UC Berkeley set to launch center for psychedelic research

Co-founders of the UC Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics. Top, from left to right: Bob Jesse, Jennifer Mitchell, Brian Anderson, Celina De Leon, Sam Berrin Shonkoff. Bottom, from left to right: David Presti, Alison Gopnik, Dacher Keltner, Michael Silver, Michael Pollan.

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UC Berkeley is launching a center for psychedelic science and education after receiving a $1.25 million donation from an anonymous source, according to a Berkeley News press release.

Research done by the UC Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics will utilize psychedelics to discover more information on the brain, perception, cognition and emotion, said Michael Silver, inaugural director of the center. He added that the center also aims to reevaluate the value of psychedelics for helping to treat mental illness.

As psychedelics became connected with the counterculture movements of the 1960s, Silver said, their possession and ingestion was deemed illegal. This then posed barriers for the development of further research on psychedelics, with all work on human subjects and clinical trials ceasing until recently, according to Silver.

“Some psychedelic compounds come from plants and animals that have been used by indigenous cultures for medical applications and ritualistic ceremonial uses,” Silver said. “In terms of research, it’s a very modern part of western science.”

The center, however, recognizes that psychedelics on their own do not act as a cure for mental illness, according to Silver. Instead, the center hopes that by combining psychedelics and psychotherapy they can develop more effective treatments.

According to Silver, the center’s main goal is to make discoveries about the human brain with the help of psychedelics and to add to existing knowledge on the way the mind works.

“On a systems or psychological level there is a lot to be learned,” Silver said. “The center will try to understand this better to get better kinds of therapies and why (psychedelics) are effective medicine for the brain.”

The research center also includes a public education and policy development initiative, Silver said. He added that the center has created a website to be accessed as a reliable source of information for the general public to counter the “ignorance” and misinformation that surround psychedelics.

The center’s website and podcast also work to gather people in the field to discuss the advancement of psychedelic research, the legal status of the drugs and under what conditions they are safe to use, according to Silver. The center has also created a program that will train more practitioners who will be able to guide the psychedelic experience and administer therapy, Silver added.

With the center being located in Berkeley, its team is fundamentally interdisciplinary and diverse in terms of the occupations and contributions of the members, according to Silver.

“This is a pivotal time in history for a discussion about psychedelics and under what circumstances they should be used,” Silver said in the press release. “This has obviously been a very polarizing topic, but I think people’s minds are changing.”

Contact Amanda McNamara at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @amandamcnamara_uc.