The National Institutes of Health awarded a $4 million grant to scientists at Johns Hopkins University to study if psilocybin can help people quit smoking. It’s the first time in 50 years that a federal grant has been given to the study of a psychedelic drug for treatment.
Matthew Johnson is a psychiatry and behavioral sciences professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Medicine who is helping lead the trial, which will be done in collaboration with researchers at New York University and the University of Alabama.
Researchers at those universities have been studying the compound’s possible uses for alcohol and cocaine addiction, while Johnson’s focus is on tobacco, he said.
“The best evidence we have is … when people have a report that they have feelings of oneness, feeling at one with the rest of the universe, one with the rest of humanity, feeling that they’ve gone beyond time and space, a so-called mystical experience … are more likely to show positive behavioral benefits, including successfully quitting smoking, six months, a year later,” Johnson said.
Trial participants would only receive the drug a handful of times, he said, adding that experiencing the “trip” can help change the way a person views themselves and their struggle to quit smoking.
“They’re coming out of it talking more like they’ve learned something from a psychotherapy,” Johnson said. “It works a little more like that than your traditional psychiatric medication.”