UC Berkeley Opens New Center For Psychedelic Science

UC Berkeley Opens New Center For Psychedelic Science

After 50 years in the wilderness for psychedelic research, the University of California, Berkeley has unveiled a new centre for psychedelic science and public education.

The center was developed with a hefty $1.25 million in seed funding from an anonymous donor. The UC Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics will research on how psychedelics can affect “cognition, perception and emotion, and their biological bases”.

UC Berkeley neuroscientist David Presti, one of the center’s founding members, shared his excitement in a news release:

“There’s never been a better time to start a center like this. The renewal of basic and clinical science with psychedelics has catalyzed interest among many people.”

“The Ability To Shake Them Loose”

Michael Pollan, center co-founder and author of How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression and Transcendence , revealed how he explored psychedelics only in late middle age, instead of during his youth:

“We’re really interested in what psychedelics can teach us about consciousness, perception, creativity, and learning. Psychedelics have a particular value later in life, because that is when you are most stuck in your patterns. They give you the ability to shake them loose.”

The center is also developing a program for public education. Initial studies will focus on psilocybin, the psychoactive compound in magic mushrooms.

Training Facilitators In Spiritual Care

Pollan says that the UC Berkeley Center will produce a website covering “scientific, political, business and cultural developments in psychedelics”.

The center also plans to work with the Graduate Theological Union. This independent consortium of religious schools and theological institutes is based in Berkeley and the larger San Francisco Bay Area.

This team-up will eventually train facilitators to meet the growing demand in psychedelic research studies. At present, there are simply not enough trained guides to go around.

Sam Shonkoff, an assistant professor of Jewish studies at the Graduate Theological Union, explains that “training of facilitators is an indispensable part of this project”.

It’s worth noting, however, that hallucinogenic plants and fungi have been used for thousands of years… especially in the ritual context

For this, Brian Anderson, a UCSF psychiatrist, and Celina De Leon, a graduate from the Graduate Theological Union, will both use their expertise in the ritual use of psychedelics to design the new training program.

“Psychedelic medicines can open a doorway to seeing one’s psyche and connection with the world in new and helpful ways. That’s been appreciated by shamanic traditions for thousands of years. Science is now exploring new ways to investigate this.”

– David Presti, UC Berkeley neuroscientist

Integrating Psilocybin into Psychotherapy

Michael Silver, who will serve as the center’s first director, states that research will complement ongoing clinical trials at other institutions . These include Imperial College London, and Johns Hopkins University in Maryland — that are integrating psilocybin and other compounds into psychotherapy.

“Some of these studies have produced striking results in cases that are otherwise resistant to more conventional medical treatment. This suggests that psychedelic compounds may offer new hope for people suffering from these disorders.”

However, scientists still have to discover the specific brain reactions of psychedelic compounds in treating mental health issues. Conditions that respond to treatment include depression , anxiety, substance abuse, and post-traumatic stress disorder (or PTSD).

Hopefully, the UC Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics opens the door for mainstream academic interest in psychedelics. 

With the advent of data-driven research into their therapeutic value, psychedelic compounds may finally break their shadowy “counterculture” label – and push medicine further than ever before. 

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