Expanding access to legal cannabis and a surge of research into medical cannabis-based treatments have brought with them a renewed interest in the healing powers of another class of mind-altering substances: psychedelics. Cultural attitudes toward psychedelic drugs and experiences are shifting dramatically, and psychedelic-based treatments are rapidly gaining legitimacy among medical and health professionals.

But when it comes to evidence-based treatments, researchers have some catching up to do. Psychedelic compounds present myriad opportunities for major medical breakthroughs, but doctors and scientists need opportunities to study them. And The Medical University of South Carolina’s new Psychedelic Research Center, slated to open in mid-2021, will offer researchers exactly such a space to explore the vast medical and therapeutic potential of psychedelics.

MUSC Partners with Psychedelic Studies Association to Launch Research Center

Despite rekindled interest in the ancient traditions of psychedelic medicine, tripping to heal remains a fringe concept for many health practitioners. But over the past couple of decades, more scientists have begun to investigate the effects of psychedelic compounds on psychiatric problems. Their work has produced a number of exciting and promising studies that point the way toward groundbreaking treatments for mental illness.

Indeed, one of those studies was conducted by Dr. Michael Mithoefer, a researcher in MUSC’s department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences who’s also spearheading the development of the new psychedelic research center. Mithoefer recently co-authored a study on using MDMA alongside psychotherapy to help veterans, firefighters and police officers overcome chronic PTSD.

Other studies have found that the use of psychedelics can help treat anxiety and depression, ween people off of addictions to nicotine, alcohol and opioids, and improve psychological well-being for people suffering from a range of mental health problems.

Beyond medical applications, the study of psychedelics could also revolutionize our understanding of the mind and human psychology.

To pursue all of these avenues of research, MUSC is partnering with the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), a non-profit research and educational organization working to develop “medical, legal and cultural contexts for people to benefit from the careful uses of psychedelics and marijuana,” according to the group’s website.

With Dr. Mithoefer heading the project, MUSC and MAPS hope to bring the psychedelic research center online within 18 months.

New Research Center Will Study Ecstasy, Psilocybin and More

MUSC researcher in psychiatry and behavioral sciences Dr. Michael Mithoefer couldn’t conduct his research on ecstasy (MDMA) and PTSD on the MUSC campus. But once the medical university’s new psychedelic research center comes online, Mithoefer and other researchers will be able to conduct clinical trials right on campus.

An on-campus research center will allow doctors and researchers to work together on larger studies involving more people. It will also give them the opportunity to study multiple psychedelic compounds. In addition to MDMA, MUSC’s new research center will investigate naturally occurring psychedelics like psilocybin, DMT and mescaline.

“I saw that we needed better treatments,” Mithoefer said of his early interest in finding new options for people with PTSD. “MDMA was used with therapy by maybe several thousand therapists and psychiatrists before it became illegal in 1985.”

Thirty years later, in 2015, the DEA approved large-scale studies of MDMA. And in August 2017, the FDA gave approval to MAPS, the same group partnering with MUSC to launch its new psychedelic research center, to conduct phase III clinical trials on treating PTSD with MDMA. Additionally, the FDA has designated MDMA as a potential breakthrough therapy.

All of that means that MUSC will be at the center of the clinical trials that could bring MDMA treatments to market. Medical ecstasy might not be far off. Indeed, it could be available for use in psychotherapy as early as 2021.

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