Skip to main content
Move the World.
Take a Trip to Johns Hopkins' New Psychedelic Research Center

Johns Hopkins is throwing its considerable clout behind the fast-growing field of psychedelic research, pouring $17 million into a research center to study the hallucinogenic drugs. This is — even by tie-dyed, Deadhead, Timothy Leary, spirit-of-the-60s, let-me-tell-you-about-Burning-Man standards — a lot of money to spend on psychedelics. According to FierceBiotech, the new Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research will be the first of its kind in the United States and the largest in the world.

But the data being gathered on the drugs — which include LSD, MDMA, psilocybin, and ketamine, along with an alphabet soup of lesser known compounds — shows promise in a variety of applications. Best known are the possible psychological benefits to psychedelic experiences.

The Promising Potential of Psychedelic Research

Although the field of psychedelic research isn't a new one, the Center has set expectations high for fresh insights and advancements.

"The most exciting is the potential that a psychedelic treatment model may have, particularly when treating clinical conditions for which we don't have effective treatments," says Charles Grob, Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine.

These can include conditions like depression and addiction. Grob recently co-authored a pilot study looking at using MDMA for treating social anxiety in adults with autism.

Dried psilocybin mushrooms.

Dried psilocybin mushrooms. Psilocybin, the active ingredient in "magic mushrooms", is one of the compounds being studied for its potential for treating conditions like depression and addiction. Photo by © Andrea / Adobe Stock

Wilder still, psychedelics may have impacts outside of the brain and central nervous system.

Charles Nichols, a professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics at LSU Health Medical Center, has found that the psychedelic compound DOI (structurally similar to mescaline) has anti-inflammatory effects — a bizarre discovery, Grob laughs, that came out of left field. Nichols' tests in cell, mouse, and rat models show that a very small dose of the drug has a major impact on inflammation.

“When centers like Hopkins attract this money, it's a validation of the field as being legitimate.”

Charles Nichols, a professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics at LSU Health Medical Center

"The neat thing about this," Nichols says, "is that some of the drugs we've looked at are very potent at producing these anti-inflammatory effects," meaning that they may work at doses well below the threshold that would cause a patient to trip.

Johns Hopkins' Psychedelic Research is Just Beginning

Psychedelic research, while promising, still has a long way to go to make up for the lost time that was collateral damage of the culture war of the 1960s. Both Grob and Nichols point to the credibility and respect Johns Hopkins commands as being key for advancing the field, even beyond the research that the center will eventually support and publish. (The large investment to fund the Center doesn't hurt, either.)

“The most exciting is the potential that a psychedelic treatment model may have, particularly when treating clinical conditions for which we don't have effective treatments,”

Charles Grob, Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine.

"I think this is very big," says Grob, who admits to being a bit biased about Hopkins — he trained there, worked there, and was even born there.

But Nichols agrees.

"When centers like Hopkins attract this money, it's a validation of the field as being legitimate."

Connect

Up Next

Medical Innovation
Forget Needles - This Thin Strip May Improve Access to Vaccinations
vaccinations
Medical Innovation
Forget Needles - This Thin Strip May Improve Access to Vaccinations
Temperature stable vaccinations could change how we store and transport life-saving medicine to the places that need it most.

Temperature stable vaccinations could change how we store and transport life-saving medicine to the places that need it most.

Bionics
Building an Artificially Intelligent, Open-Source Prosthetic Leg
prosthetic leg
Bionics
Building an Artificially Intelligent, Open-Source Prosthetic Leg
We've come a long way since the first prosthetic leg, and "smart" limbs, equipped with computing capabilities and...

We've come a long way since the first prosthetic leg, and "smart" limbs, equipped with computing capabilities and artificial intelligence, are on the horizon. But for a team of engineers at the University of Michigan and Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, advances still aren't happening fast enough. To move things along, they are giving away the plans to an AI prosthetic leg — hoping researchers will piggyback off each other's work,...

Cybersecurity
We’re One Step Closer to a Super-Secure Quantum Internet
We’re One Step Closer to a Super-Secure Quantum Internet
Cybersecurity
We’re One Step Closer to a Super-Secure Quantum Internet
Scientists have successfully entangled photons across a 52-mile-long quantum loop in Chicago, a major milestone along the path to a quantum Internet.

Scientists have successfully entangled photons across a 52-mile-long quantum loop in Chicago, a major milestone along the path to a quantum Internet.

Fighting Superbugs with Viruses
Fighting Superbugs with Viruses
Watch Now
Fighting Superbugs with Viruses
This Yale scientist's experimental treatment is a Texas woman's last resort.
Watch Now

Ben Chan searches sewers, lakes, and pig farms all around the world for bacteriophages (bacteria-destroying viruses) that could help fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as “superbugs.” Paige is a young woman in Texas with cystic fibrosis who is suffering from a drug-resistant infection; Ben’s experimental phage therapy is her last resort. We follow Ben as he travels from his laboratory at Yale to Lubbock,...

Dispatches
We're Mapping 100 Trillion Human Cells (and All of Their Genes)
We're Mapping 100 Trillion Human Cells (and All of Their Genes)
Dispatches
We're Mapping 100 Trillion Human Cells (and All of Their Genes)
The "Human BioMolecular Atlas" will map the active genes in over 200 types of cells and 80 different organ systems.
By Mark Atkinson

The "Human BioMolecular Atlas" will map the active genes in over 200 types of cells and 80 different organ systems.

Intel
The Future of Cancer Research
The Future of Cancer Research
Watch Now
Intel
The Future of Cancer Research
Intel's Bryce Olson used genomic sequencing to help fight his cancer. Now he’s helping researchers use artificial intelligence to discover entirely new cancer treatments.
Watch Now

Intel employee Bryce Olson was diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer. When the standard of care didn’t work, Bryce turned to genomic sequencing which allowed his doctors to identify specific genetic drivers of his disease and specific treatments and clinical trials that were a fit for his cancer. This precision medicine approach helped send his cancer into remission for several years. Now that his cancer has returned,...

Superhuman
Meet the One-Armed Drummer With a Cybernetic Arm
The World’s First Bionic Drummer
Watch Now
Superhuman
Meet the One-Armed Drummer With a Cybernetic Arm
Jason Barnes lost his arm in a horrible accident. Then he became the fastest drummer in the world...
Watch Now

Jason Barnes lost his arm in a horrible accident... and then he became the fastest drummer in the world. Now he’s working with doctors and engineers who are designing ultrasound sensors that could give him back fine motor control. Join us as he sits down to play piano for the first time since his accident. Today, the one-armed drummer has his sights set on conquering his next musical instrument: the piano. But his...

The New Space Race
Four Flights a Day. Five Days a Week.
Four Flights a Day. Five Days a Week.
Watch Now
The New Space Race
Four Flights a Day. Five Days a Week.
At XCOR, the dream of taking regular commercial flights to space is alive and well.
Watch Now

At its peak, NASA’s shuttle flew to space a few times a year. XCOR wants to be something more like Southwest Airlines for space. They're working on a spacecraft prototype with a very ambitious goal: four daily flights to space, five days a week. If XCOR is successful, they could take more people to space in six months than NASA did in 30 years.

Superhuman
Gaining Independence with the World's Most Advanced Prosthetic Arm
Gaining Independence with the World's Most Advanced Prosthetic Arm
Watch Now
Superhuman
Gaining Independence with the World's Most Advanced Prosthetic Arm
Jerral was hit by a roadside bomb in Iraq and left paralyzed. Now he's partnering with researchers to regain his independence. »
Watch Now

Jerral was serving in Iraq, his tank was hit by a roadside bomb. The attack left him paralyzed and without his left arm. But rather than letting his injuries define him, Jerral is fighting back with the help of the world’s most advanced prosthetic arm. He’s working with a team of researchers from Johns Hopkins to test the arm that could help Jerral and many other wounded vets like him take back their independence.