Psychedelic Medicine


The Latest Research on Psilocybin for Depression with Matthew Johnson, PhD


In this episode of the Plant Medicine Podcast, Matt Johnson, PhD joins to discuss the latest research of psilocybin as a treatment for depression. Dr. Johnson is the associate director at the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research at Johns Hopkins University, where he also works as a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences. He has published widely in the field of psychedelic science and has guided over one hundred psychedelic experiences. In 2019 Dr. Johnson was the president of the psychopharmacology division of the American Psychological Association, and he currently serves as the president of the International Society for the Research on Psychedelics.

In this conversation, Dr. Johnson shares findings from his recent study in psilocybin treatment for depression and summarizes other major studies investigating this psychedelic’s clinical applications. First, however, he discusses ongoing survey research he is conducting at the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Studies. The Psychedelic Change Survey for Anxiety, Depression, or PTSD is seeking volunteers who have intentionally used psychedelics (ayahuasca, mushrooms, LSD) or MDMA to treat these mental health conditions to collect data on the efficacy of these interventions. Dr. Johnson and his team are interested in collecting a variety of responses, so you are encouraged to participate to share your experiences with these substances and whether they provided beneficial results, led to negative outcomes, or anything in between.

Dr. Johnson also spends some time discussing study design, as psilocybin research has begun to move into more sophisticated forms of clinical research. He describes the function of a randomized clinical trial such as his own study, and details the double-blind double-dummy setup of the recent psilocybin study at NYU. In his study, Dr. Johnson’s participants were randomly selected for the immediate treatment group or the delayed treatment group, which served as a control. All participants were provided with two sessions of psilocybin assisted psychotherapy, and the data showed that there were large reductions in depression following treatment and these results remained statistically significant at follow ups.

In the NYU study, Dr. Johnson describes that participants were given either a genuine psilocybin treatment followed by a placebo antidepressant to take regularly, or they were given a placebo in place of psilocybin followed by an approved antidepressant. This large study is particularly interesting as it directly compares psilocybin treatment for depression with traditional pharmaceuticals used to treat this condition. Here again, Dr. Johnson reports that the psilocybin treatment showed extremely promising results.

In This Episode

• Conditions for participating in Dr. Johnson’s current survey research
• How Dr. Johnson designs his studies and chooses how he analyzes the data collected
• The results of the first randomized study examining the use of psilocybin for depression
• How the preparation process for psilocybin-assisted therapy may be clinically useful as a standalone treatment


“We and the group at NYU published larger studies with a high dose of psilocybin and found these very large reductions in both depression and anxiety in cancer patients, so that sorta paved the way for, hey if this works in cancer patients let’s look more broadly.” [19:42]

“I kind of view psychedelic therapy as sort of having everything we know about general psychotherapeutic processes under a magnifying glass.” [23:12]

“I think it’s fallen out of fashion, but if we just had people laying on couches all day with therapists they’ve developed a relationship with—if that was more of a thing, even without psychedelics or placebo psychedelics, that has real benefit.” [28:30]


* The Psychedelic Medicine Podcast has allowed the Psychedelic Medicine Association to post episodes as an educational resource, and in return the PMA is hosting the podcast show notes.