Baltimore is a lot of things. Past home of Babe Ruth, Edgar Allen Poe, Billie Holiday, Frank Zappa and Nancy Pelosi. Corporate headquarters for McCormick spices and Under Armour clothes. Main character in the TV series “Homicide” and “The Wire.” It’s now the most dangerous city in the US. It’s a city with beautiful historic neighborhoods where average homes have marble steps and antique Tiffany skylights in their windows.
It’s also home to Joseph V. Brady Behavioral Biology Research Building at Johns Hopkins University’s Bayview Medical Center. Bayview looks like any redbrick medical complex, but inside lies a revolution. This is home to the Brady Institute’s Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research.
In 2000, the Brady doctors became the first research group in the country to win regulatory approval to reinitiate research on psychedelics on healthy volunteers.
67% of participants rated the experience one of the top 5 most meaningful experiences of their lifetime.
For the past two decades they have studied and published numerous papers on how psychedelics affect behavior, mood, cognition, brain function, and biological markers of health. A new project will investigate whether psilocybin could work as an effective therapy for opioid addiction. Other projects in progress now are looking at psilocybin for treating Alzheimer’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Lyme disease syndrome, anorexia nervosa and alcohol use in people with major depression.
Brady researchers hope their work with psychedelics will create precision medicine treatments tailored to the specific needs of individual patients.
They are making progress that looks promising. In one breakthrough study first reported in 2006, they found that participants’ reactions to psilocybin were so positive, that 67% of participants rated the experience one of the top 5 most meaningful experiences of their lifetime. A follow-up report in 2008 confirmed those results.
The Brady group is also responsible for much of what the medical community now knows about using hallucinogens safely. In 2008, the team published a paper entitled ‘Human hallucinogen research: guidelines for safety’, that lays out how to responsibly conduct medical trials with psilocybin and other hallucinogens … BBC News noted that, “The paper signaled a change in attitude towards researching these compounds, reflected by the fact that more than 460 psilocybin sessions have now been conducted at Johns Hopkins alone, ranging from investigating its use by cancer patients through to its effects on meditation.” It has continued since then looking at interactions and long-term effects.
Much of this work has been on psilocybin, but in 2017 it also published guidelines on how to use MDMA with less risk.
The Center has proved the value of psychedelics for treating personality, mental health, addictions, and several diseases. That may seem a long way from the spiritual/mystical promise that first captured the public’s imagination in the 1960s. But maybe the Center is bringing the circle back to its beginning.
Its website carries a sort of Help Wanted ad that reads “Hopkins Scientists Seek Religious Leaders to take part in a research study of psilocybin and mystical experience.”
The Center also surveyed thousands of people who had experienced a “God encounter” while using psychedelics and compared their reactions to those who had a God encounter without drugs. For the record, the people who had used ayahuasca and DMT were especially likely to rate the experience as the most meaningful encounter in their lives, but the LSD and psilocybin users weren’t far behind.
As proof of psychedelics’ spiritual potential, however, the data have hard facts to offer. From the God Encounters survey, one interest fact emerged. After a drug-assisted encounter, former atheists tended to become believers.