Depending on who is administering it and how it is being used, psilocybin, the active compound in hallucinogenic mushrooms, could be reclassified from a drug with no known medical benefit to a drug with the properties of prescription sleeping pills. In a review to assess the safety and abuse of medically administered psilocybin, researchers at Johns Hopkins University made a case for doing just that, possibly opening up possibilities for the psychedelic drug to be used to treat depression and anxiety and help people stop smoking.
According to a New York Times article by Laura M. Holson, the analysis was published in the October issue of Neuropharmacology, a medical journal that covers neuroscience. Before the Food and Drug Administration can consider reclassifying the drug, it has to clear a great deal of study and trials, which can take more than five years, explained the researchers.
The Johns Hopkins study is happening at a time when many Americans have changed their attitudes toward the use of some heretofore illegal drugs. Because marijuana has become legalized in so many states, many people now believe that there are medicinal benefits for people with anxiety, arthritis and other physical disorders. While psychedelic drugs, such as LSD and psilocybin, are illegal and not approved for medical or recreational use, scientists and consumers are questioning whether they can be useful in combatting depression and anxiety.
“We are seeing a demographic shift, particularly among women,” according to Matthew Johnson, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins and one of the study’s authors. In the research he has conducted, he said, “we’ve had more females in our studies.”
Microdosing, the use of psychedelic drugs in small, managed doses, has become a popular way to try to increase productivity and creative thinking, especially in the Silicon Valley. Dr. Johnson volunteered to work in the “bad trip” tent at Burning Man, the festival in the Nevada desert known for rampant drug use, in 2005, but researchers have ignored the study of psychedelics for several decades. Research stopped partly because the use of mind-altering drugs became a sign of hippie counterculture.
Researchers on the new study included Roland R. Griffiths, a professor in the departments of psychiatry and neurosciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, one of the most prominent researchers on the behavioral and subjective effects of mood-altering drugs. The researchers looked at data dating back to the 1940s.
The F.D.A. has approved a number of trials of psilocybin. If its use is approved for patients, Dr. Johnson said, “I see this as a new era in medicine. The data suggest that psychedelics are powerful behavioral agents. Psilocybin is not a panacea for everyone. There are areas of risk, too, for patients with psychotic disorders and anyone who takes high doses of the drug.”