Not since the days that Timothy Leary and Ram Dass ran amok with LSD and shrooms at Harvard, have Ivy League universities been associated with psychedelics (and we know how that went down!) Luckily, now it’s all change for these venerable places of learning, as even they unbend towards the glowing potential of the psychedelic renaissance. 

This means that there are many exciting upcoming psychedelic studies taking place at these institutions of learning. The one we are looking at in this article, is the upcoming pilot study taking place at Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, that will explore the benefits of synthetic psilocybin when administered to individuals with mental health issues such as PTSD. 

via Wholecelium

How Will the Study Work?

50 patients will make up the study cohort, mainly veterans and first responders who suffer from mental health concerns like depression and/or addiction. The participants will take 25mg of synthetic psilocybin, and after the psychedelic effects begin to wear off, they will talk to trained therapists about their experience, issues, and progress. 

State Rep. Michelle Cook told the Connecticut Post, that the aim is to collect state data on psychedelic therapy that has been lacking. 

“We need to have the data to show that there is documented proof of what that therapy does,” Cook explained. “We know that it has some incredible outcomes when it is done right, when it’s done by people that are trained in how to use it for treatment of PTSD and so forth.”

Military veterans will take part in the study (Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash)

The Psilocybin ‘Problem’

There are a unique set of problems faced when it comes to using a Schedule 1 substance in a clinical setting — for a start, you cannot use insurance. Yale researcher Ben Kelmendi (who is about to embark upon the aforementioned pilot study) said;  

“Even though it’s a research program, you are treating them clinically. And then, in order to treat them clinically, you need to have malpractice coverage,” 

This means that research into the medical benefits of psilocybin have been severely disrupted due to legal restrictions. Only certain conditions are acceptable. PTSD, for example, is a complex condition with no definitive or reliable treatment. This means research into treatment using ‘less conventional’ methods is deemed ‘acceptable’.  

It is important to note that this study uses ‘synthetic psilocybin’. This is despite the fact that a recent study found that natural psilocybin (straight from the shroom) is actually more effective and beneficial.

PTSD is Hard to Treat- Could Psilocybin Be the Key?

Kelmendi underpinned the urgency;

“With veterans, they will not seek treatment right away… They will start turning to alcohol or other substances, and so that now they have a comorbidity, and that comorbidity — which really is their own way of coping—will exclude them from the study. They’re real patients who are actually suffering and who actually need help. They cannot access these medicines because they do not fit that cookie-cutter profile.” 

The full impact of PTSD is difficult to quantify as it affects multiple aspects of a person’s daily life. 

“There is no one scale that actually captures the complexity of one’s daily functional impairment. It’s actually an index of several different scales,” Kelmendi  said. “One is days missed at work, productivity and relationships, just more daily living. I think that is much more important than saying ‘Oh, have your PTSD symptoms improved or not?’”

PTSD can affect multiple areas of a person’s life (Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash)
No ‘Heroic Dose’ But Definitely a Trip

In the upcoming study, participants will take 25mg of synthetic psilocybin (which is enough to induce a psychedelic experience, though perhaps not fully blast into the cosmos!) They will then have a self-directed therapy session in a comfortable and relaxing space. Around 6 hours later, the participants  will undergo a psychotherapy session. 

“Twenty-five milligrams would be considered a moderate dose. It’s not a heroic dose necessarily, but it’s a psychoactive dose, for sure,” Kelmendi explains. “The non-directive supportive psychotherapy is to be done after the dosing rather than during the dosing.”

The Exciting Potential of Psilocybin

As well as this upcoming study, there are several currently active studies on psilocybin taking place at Yale as part of the Yale Program for Psychedelic Science. These include studies on Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), migraines, cluster headaches, and post-traumatic headaches. In 2022, a report was published by a working group under the direction of the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services that was clear about the potential of psilocybin as a therapeutic medicine, stating; “Research demonstrates psilocybin to be a promising treatment for some behavioral health conditions,including substance use, depression, and palliative care for end-of-life anxiety and depression.”

Furthermore, research has recently been published that suggests that even people who do not take psilocybin for therapeutic reasons are still benefiting mental health-wise (something any psychonaut worth their shrooms could have told you already!) The study, published last September found that the use of psilocybin outside of a clinical setting (i.e. recreationally) was associated with mental health benefits including decreases in depression and anxiety. The research, which was published in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry, analyzed nearly 3000 experience reports from people who had used magic mushrooms for self exploration and enjoyment.

After studying the data, the researchers identified that the participants reported long-lasting decreases of depression, anxiety, alcohol abuse, neuroticism and burnout. On top of this, the participants reported improvements in emotional regulation, spiritual well-being, cognitive flexibility and extraversion. 

It seems sure that the upcoming study at Yale this summer will join this one on the growing pile of research that highlights the exciting potential of psilocybin.