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Johns Hopkins wins NIH grant to study psychedelics treatment of tobacco addiction

Johns Hopkins Medicine announced it has received a nearly $4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to explore the potential impacts of psilocybin, a psychedelic compound found in so-called magic mushrooms, on treating tobacco addiction.

Johns Hopkins said in a Monday news release that it will lead the multisite, three-year study in collaboration with University of Alabama at Birmingham and New York University. The grant is the first aimed at investigating the therapeutic effects of a classic psychedelic that the NIH has awarded in over a half century, according to the release.

“The historical importance of this grant is monumental,” principal investigator Matthew Johnson, Ph.D., Susan Hill Ward Professor in Psychedelics and Consciousness at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said in the release. “We knew it was only a matter of time before the NIH would fund this work because the data are so compelling, and because this work has demonstrated to be safe. Psilocybin does have very real risks, but these risks are squarely mitigated in controlled settings through screening, preparation, monitoring and follow-up care.”

When used with preparation and structured support, psilocybin — which produces visual and auditory illusions — has shown promise for treating a range of addictions and mental health disorders, according to the release. Johnson began researching the use of psilocybin for tobacco smoking cessation 13 years ago.

Over the past 20 years, there has been growing research on classic psychedelics, which are the pharmacological class of compounds that includes psilocybin and LSD, the release states.

The current double-blind randomized trial involves psilocybin sessions as well as cognitive behavioral therapy — a type of talk therapy (psychotherapy) focused on pinpointing negative patterns of thought that can lead to behavioral and mental health problems, according to the release. The researchers suggest psilocybin might help break the addictive pattern of thoughts and behaviors that has become ingrained after years of smoking, thus helping people to quit the habit.