Fifty years after political and cultural winds slammed shut the doors on psychedelic research, UC Berkeley is making up for lost time by launching the campus’s first center for psychedelic science and public education.
With $1.25 million in seed funding from an anonymous donor, the new UC 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.
The center is also developing a program for educating the public about this rapidly advancing field of research. Initial experimental studies will use psilocybin, the principal psychoactive compound in magic mushrooms.
“There’s never been a better time to start a center like this,” said UC Berkeley neuroscientist David Presti, one of the center’s founding members. “The renewal of basic and clinical science with psychedelics has catalyzed interest among many people.”
Other acclaimed co-founders of the center include psychologist Dacher Keltner, who studies the mental and physiological benefits of awe, and journalism professor Michael Pollan, whose 2018 bestseller, How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression and Transcendence, was one of the inspirations for the center.
“We’re really interested in what psychedelics can teach us about consciousness, perception, creativity and learning,” said Pollan, who felt compelled to explore psychedelics in late middle age, instead of in his youth, and write about them.
“Psychedelics have a particular value later in life, because that is when you are most stuck in your patterns. They give you the ability to shake them loose,” he said.
The minds they are a-changin’
Research at the new center will complement ongoing clinical studies at other institutions — such as Johns Hopkins University in Maryland and Imperial College London — that are integrating psilocybin and other psychedelic compounds with psychotherapy to treat mental disorders, such as 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,” said UC Berkeley neuroscientist Michael Silver, inaugural