The National Institute of Mental Health is bringing in psychedelics expert Dr. Roland Griffiths to give a talk on the neuropharmacology of psilocybin.

Griffiths heads up the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. His principal research focus in clinical laboratories is on the behavioural and subjective effects of mood-altering drugs.

He has devoted a great deal of his career to investigating the potential benefits of psilocybin, commonly known as magic mushrooms. He will review the history, epidemiology, risks, and neuropharmacology of classic psychedelics in a presentation at NIMH next week.

It will highlight research into the effects of psilocybin in healthy volunteers, in beginning and long-term meditators, and in religious leaders. It is open to all NIMH staff and to the general public.

It is interesting to see a federal agency taking psychedelics seriously as a potential form of therapy for mental health issues. It does not amount to NIMH recommending psychedelics, but the discussion is designed to encourage broad, interdisciplinary thinking among staff.

It follows news that the FDA has granted a “Breakthrough Therapy” designation to psilocybin in the treatment of major depressive disorder. This will expedite the development and review of psilocybin at Usona Institute, a nonprofit medical research organization in Wisconsin.

The Breakthrough Therapy status is awarded to drugs that have the potential to treat a serious condition in a substantially more effective fashion than the current forms of available treatment, according to FDA guidelines. Psilocybin will be eligible for all official fast-track designation features and intensive FDA guidance.

Usona Institute is conducting a clinical trial featuring 80 participants at seven different sites around the U.S. on the effectiveness of psilocybin for treating severe depression. It said psilocybin potentially offers a novel paradigm in which a short-acting compound imparts profound alterations in consciousness and could enable long-term remission of depressive symptoms.

Separate clinical studies examining the use of psilocybin for the treatment of psychological distress in cancer patients, major depression, and cigarette smoking cessation are all underway.

The Hopkins laboratory that Dr. Griffiths has conducted various surveys on the effects of psychedelics, focusing on positive changes in mental health, including decreases in depression and anxiety, decreases in substance abuse, and reductions in death anxiety.

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