A Berkeley Center for Psychedelic Research?

Recently, the cover of Berkeley’s Alumni Quarterly magazine caught my eye. I love the pop art from the 60’s and 70’s, but why was it being used? Because Berkeley has decided to reestablish–perhaps in tribute to the free spirits of the past like Timothy Leary–a center to encourage and encourage the use of psychedelics to “enhance well-being and deepen spirituality”. Really?

The article in the magazine is titled “This Time Without All the Tie Dye”, which is referring to how Berkeley and the Bay Area was in the forefront of psychedelic experimentation by academicians and “hippies” in the 1950s and 1960s. The face of psychedelic research in this era was Timothy Leary, who earned his PhD and became an assistant professor at Berkeley.

Much of the recent publicity about using psychedelics has been through a recent book (Food writer Michael Pollan’s book How to Change Your Mind) and some recent small studies which give hope to those who think psychedelics can reset the brain and help those with intractable mental health issues.

My concerns about this center, called the UC Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics, are:

  1. The publicity around the establishment of the gives the impression that hallucinogenic drugs are a good choice to treat mental health or addiction issues–without scientific evidence.
  2. There are no medical doctors on the Executive Committee of the Center. Here is a listing of the Committee:
    • Michael Silver, PhD, Optometry Professor
    • Dacher Keltner, PhD, Psychology Professor
    • Michael Pollan, Journalism Professor & Food Writer
    • Tina Trujillo, Education Professor with focus on Social Justice
    • Andrea Gomez, PhD, Biology Professor with focus on Neural Plasticity
    • David Presti, Neurobiology and Psychology Professor.

In conclusion, much is said about harm reduction and how MAT is a form of harm reduction. I agree with that. However, psychedelics don’t have a track record of success. They do have backing by writers and podcast hosts, who are not medical doctors. Therefore, who will be responsible for those studies that can provide the peer-reviewed clinical results the public should be looking for? Not Berkeley!