Matthew W. Johnson, Ph.D. is the Susan Hill Ward Professor in Psychedelics and Consciousness and Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins.
Psychedelic research is enjoying a renaissance. Recent studies have shown that psychedelic drugs like LSD and psilocybin seem to be a safe and effective method for treating conditions like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. And unlike common antidepressants, some people report long-lasting improvements in their mental health conditions after taking just one dose of psychedelics. What makes these substances so unique and powerful? That’s one of the driving questions behind the research of Matthew W. Johnson, who has conducted numerous studies on the nature of addiction, psychedelics, and other psychoactive substances.
Human behavior change; psychedelics; behavioral economics; addiction, delay discounting (devaluation of future consequences); sexual risk behavior; tobacco regulatory science; drug administration; abuse liability; reinforcing effects
Addiction Medicine, Drug Abuse Research, Drug Dependence
In this episode of the Lex Fridman Podcast, Lex Fridman and Matthew Johnson delve into the fascinating and often misunderstood world of mind-altering substances, psychedelics. Matthew W. Johnson, a renowned professor and leading researcher in the field of psychedelics at Johns Hopkins University, has spent over 15 years studying the effects of various substances such as psilocybin, LSD, and MDMA on the human brain and behavior, and his work has helped to shed light on the therapeutic potential of these substances. So sit back, relax, and join us for an enlightening conversation on the world of psychedelics.
Dr. Matthew W. Johnson, Ph.D., is Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins. He is one of the world’s most published scientists on the human effects of psychedelics, and has conducted seminal research in the behavioral economics of drug use, addiction, and risk behavior. Dr. Johnson earned his Ph.D. in experimental psychology at the University of Vermont in 2004.
Working with psychedelics since 2004, Dr. Johnson published psychedelic safety guidelines in 2008, helping to resurrect psychedelic research. As Principle Investigator he developed and published the first research on psychedelic treatment of tobacco addiction in 2014. Dr. Johnson and colleagues published the largest study of psilocybin in treating cancer distress in 2016. His 2018 psilocybin abuse liability review recommended placement in Schedule-IV upon potential medical approval. He is Principle Investigator on funded studies investigating psilocybin in the treatment of opioid dependence and PTSD. Beyond psilocybin, in 2011 Dr. Johnson published the first-ever blinded human research showing psychoactive effects of salvinorin A, the active constituent in Salvia divinorum. He also published in 2017 the first data indicating that MDMA pill testing services may reduce harm, specifically by reducing drug consumption of unknown or undesired adulterants.
Dr. Johnson is recognized for his research in behavioral economics, behavioral pharmacology, and behavior analysis. He has conducted seminal and widely cited research applying behavioral economic principles such as delay discounting and demand analysis to decision making within addiction, drug consumption, and risk behavior. This includes research determining delay discounting to be a fundamental behavioral process underlying addiction across drug classes, using economic demand analysis to determine the roles of nicotine and nonpharmacological factors in the abuse liability tobacco and other nicotine products, and using delay discounting, probability discounting, and demand analysis to understand sexual risk including condom non-use in casual sex situations. He conducted the first research administering cocaine to humans in determining that cocaine increases sexual desire and affects sexual decision making. He has conducted similar research administering methamphetamine and alcohol, examining effects on sexual decision making. He has published studies on drugs across nearly all psychoactive classes, including studies of cocaine, methamphetamine, tobacco/nicotine, alcohol, opioids, cannabis, benzodiazepines, psilocybin, dextromethorphan, salvinorin A, GHB, caffeine, and cathinone analogs compounds (so-called “bath salts”).
Dr. Johnson was 2019 President of the Psychopharmacology and Substance Abuse Division of the American Psychological Association, and is current President of the International Society for Research on Psychedelics, an organization he founded with colleagues. He has received continuous NIH funding as Principal Investigator since 2009. He has reviewed for >75 journals and has served as guest editor on two special issues on psychedelics. Dr. Johnson has reviewed grants for NIH, NSF, the US Military, and multiple governments outside of the US. He is a standing member of the Addictions Risks and Mechanisms (ARM) NIH study section. He has provided invited presentations in 13 nations.
Dr. Johnson has been interviewed widely by media about psychedelics and other drugs. These have included interviews by the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Globe and Mail, the Daily Mail, USA Today, the Chicago Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Denver Post, the Baltimore Sun, CNN, CBS News, NBC News, the Atlantic, Newsweek, Vanity Fair, Marie Claire, Vogue, Whole Living, the Washingtonian, Scientific American, Nature, Vice, Insider, Inverse, Healthline, and Psychology Today. Dr. Johnson has appeared for interviews on numerous television and radio shows including 60 Minutes, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Situation Room, Fox Business News’ Kennedy, the Dr. Oz Show, PBS’ Retro Report, Labyrint (television show in the Netherlands), Spectrum News NY1, the BBC World Service, NPR’s Morning Edition, NPR’s Kojo Nnamdi Show, New Zealand Radio, and Newstalk Radio Ireland. Dr. Johnson’s panel discussion with Tim Ferriss at the Milken Institute Global Conference was broadcast on the Tim Ferriss Podcast. Dr. Johnson and his research were featured in an episode of Breakthrough on the National Geographic Channel, produced by Ron Howard, and in Michael Pollan’s best-selling book, How to Change Your Mind: