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World’s largest research centre to look into surprising health benefits of psychedelic drugs – The Telegraph

The world’s largest pyschedelics research centre has been launched to examine whether the drugs can treat conditions such as depression and opioid addiction, after tech entrepreneurs helped fuel a renaissance of interest in the field.

Johns Hopkins University’s School of Medicine announced the launch of the new Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research this week, made possible by a $17 million donation from a group of private donors which include the founder of WordPress and a popular podcast host.

It comes amid a surge in interest in psychedelic compounds and their potential to treat a range of complex mental health disorders. The field has been largely neglected since Harvard psychologist Timothy Leary began to investigate how cognitive processes and emotions are affected by mind-altering substances in the 1960s.

Psilocybin is the key psychedelic compound found in magic mushrooms

Credit:
 Joe Amon/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post

LSD and other psychedelics have been illegal in the US for several decades but studies suggesting they may be effective in medical treatments has contributed to a growing cultural shift in how psychedelic substances are perceived. Earlier this year Denver became the first US city to decriminalise magic mushrooms, in the wake of research which suggests some of its compounds can be beneficial for treating depression and anxiety among cancer patients.

Psilocybin is currently listed as a Tier 1 illegal drug in the US, the equivalent classification to a Class A substance in the UK, and has not yet been approved as a medical treatment. However researchers hope that the new centre may contribute to a sea change in medical approaches.

The new funding is the largest ever single-donation to the field and will fund a five-year research programme to examine whether psilocybin, the psychedelic compound found in magic mushrooms, can treat alcoholism, post traumatic stress disorder and several other complex conditions.

Host Tim Ferriss speaks onstage at ‘The Tim Ferriss Show LIVE during a SXSW Conference

Credit:
Amy E. Price/Getty

Many of the tests being conducted by the centre are the first of their kind and will involve between 200 and 250 volunteers over the course of a number of trials. In most cases patients will be given one or two doses of the drug while under constant observation by a therapist.

Dr Frederick Barrett, assistant professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins, said psilocybin offers a “radically different model” of treatment because psychedelic drugs  “don’t follow the cycle of abuse”.

“People don’t typically experience craving or withdrawal after the use of psychedelic drugs,” he told The Sunday Telegraph.

Dr Barrett said researchers are still unsure why psychedelic drugs can offer effective treatment but some theories suggest that the drugs work on the brain by “increasing cognitive flexibility” or altering the brain’s “balance of positive and negative emotional information”.

However Dr Barrett cautioned against the decriminalisation debate being waged in several US cities, saying: “I don’t think anybody right now, at least in the research world, is thinking that it’s a good idea to decriminalise psychedelic drugs or to make them available widely for such use. These are nothing if not very powerful drugs, which is one of the reasons they may hold so much promise for therapeutic use”.

One of the donors to the new centre is Tim Ferriss, an American entrepreneur and podcast host, who has previously funded a similar center at Imperial College London. Mr Ferriss said he had deeply personal motivations for getting involved in the new centre – including a history of Alzheimer’s on both sides of his family and seeing his best friend growing up on Long Island die from a fentanyl overdose.

But he added: “On the macro level, I really look at it the same way that would I look at investing in start-ups or businesses and I stopped doing in 2015 and pushed all my chips into this. This entire field has been largely neglected in the sense that there has been a near complete lack of federal funding so that’s exciting to me in that you can have a large impact with a relatively small amount of capital”.

The other private donors to the centre are the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation, which provided the bulk of the centre’s funding, as well as Matt Mullenweg, the co-founder of WordPress, TOMS shoe brand founder Blake Mycoskie and investor Craig Nerenberg.