Johns Hopkins University is partnering with a Denver, Colorado-based nonprofit organization in a new research study that will survey the experiences of people who use psilocybin mushrooms in real-world settings. The nonprofit, Unlimited Sciences, was formed during the campaign to decriminalize psilocybin in Denver last spring.
The study is funded by Unlimited Sciences and will involve a series of five surveys, two to be filled out before the intended psychedelic experience, one the day of, and two afterwards (two weeks later and three months later). The questions on the survey span a wide range, and touch on set and setting, diet, childhood experiences, and disposition.
According to Ronald Griffiths, Director of the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research at Johns Hopkins, the prospective nature of this study—how participants need to fill out surveys before having the experience, not just after—is a “huge advance forward” from most of the kinds of survey studies that have been done in the past, which only ask people to recall an experience they previously had.
The study with Unlimited Sciences “falls short experimentally in that it’s not randomized. It doesn’t have the rigor of our clinical trials where we administer psilocybin, but it’s a great improvement over the retrospective survey,” Griffiths says.
“Our goals are just a better understanding of how psilocybin is being used in more natural settings,” says Del Jolly, Co-Founder and Director of Unlimited Sciences. That information, he adds, could impact the direction of future psychedelic research at Johns Hopkins. Since clinical studies are quite expensive to undertake, generating observational research that shows what the community is experiencing—for example, how does a gluten intolerance relate to feelings of nausea (or not)? Or, are people who consider themselves to be very open more likely to have a mystical experience?
“There is a huge power in leveraging information from the general population through surveys,” says Griffiths.
All the clinical studies Johns Hopkins has done, at this point, have used synthesized psilocybin. The fact that this survey looks at people using mushrooms rather than synthesized psilocybin presents both opportunities and challenges. For one, psychedelic mushrooms contain other potentially bioactive compounds beyond pure psilocybin. (Though, Griffiths says “anecdotally people say they’re virtually identical.”) In addition, it’s harder to tell what dose you are taking when it is mushrooms. “The concentration of psilocybin can vary pretty substantially across different species of mushrooms,” says Griffiths. “Most people who take mushrooms simply don’t know what dose they’re taking.”
The study is currently enrolling interested participants, who can find out more on Unlimited Sciences’ website. Griffiths says the end goal is to accumulate the knowledge base necessary to eventually get medical approval for psilocybin, for which the FDA is currently considering granting approval as a treatment for certain types of depression.