Albert Garcia-Romeu

Talk Title: Potentials of Psilocybin in Psychology and Psychiatry: The re-emergence of psychedelics in clinical science



Research on classic hallucinogens (i.e., psychedelics) as an aid in the treatment of mood and substance use disorders has generated renewed interest over the past decade. Recent pilot studies have shown safety and feasibility of psilocybin, a naturally occurring serotonin 2A receptor agonist, as a therapeutic tool in the treatment of end-of-life anxiety, alcohol, and tobacco use disorders. Moreover, data suggest a notable effect of psychedelics in occasioning profound and lasting changes in mood, behaviors, and attitudes consistent with enhanced health and well-being in diverse populations. Despite these compelling findings, the psychological mechanisms of action of psychedelic-facilitated treatments remain poorly understood. Preliminary evidence indicates that acute mystical-type drug effects, and sometimes intensity, are significantly associated with therapeutic outcomes in psilocybin-facilitated addiction treatment, consistent with earlier researchers’ assertions that the subjective effects of psychedelics play a pivotal role in mediating persisting beneficial effects. Psychological insight, changes in personality, changes in beliefs and values, increased motivation, and enhanced self-efficacy are among the factors hypothesized to contribute to efficacy of psychedelic-facilitated treatments. Furthermore, psychedelics’ effects on functional connectivity within the default mode network, and actions on serotonergic and glutamatergic systems have been implicated as potential physiological mediators of therapeutic outcomes via neuroplastic brain changes, improved mood, and decreased anxiety and craving. Nevertheless, the manner in which time limited drug effects may provoke enduring changes in personal attitudes and behaviors, and appropriate methods for minimizing risks while maximizing therapeutic benefits require further elucidation. This discussion will focus on contemporary clinical research with psilocybin, and present key methodological issues in working with psychedelics, as well as highlighting important clinical paradigms and considerations in studying psychedelics as a therapeutic tool.

Bio: Albert Garcia-Romeu, Ph.D. is a member of the Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences faculty at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, where he studies the effects of psychedelic drugs in humans with a focus on psilocybin as an aid in the treatment of addiction. He received his doctorate in psychology from the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in Palo Alto, CA where he researched self-transcendence, meditation, and their relationship to mental health. His current research interests include clinical interventions involving psychedelics and mindfulness for mood and substance use disorders, and further exploration of the biological underpinnings and spiritual significance of altered states of consciousness.