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 and meditation. His initial work focused on the measurement and subjective effects of spiritual and transcendent experiences, and how such experiences could manifest as either pathological symptoms, or enhanced well-being. This included research on psychometric properties of trait self-transcendence, the role of serotonergic and dopaminergic circuitry in mediating self-transcendence, and genetic influences related to expression of this construct. His qualitative research in this area helped elucidate the environmental and psychological factors contributing to self-transcendent experiences with persisting beneficial effects, and the ways these are typically evoked in healthy individuals, often involving spiritual practices and/or ingestion of psychoactive substances.
His interest in meditation led to an ongoing collaboration with Dr. Sam Himelstein investigating mindfulness-based interventions in incarcerated youth. The goal of this work was to adapt mindfulness-based stress reduction and test its feasibility in adolescent populations in the juvenile justice system, with an eye towards its applicability to minority youth from disadvantaged backgrounds. Because this group is at high risk for substance use and psychiatric comorbidities, we hypothesized that mindfulness-based interventions may offer some protective benefits against a high-stress correctional environment. Our research represents some of the seminal work in this area and has shown that exposure to mindfulness meditation in the context of a structured program is associated with significant increases in healthy self-regulation and self-esteem, and improved behavior in incarcerated adolescent males.
Upon completing his doctoral dissertation, Dr. Garcia-Romeu was awarded an NIH funded postdoctoral fellowship at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, where he began working with Drs. Matthew W. Johnson and Roland R. Griffiths on a series of studies investigating the psychopharmacology of serotonergic hallucinogens (i.e. psychedelics). His main emphasis has been researching the therapeutic potential of the naturally occurring psychedelic psilocybin as an aid in the treatment of tobacco use disorder. He has since conducted more than 60 daylong human drug administration sessions and helped complete the first human laboratory study examining use of a psychedelic for smoking cessation. This pilot study’s favorable results helped pave the way for further investigation of psilocybin-facilitated smoking cessation.
As part of these efforts, he assisted in the design and implementation of a larger randomized controlled trial of psilocybin-facilitated smoking cessation with collaborators at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which is currently underway. This study includes collection of novel neuroimaging data to inform underlying neurobiological mechanisms of action related to psilocybin administration in a structured clinical intervention. He has additionally continued to apply qualitative and mixed research methods to the study of hallucinogens to enhance understanding of their subjective effects, therapeutic potentials, risks, and abuse liability. His current interests include further refinement of clinical interventions involving psychedelics and mindfulness for mood and substance use disorders, and additional examination of the biological underpinnings and spiritual significance of altered states of consciousness. He believes the most important future research questions regarding psychedelics will be determining biological and genetic mechanisms related to psychedelic effects and individual differences in response to psychedelics, establishing appropriate training and safety protocols for widespread implementation of psychedelic administration in research and clinical practice, investigation of novel indications for which psychedelics may confer benefit (e.g., inflammatory and neurodegenerative diseases, eating disorders, etc.), and revisiting the potential of psychedelics for enhancing divergent thinking, creative problem solving, and optimal human functioning.