The Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) has announced that it is partnering with MAPS (the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) to create a psychedelic research center to study the therapeutic effects of psychedelic drugs on mental illness. The center will be located offsite from the MUSC campus. Clinical trials will be conducted on campus once the center is open.
Research Using Several Psychedelics Along With Therapy
Heading the psychedelic research center will be Dr. Michael Mithoefer of the MUSC Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. Dr. Mithoefer became interested in finding new options for treating people with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) when he was a resident at MUSC.
I saw that we needed better treatments. And I was aware there were some case reports about MDMA. It was used with therapy by maybe several thousand therapists and psychiatrists before it became illegal in 1985. A couple of the psychiatrists published case reports talking about how MDMA could help people not have so much fear of talking about their experiences.
Along with MDMA, the MUSC research center plans on investigating naturally-occurring psychedelics such as psilocybin, mescaline, and DMT. If everything goes according to plan, MUSC and MAPS hope to open the research center in about 18 months.
Growing Interest in MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy for Treating PTSD
In 2011, Dr. Mithoefer and his research team (including MAPS founder Rick Doblin) published a paper in Psychopharmacology on their pilot study testing the use of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for treating PTSD.1 The success of the pilot study led to randomized, double-blind, dose-response, phase II clinical trials, the results of which were published in Lancet Psychiatry in 2018.2 Overall, nearly 70% of the study participants who received the full dose of MDMA no longer met the criteria for having PTSD. Dr. Mithoefer says there is a growing understanding of how MDMA works in the brain:
MDMA, the way we see it, is acting as a catalyst for psychotherapy. It allows people to feel they can process their trauma without being overwhelmed by their anxiety. What we know from imaging data is that, very interestingly, MDMA decreases activity in the amygdala, the fear center of the brain, and it increases activity in the prefrontal cortex, which is kind of the higher processing center.
In the last several months, other psychedelic research centers have been announced, including one at Johns Hopkins and another at Imperial College London. Also, Silo Wellness recently announced its psilocybin research laboratory, which will be located in Jamaica.