How will Oregon’s new psilocybin therapy program work?

By John Notarianni (OPB)
Nov. 16, 2020 2 p.m. Updated: Feb. 8, 2022 6:05 p.m.

Dr. Matthew Johnson helped pioneer the therapeutic use of psilocybin in his work with the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research at Johns Hopkins University.

Dr. Matthew Johnson has witnessed hundreds of therapeutic psilocybin sessions in his work with the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research at Johns Hopkins University. He’s an associate director of the center and a professor of psychiatry at the university, which pioneered the techniques for psilocybin’s therapeutic use.


“Remarkably often, experiences will be of an extraordinary type, where the person has an overwhelming sense of unity, feeling one with the universe," he said. "They feel like they’ve transcended time and space.”

Psilocybin has become a much-talked-about wonder drug in recent years, with research proclaiming its near-miraculous ability to treat everything from major depression to alcohol and cigarette addiction.


But you probably know the chemical by the place it’s commonly derived: hallucinogenic mushrooms.

Oregon became the first state in the nation this month to approve the therapeutic use of this psychoactive component of mushrooms. Voters overwhelmingly approved Measure 109 on Nov. 3. It directs the Oregon Health Authority to create a state-licensed, psilocybin-assisted therapy program over the next two years.

But OHA regulators will have to perform a tricky dance in designing the program, navigating both federal regulatory structures and the regulation of the practice of medicine.

Johnson recently talked with OPB “Weekend Edition” host John Notarianni about what he’s learned in his years of research — including how the dreaded ‘bad trip’ sometimes leads to the most profound therapeutic breakthroughs of all.

Listen to Dr. Johnson’s conversation from OPB’s Weekend Edition using the audio player above

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to remove images of non-hallucinogenic mushrooms. OPB regrets the error.


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