The Harvard Crimson reports Massachusetts General's new Center for the Neuroscience of Psychedelics will study whether psilocybin and Ecstasy could help with a variety of mental issues, starting with one common effect of depression and severe anxiety and with PTSD that is resistant to traditional treatments.
In the early 1960s, Leary, then a psychology professor at Harvard, studied whether psilocybin and LSD could have beneficial medicinal uses. This included giving psilocybin, the main ingredient in "magic mushrooms," to Concord prison inmates to see if it could reduce recidivism, and to Boston-area divinity students, gathered at BU's Marsh Chapel on Good Friday, to see if it would heighten their religious experience.
Although Leary began with the scientific methods - half the divinity students were given niacin instead of the psychedelic - he soon ran into trouble because he would sometimes take drugs along with students and because he may have pressured some undergraduates to join him. After three years, he was fired.
Mass. General's center, created by its retired psychiatrist-in-chief, says its studies will be focused on whether psychedlics can increase "neuroplasticity," the ability of the brain to essentially rewire itself for new behaviors, and will include researchers from the hospital, Harvard, Harvard Medical School and the Broad Institute, all working in carefully controlled clinical studies that will rely on powerful neuroimaging systems to monitor brain changes.
Studies suggest that psychedelics may facilitate neuroplasticity at the cellular and network levels allowing the brain to form and reorganize connection.
This creates a unique opportunity to change patterns in brain activity, and in turn, improve symptoms, behavior and functioning, to ultimately eliminate suffering.
There is much to learn about how these psychedelic compounds work in the brain to promote neural plasticity. Initial clinical studies suggest immediate, sustained relief of symptoms after a single administration of a psychedelic compound in a therapeutic setting.
The center will look at whether psilocybin can help people with depression and anxiety stop what is called "rumination" - in which they get into a cycle of repeating and intensifying negative thoughts about themselves, and whether MDMA - also known as Ecstasy and Molly - can help people with PTSD who have not been helped by current treatments.