Johns Hopkins opens center for psychedelic research

Moving the needle forward on psychedelic research.

Johns Hopkins opens center for psychedelic research
  • Johns Hopkins University's School of Medicine has had a psychedelic research group since 2000.
  • Funded by a $17 million donation from a number of private donors, the university will be able to open a new center.
  • This comes on the heels of an increasing acceptance of psychedelic research and use.

Johns Hopkins University's School of Medicine recently announced it'd be launching the largest psychedelics research center in the world. Its new Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research was funded by a $17 million donation from a group of private donors. Doctors and researchers at the center hope to learn and examine whether these psychedelic drugs will be able to treat conditions such as depression and opioid addiction.

In recent years, there has been an increased interest in psychedelic research and recreation. A number of tech entrepreneurs have jump started this once-dynamic discipline.

Paul B. Rothman, dean of the medical facility at Johns Hopkins University's School of Medicine is on record stating, "Our scientists have shown that psychedelics have real potential as medicine, and this new center will help us explore that potential."

The school has maintained a psychedelic research group since 2000, but this new initiative will allow them to conduct greater investigations and delve deeper into the psychedelic expanse.

The field has largely been a string of disconnected researchers ever since counterculture legend Timothy Leary and company began investigating the substances in the 1960s.

Progressive psychedelic research 

LSD, psilocybin, mescaline and a number of other psychedelics have been illegal in the United States for a number of decades. A small trickle of studies have come out in the intervening years showing that they may be effective medical treatments for a number of issues. This has shifted public perception considerably.

Earlier this year, Denver became one of the first cities in the United States to decriminalize magic mushrooms – the mushrooms that have psychoactive makeup of psilocybin. They did this after consulting research which suggested the compounds in mushrooms could be beneficial for treating anxiety and depression experienced by cancer patients.

A host of these psychedelic substances are still listed as Tier 1 illegal drugs in the United States, which means they're on part with much more harmful drugs like heroin and cocaine.

The new funding for this facility will help spur a five year research study to find out whether or not psilocybin can also treat alcoholism, PTSD and a few other complex mental conditions.

Primarily, they're looking to figure out the physiological effects of the drug on the brain and body. This will transfer over when it comes to treating opioid addiction and even Alzheimer's disease.

In reference to the new organization, Dr. John Krystal, chair of psychiatry at Yale University, stated, "This is an exciting initiative that brings new focus to efforts to learn about mind, brain and psychiatric disorders by studying the effects of psychedelic drugs."

The center at John Hopkins has been producing some amazing research for years. As they've explored the potential of psychedelics and other recreational drugs for psychiatric problems, they've found evidence to suggest that ketamine and its related compounds could help to treat depression.

Breaking the psychedelic taboo

The history of abuse related to psychedelics has kept a great deal of researchers at bay for years. Evidence is mounting for claims that psychedelics have a positive effect on treating a host of these mental issues, but experts are still cautious. Psychedelic treatments can't be used in a double blind experiment in the same way most drugs are tested, that is because participants will know right away whether or not they're experiencing the placebo or the real thing.

Dr. Guy Goodwin, a professor of psychiatry at Oxford mentioned the infamous Leary trials and the debacle that followed in the sixties and beyond.

"It raises the caution that the investigation of hallucinogens as treatments may be endangered by grandiose descriptions of their effects and unquestioning acceptance of their value. Timothy Leary was a research psychologist before he decided the whole world should 'Turn on, tune in, and drop out.' It is best if some steps are not retraced."

A lot has changed during that time. Messianic inklings and a cultural shift of epic proportions helped swell the psychedelic revolution of the era. If we can somehow incorporate psychedelic research in our modern institutions, we may get a second chance to do it all over again.

So far 2019 has been a banner year for psychedelic research and access. On top of Denver decriminalization, there was also the vote that decriminalized entheogenic plants in Oakland, California.

The university announced in a press release:

"The group's findings on both the promise and the risks of psilocybin helped create a path forward for its potential medical approval and reclassification from a Schedule I drug, the most restrictive federal government category, to a more appropriate level."

John Hopkins's new center will be able to continue on the research and hopefully push forth the federal government towards a more equitable and fair treatment of psychedelic use and study.

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Astronomers find more than 100,000 "stellar nurseries"

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Credit: NASA / ESA via Getty Images
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This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

An international team of astronomers has conducted the biggest survey of stellar nurseries to date, charting more than 100,000 star-birthing regions across our corner of the universe.

Stellar nurseries: Outer space is filled with clouds of dust and gas called nebulae. In some of these nebulae, gravity will pull the dust and gas into clumps that eventually get so big, they collapse on themselves — and a star is born.

These star-birthing nebulae are known as stellar nurseries.

The challenge: Stars are a key part of the universe — they lead to the formation of planets and produce the elements needed to create life as we know it. A better understanding of stars, then, means a better understanding of the universe — but there's still a lot we don't know about star formation.

This is partly because it's hard to see what's going on in stellar nurseries — the clouds of dust obscure optical telescopes' view — and also because there are just so many of them that it's hard to know what the average nursery is like.

The survey: The astronomers conducted their survey of stellar nurseries using the massive ALMA telescope array in Chile. Because ALMA is a radio telescope, it captures the radio waves emanating from celestial objects, rather than the light.

"The new thing ... is that we can use ALMA to take pictures of many galaxies, and these pictures are as sharp and detailed as those taken by optical telescopes," Jiayi Sun, an Ohio State University (OSU) researcher, said in a press release.

"This just hasn't been possible before."

Over the course of the five-year survey, the group was able to chart more than 100,000 stellar nurseries across more than 90 nearby galaxies, expanding the amount of available data on the celestial objects tenfold, according to OSU researcher Adam Leroy.

New insights: The survey is already yielding new insights into stellar nurseries, including the fact that they appear to be more diverse than previously thought.

"For a long time, conventional wisdom among astronomers was that all stellar nurseries looked more or less the same," Sun said. "But with this survey we can see that this is really not the case."

"While there are some similarities, the nature and appearance of these nurseries change within and among galaxies," he continued, "just like cities or trees may vary in important ways as you go from place to place across the world."

Astronomers have also learned from the survey that stellar nurseries aren't particularly efficient at producing stars and tend to live for only 10 to 30 million years, which isn't very long on a universal scale.

Looking ahead: Data from the survey is now publicly available, so expect to see other researchers using it to make their own observations about stellar nurseries in the future.

"We have an incredible dataset here that will continue to be useful," Leroy said. "This is really a new view of galaxies and we expect to be learning from it for years to come."

Protecting space stations from deadly space debris

Tiny specks of space debris can move faster than bullets and cause way more damage. Cleaning it up is imperative.

  • NASA estimates that more than 500,000 pieces of space trash larger than a marble are currently in orbit. Estimates exceed 128 million pieces when factoring in smaller pieces from collisions. At 17,500 MPH, even a paint chip can cause serious damage.
  • To prevent this untrackable space debris from taking out satellites and putting astronauts in danger, scientists have been working on ways to retrieve large objects before they collide and create more problems.
  • The team at Clearspace, in collaboration with the European Space Agency, is on a mission to capture one such object using an autonomous spacecraft with claw-like arms. It's an expensive and very tricky mission, but one that could have a major impact on the future of space exploration.

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