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UC Davis announces new institute to study psychedelics

UC Davis research gives psychedelics a new trip
UC Davis research gives psychedelics a new trip 02:25

DAVIS — It's an effort to bring chemistry, neuroscience and modern-day medicine together under one roof, giving the future of psychedelics a new trip.

UC Davis announced Thursday they have established a new institute to study these once-taboo drugs.

"Psychedelics have some pretty profound effects on brain structure and function," said David Olson, the director of the Institute for Psychedelics and Neurotherapeutics.

There is nothing distorted about this new reality for psychedelic research at UC Davis.

"They also promote the growth of critical neurons in the brain," Olson said.

The goal, according to Olson, the new founding director, is to further understand how psychedelics impact the brain and how these drugs can treat a wide variety of brain conditions.

"The atrophy of neurons in certain parts of the brain - the loss of synapsis - impairs communication and can lead to diseases like depression, PTSD, substance use disorder and even neurogenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease," he said. "We really want to take advantage of the ability of psychedelics to regrow these critical neurons and reestablish synaptic activity in the brain to address the symptoms associated with those conditions."

Researchers will study a broad range of compounds that alter perception, mood and affect cognitive behavior, including psilocybin, or magic mushrooms; LSD; MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy or molly; Ketamine, a powerful anesthetic; and a psychedelic substance found in a western African shrub called Ibogaine, which is long believed to help reduce the impacts of opiate addiction.

"A single dose of the compound can rapidly change behavior for a long period of time, even after the drugs have been cleared from the system," Olson said. "They are not cures, but they're getting us one step closer in that direction. Wouldn't it be great if a patient only had to take a drug once a week, once a month or once a year, instead of every single day?"

Olson said his team will eventually conduct human clinical trials. But the institute plans to take its research a step further by taking a deep dive into the chemistry of these drugs and engineering the next generation of psychedelics.

"It may be possible to separate some of the beneficial effects of psychedelics from their effects on perception," Olson said. "If you remove the hallucinogenic effects of the drugs, you might be able to create more scalable alternatives that can impact a larger percentage of patients."

Olson said while psychedelics are demonstrating exciting results in clinical trials, it's crucial this work be done under controlled conditions.

"They are powerful drugs. They should be treated as such," he said. "They need to be administered under the supervision of healthcare professionals in order to be administered safely."

The Institute for Psychedelics and Neurotherapeutics is a $5 million project and is funded in part by the College of Letters and Science and the School of Medicine.

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