UC Berkeley is launching a new centre for psychedelic research

The centre’s cofounders include UC Berkeley neuroscientist David Presti, psychologist Dacher Keltner, and journalism professor Michael Pollan

Berkeley-shrooms

The new UC Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics' initial experimental studies will use psilocybin, the principal psychoactive compound in magic mushrooms. Photo by delobol/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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The University of California at Berkeley announced this week that it is launching a new centre for research into psychedelics.

According to a September 14 press release, the new Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics “will conduct research using psychedelics to investigate cognition, perception and emotion and their biological bases in the human brain”.

An anonymous donor provided US$1.25 million in seed funding for the new centre. Its initial experimental studies will use psilocybin, the principal psychoactive compound in magic mushrooms.

Moreover, according to a mission statement on its website, the BCSP will:

  • Investigate short- and long-term effects of psychedelics on human cognition, perception, and emotion;
  • Assist in the training of practitioners to support the use of these medicines in culturally appropriate, spiritually significant, and medically safe ways; and
  • Offer authoritative, evidence-based, and culturally inclusive journalism about the field through a public education initiative housed at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

Striking results

“There’s never been a better time to start a centre like this,” said David Presti. The UC Berkeley neuroscientist is one of the BCSP’s founding members. “The renewal of basic and clinical science with psychedelics has catalyzed interest among many people.”

Michael Silver is a UC Berkeley neuroscientist, and also the inaugural director of the Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics.

Silver says the centre’s research will surely complement ongoing clinical studies at other institutions. For example, Johns Hopkins University in Maryland and Imperial College London, are integrating psilocybin and other psychedelic compounds with psychotherapy. They are using that combination to treat anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and substance abuse.

“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,” Silver said.

The centre has a number of high-profile cofounders. They include, for example, psychologist Dacher Keltner and journalism professor Michael Pollan. Pollan is the author of How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression and Transcendence. Significantly, the UC Berkeley press release notes that the 2018 bestseller was one of the inspirations for the centre. (Gail Johnson interviewed Pollan for the Georgia Straight last year.)

Spiritual dimensions

Certainly, one unique aspect of the new centre will be its focus on developing an immersive learning program on psychedelics and spirituality.

With this purpose in mind, the BCSP plans to collaborate with the Graduate Theological Union. The GTU is an independent consortium of religious schools and theological institutes in the San Francisco Bay Area. This program will eventually train guides, also known as facilitators, in the cultural and spiritual dimensions of psychedelics.

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

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