Matthew Johnson, PhD
John Hopkins University
Psychedelics as Behavior Change Agents
The Johns Hopkins psychedelic research group has published a body of empirical research suggesting that psilocybin results in positive long term outcomes in both healthy participants and in individuals with psychiatric disorders. This research has repeatedly found that under conditions of substantial preparation, interpersonal support, and instructions for introspection, psilocybin administration causes, with reasonable reliability, acute subjective effects that are well described by the psychological construct of mystical experience. Mystical experience is defined by strong endorsement of the following domains: sense of unity, noetic quality, sacredness, sense of transcending of time and space, and ineffability. Compared to psilocybin sessions in which full mystical experience criteria are not endorsed, psilocybin-occasioned mystical experiences are associated with positive long-term (≥6 months) outcomes including increased personality openness in healthy participants, decreased depression and anxiety in cancer patients, and increased biologically-confirmed quit rates in treatment-resistant tobacco cigarette smokers. These findings are consistent with the notion that psychedelic therapy is best thought of as medication-assisted psychotherapy, wherein the drug increases mental and behavioral plasticity, providing an experience that can influence future behavior. This research also suggests that psychedelics may constitute powerful experimental tools for determining the long-term effects of distinctive subjective experiences. A vision will be presented suggesting that psychedelics may be leveraged in the treatment of a variety of nominally distinct psychiatric disorders.
Matthew W. Johnson, Ph.D., Professor at Johns Hopkins, is an expert on psychedelics, other drugs, and addiction. He has conducted research with psychedelics for over 15 years. Matt published psychedelic risk and safety guidelines in 2008, helping to resurrect human psychedelic research. He published the first research on psychedelic treatment of tobacco addiction in 2014, and the largest study of psilocybin in treating cancer distress in 2016. His recent review of psilocybin abuse liability recommended placement in Schedule-IV upon medical approval. He has personally guided over 100 psychedelic sessions. Matt also conducts behavioral economic research on drug use, addiction, and sexual risk. Matt published the first study in humans finding that administering cocaine increases sexual desire and sexual risk. He has published studies on nearly all psychoactive drugs classes, and is the 2019 President of the Psychopharmacology and Substance Abuse Division of the American Psychological Association. He is also President-Elect of the International Society for Research on Psychedelics, playing a lead role in founding this organization. Matt has been interviewed widely about drugs, addiction, and risk behavior, including by the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, BBC, 60 Minutes, CNN, Fox Business News, NPR, CBS News, and NBC News. Matt and his research were featured in an episode of Breakthrough on the National Geographic Channel, produced by Ron Howard, and in Michael Pollan's best-selling book, How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence.