-encounter experiences, and alleged positive changes in mental health, including decreases in depression and anxiety, decreases in substance abuse, and reductions in death anxiety.