Q&A with Psychedelic Researcher Matt Johnson, Ph.D.

Matthew W. Johnson, PhD is Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He is an expert in addiction and the behavioral and psychological effects of psychoactive drugs in humans, and published human drug administration research with cocaine, nicotine, caffeine, various sedatives, and hallucinogens including psilocybin, dextromethorphan, and salvinorin A.

His studies include the effects of psilocybin on a meditation program, and psilocybin in the treatment of anxiety and depression among cancer patients, as well as a pilot study examining the anti-addiction efficacy of psilocybin in the context of quitting a tobacco addiction.

 Excerpt from Nichols, Johnson, and Nichols' published paper "Psychedelics as Medicines: An Emerging New Paradigm," originally published in Petri, G., Expert, P., Turkheimer, F., Carhart-Harris, R., Nutt, D., Hellyer, P.J. & Vaccarino, F. Homological scaffolds of brain functional networks. J. R. Soc. Interface 11, 20140873 (2014).  A circular connectogram showing that communication is normally confined to particular communities or hubs in the brain (on placebo) but that there is markedly increased intercommunity crosstalk after psilocybin. Each node is one region in the brain parcellation used in ref. 62, and the colors refer to the communities found on the placebo scaffold. The same colors are used on the psilocybin scaffold to show how the normal modular structure changed dramatically between the two conditions. The plots represent aggregated information from 15 subjects. The width of the links is proportional to their weight and the size of the nodes is proportional to their strength. Note that the proportion of heavy links between communities is both much higher and very different in the psilocybin group, suggesting greater global integration.

Excerpt from Nichols, Johnson, and Nichols' published paper "Psychedelics as Medicines: An Emerging New Paradigm," originally published in Petri, G., Expert, P., Turkheimer, F., Carhart-Harris, R., Nutt, D., Hellyer, P.J. & Vaccarino, F. Homological scaffolds of brain functional networks. J. R. Soc. Interface 11, 20140873 (2014).

A circular connectogram showing that communication is normally confined to particular communities or hubs in the brain (on placebo) but that there is markedly increased intercommunity crosstalk after psilocybin. Each node is one region in the brain parcellation used in ref. 62, and the colors refer to the communities found on the placebo scaffold. The same colors are used on the psilocybin scaffold to show how the normal modular structure changed dramatically between the two conditions. The plots represent aggregated information from 15 subjects. The width of the links is proportional to their weight and the size of the nodes is proportional to their strength. Note that the proportion of heavy links between communities is both much higher and very different in the psilocybin group, suggesting greater global integration.

Read entire article HERE.

 

This Q&A explores his work with psilocybin and its role in healing addiction, bridging the worlds of the metaphysical with the very physical scientific method, the lingering effects of the "war on drugs", what he's working on today, and more.


Q&A with Matt Johnson

Rapid Fire

1. what time is your alarm set for?

 For 2:55pm to remind me of a conference call at 3pm

 

2. what did you have for breakfast?

Quail eggs (I eat these every day for medicinal benefits), oat cereal, blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, flax milk, honey, coffee

 

3. what are you currently working on to better your Self?

Doing pull ups.

 

4. what book do you think everyone should read?

Valis by Phillip K. Dick.

 

5. who is one of your biggest inspirations?

Lots of potential contenders, but I’ll go with Ian MacKaye.

 

6. what is the last thing you purchased?

An ounce of chamomile flowers for making tea.

    

7. best advice you've ever received?

Drop out of college.

 

8. something you cant live without?

Seeing the night sky (Ok, I could live, but it would suck).

 

9. what is on your night stand?

Clock, lamp, extra internal battery for my smart phone, with an external charger

 

10. if you could only have one (for the rest of your life): chocolate, or avocado?

Easy, I’m allergic to avocado, so I’m going with chocolate.

 

A Deeper Dive

1. What prompted your interest in the world of psychedelics?

Reading Ram Dass when I was in my late teens and learning about the earlier era of psychedelic research. It made me want to be a psychologist and study psychedelics.

 

2. As a scientist, how do you bridge the world of the empirical with the deeply un-empirical nature of psychedelics?

Very carefully! More seriously, the objective/subjective divide is at play throughout life, and certainly in psychological science, so I don’t see anything qualitatively different about psychedelics.

 

3. What potential role do you think psilocybin/ other serotonergic psychedelics have in the realm of healing?

Lots of potential. I think psychedelics have potential to help with any behavior change when behavior has become increasingly narrowed to the point of impairing quality of life, whether we consider it an addictive disorder, for example, to a substance like tobacco, whether we consider it some other type of disorder such as depression, or even whether we consider it a disorder at all.

Click HERE to read Matt's fascinating study on psilocybin the treatment of tobacco addiction. 

 

4. Is it difficult navigating the study of psychedelics in a world still feeling the impact of the “War On Drugs”? How important is the research being done on these substances today? (re: your study in the Journal of Psychopharmacology “Human hallucinogen research” guidelines for safety”)

Yes, it is very difficult working in a highly restricted regulatory environment. Human research with these compounds is critical to bringing a more scientific approach and fully understanding the potential risks and therapeutic benefits of the compounds. Thanks to the regulatory pathway available as part of the FDA, science will play a critical role in any potential change in the status of these compounds (e.g., approval of therapeutic use for certain disorders).

 


5. Can you tell us a little more about what is going on in this graph?

(found in “Psychedelics as Medicines: An Emerging New Paradigm” paper).
 

cybin

The different locations on the perimeter represent different brain areas, and the curves connecting them represent the fact that there is synchronization across this area with other areas. Different colors show which areas normally area associated with each other under nondrug conditions. The width of the curves connecting the areas is proportional to the strength of synchronization.

 

6. If you were made President, what’s the first thing you would do?

Take a look at all the secret info relating to any and all conspiracy theories.

 

7. What are you working on today?/ What has you most excited for the future of psychedelic research?

I’m working a bit on our randomized trial comparing psilocybin to nicotine patch in helping folks quit smoking. I’m most exciting thing is the potential ability of psychedelics to help in understanding the relation between biology and consciousness.


Learn more about Matthew's research

Matthew Johnson, PhD Psychedelics as Behavior Change Agents: Addiction Recovery and Beyond 2017 Psychedelic Science Conference, a six-day global gathering of the international scientific community in Oakland, California to explore new research into the benefits and risks of MDMA, LSD, psilocybin, ayahuasca, ketamine, ibogaine, medical marijuana, and more.

Learn more and donate: http://www.maps.org/