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@Clues 2024
"Psychedelic therapy is more psychotherapy than most pharma companies & neuroscientists know how to deal with."
Dr. Matthew Johnson

Who is Dr. Matthew Johnson

Dr. Matthew W. Johnson is a renowned figure in the field of psychedelic research, holding the position of Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins University. His journey in the academic world began with a B.S. from Eastern Oregon University in 1998, followed by a Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology from the University of Vermont in 2004. Additionally, he completed a fellowship at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, focusing on Human Behavioral Pharmacology in 2007.

Dr. Johnson's career has been marked by significant contributions to the understanding of psychedelics and their potential therapeutic uses. He is recognized as one of the world's most published scientists on the human effects of psychedelics. His work spans over 16 years, during which he has played a pivotal role in resurrecting and advancing psychedelic research. A landmark achievement in his career was the publication of psychedelic safety guidelines in 2008, which were instrumental in reinvigorating interest and research in this field. He was also the Principal Investigator in groundbreaking research on psychedelic treatment for tobacco addiction, which was first published in 2014.

His research interests are diverse, including behavioral economics, drug use, addiction, and risk behavior. Dr. Johnson has conducted studies on a wide range of psychoactive substances, encompassing nearly all classes of drugs. His work in behavioral pharmacology extends over two decades, with more than 15 years dedicated to psychedelics. Among his numerous significant publications, Dr. Johnson's 2018 review on psilocybin abuse liability stands out, where he recommended its placement in Schedule-IV upon potential medical approval.

As an academic leader, Dr. Johnson has served as the President of the Psychopharmacology and Substance Abuse Division of the American Psychological Association and is the current President of the International Society for Research on Psychedelics, an organization he helped establish. His expertise and insights have been featured in various media outlets, including national television and radio shows, and he has been a sought-after speaker in multiple countries.

Dr. Johnson's contributions extend beyond the laboratory and academic publications. He has been involved in training graduate and medical students aspiring to pursue careers in psychedelic science. His efforts in this area contribute to fostering the next generation of researchers in this expanding field of study.

His work at Johns Hopkins and beyond not only exemplifies a deep commitment to understanding psychedelics but also to exploring their potential to address complex psychological issues, offering new therapeutic avenues and contributing to a broader understanding of human consciousness and mental health.

What are his main ideas and contributions

Psychedelic Safety Guidelines

Dr. Johnson's publication of psychedelic safety guidelines in 2008 marked a critical step in the resurgence of psychedelic research. These guidelines provided a foundation for conducting safe and ethical psychedelic research, greatly influencing the field. Johnson's work emphasized the importance of set (mindset of the individual) and setting (the environment in which psychedelic experiences occur) in ensuring safe experiences. His guidelines have been instrumental in shaping how psychedelic studies are conducted worldwide.

Psilocybin Treatment for Tobacco Addiction

In 2014, Dr. Johnson led a pioneering study investigating the use of psilocybin, the active compound in magic mushrooms, as a treatment for tobacco addiction. This study was notable for being the first of its kind and showed promising results in using psilocybin to aid smoking cessation. This work opened the door for further exploration of psychedelics in treating various forms of addiction.

Psilocybin Research for Cancer Distress and Major Depression

Dr. Johnson and his colleagues published a significant study in 2016 on the use of psilocybin for treating cancer-related distress. This research showed that psilocybin could significantly reduce depression and anxiety in cancer patients, highlighting its potential as a therapeutic tool in palliative care. Furthermore, ongoing research at Johns Hopkins under his guidance continues to explore the use of psilocybin in treating major depressive disorder.

Research on the Abuse Liability of Psilocybin

In his 2018 review, Dr. Johnson assessed the abuse potential of psilocybin. He concluded that it has a low potential for abuse and dependence, recommending its reclassification from Schedule I to Schedule IV upon potential medical approval. This work contributes to the discussion on the legal and regulatory status of psychedelics.

Study of Salvinorin A and Other Psychedelics

Dr. Johnson has expanded the scope of psychedelic research to include substances like salvinorin A, the active component in Salvia divinorum. In 2011, he published the first-ever blinded human research on the psychoactive effects of salvinorin A, contributing to the understanding of a lesser-known psychedelic substance.

Behavioral Economics and Addiction Research

Beyond psychedelics, Dr. Johnson's research in behavioral economics and addiction is noteworthy. He applies economic principles to understand drug use and risk behavior, including sexual risk behaviors. His work in this area includes research indicating that delay discounting – the devaluation of future consequences – is a fundamental behavioral process underlying addiction.

Leadership in Psychedelic Research and Education

Dr. Johnson has been a prominent voice and leader in the field, serving as President of the Psychopharmacology and Substance Abuse Division of the American Psychological Association and founding the International Society for Research on Psychedelics. He has been instrumental in training the next generation of researchers in psychedelic science.

For more detailed information on Dr. Johnson's work, you can visit Johns Hopkins Medicine and explore his research and publications.

How might I apply his ideas to myself

Applying Dr. Matthew W. Johnson's key ideas and contributions to better understand yourself and improve your mental health involves an exploratory and responsible approach. Here’s how you might do this:

Psychedelic Safety Guidelines

If you're considering a psychedelic experience, start by educating yourself on the safety guidelines Johnson established. Understand the importance of 'set' and 'setting' – your mental state and the environment in which you take psychedelics. Ensure you are in a safe, comfortable, and supportive setting, preferably with a trained guide or therapist. Be mindful of your mental health history and current state, as psychedelics can intensify underlying issues.

Psilocybin Treatment for Tobacco Addiction

If you struggle with addiction, whether it’s tobacco or another substance, consider the potential of psychedelics like psilocybin as part of a comprehensive treatment plan. This should be under professional supervision and integrated with other therapeutic practices. Reflect on how addiction affects your life and what changes you hope to achieve through this approach.

Psilocybin Research for Cancer Distress and Major Depression

If you’re dealing with depression, anxiety, or existential distress, especially related to a life-threatening illness like cancer, psilocybin therapy could offer relief. Understand that these sessions can evoke intense emotional and existential insights, which could help you reconcile with aspects of your life and mortality.

Research on the Abuse Liability of Psilocybin

Educate yourself on the low abuse potential of psilocybin, as found in Johnson’s research. This knowledge can help alleviate concerns about dependency, allowing you to focus on the therapeutic aspects of the psychedelic experience.

Study of Salvinorin A and Other Psychedelics

Explore the effects of different psychedelics, like salvinorin A, to gain a broader understanding of these substances. Each psychedelic has unique properties and can offer different insights and experiences. However, do this under guidance, given the potent and often unpredictable effects of these substances.

Behavioral Economics and Addiction Research

Apply concepts from Johnson’s research in behavioral economics to understand your own decision-making, especially if you’re dealing with addiction or risk behaviors. Reflect on how you value immediate rewards versus long-term benefits, which can be a key factor in addictive behaviors.

Always remember, while psychedelics can offer profound insights and therapeutic benefits, they are powerful substances that should be approached with respect and caution. It is crucial to do so under professional guidance, especially if you have a history of mental health issues. For more information, you can refer to Johns Hopkins Medicine's Psychedelic Research. You can also check out this brief, self-guided course on psychedelic preparation and integration from Tracy Lawrence.

Writing, Interviews, Research, and Lectures

Dr. Matthew W. Johnson has a number of influential publications, books, and lectures. Here's a bullet point list of some of his most popular works along with brief descriptions:

  • "Human hallucinogen research: Guidelines for safety" (Journal of Psychopharmacology, 2008): This seminal publication outlines safety guidelines for conducting human research with hallucinogens. It's a pivotal resource in the field, providing essential protocols for ensuring the safety of participants in psychedelic research.
  • "Pilot study of the 5-HT2AR agonist psilocybin in the treatment of tobacco addiction" (Journal of Psychopharmacology, 2014): This study explores the use of psilocybin, a psychedelic compound, in treating tobacco addiction. It's groundbreaking in its approach to addiction treatment, offering insights into alternative therapies.
  • "Largest study of psilocybin in treating cancer distress" (2016): This research assesses the effectiveness of psilocybin in relieving psychological distress in cancer patients. The study is significant for its implications in palliative care and mental health treatment for those facing life-threatening illnesses.
  • "Psychedelic treatment of opioid addiction": As the Principal Investigator, Dr. Johnson explores the potential of psychedelics like psilocybin in treating opioid addiction. This research is part of a growing body of work looking at the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics in addiction treatment.
  • "Psilocybin Abuse Liability Review" (2018): This review examines the abuse potential of psilocybin and suggests its reclassification upon medical approval. The publication contributes to the conversation around the legal status and therapeutic use of psychedelics.
  • "The psychological and subjective effects of psychedelics": Dr. Johnson's lectures and presentations on this topic delve into how psychedelics impact the mind and consciousness. These talks are integral in educating both the scientific community and the public on the effects of psychedelic substances.
  • "Human psychopharmacology and dose-effects of salvinorin A" (Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 2011): This study presents the first blinded human research on the psychoactive effects of salvinorin A, the active component in Salvia divinorum, expanding the understanding of this lesser-known psychedelic.
  • "Behavioral economic research on drug use, addiction, and sexual risk": In these works, Dr. Johnson applies economic principles to understand various aspects of addiction and risk behavior. His research in this area offers a unique perspective on addiction and its underlying behavioral factors.

Other figures you may be interested in

  • Roland Griffiths, Ph.D.: Pioneering psychedelic researcher at Johns Hopkins; works on psilocybin's therapeutic effects.
  • Robin Carhart-Harris, Ph.D.: Leads Imperial College London's Centre for Psychedelic Research; studies psychedelics' effects on the brain.
  • Rick Doblin, Ph.D.: Founder of MAPS, focuses on MDMA-assisted psychotherapy clinical research.
  • Amanda Feilding: Founder of the Beckley Foundation, promoting drug policy reform and psychedelic research.
  • David Nutt, Ph.D.: Neuropsychopharmacologist known for drug effects research and advocating science-based drug policies.
  • Michael Pollan: Author who popularized modern psychedelic discussions with "How to Change Your Mind."
  • Franz X. Vollenweider, M.D.: Psychiatrist and neuroscientist researching the neurobiology of psychedelics.