Yale becomes the latest institution to take seriously the psychotherapeutic uses of mind-altering substances.
Image: Ryan Haran/Flickr
The Yale School of Medicine announced Monday that it has formed a study group to explore the re-emerging field of psychedelic science, focusing on the clinical applications of psychedelic drugs in treating mental illnesses.
The field of study is currently experiencing a resurgence after decades of stigmatization beginning in the 1970s, when psychedelics were classified as "drugs of abuse." Recent studies have rehabilitated psychedelics as potentially therapeutic drugs, including clinical trials that utilize psilocybin, the active compound in hallucinogenic mushrooms, as a therapeutic aid in the treatment of anxiety, addiction, and to make you feel really fucking good; MDMA as a useful tool in the treatment of PTSD and social anxiety caused by autism; and LSD for people suffering from anxiety caused by serious illness.
The Yale discussion group, dubbed the Yale Psychiatry and Psychedelics Group or YPPG, hopes to delve into some of the underlying neurological questions that have yet to be fully explored.
"I'm very interested in how you can study these things," said Peter H. Addy, PhD, one of the group's organizers. "This early work that's been done suggests potential for a number of clinical applications, but we need to learn more about how the brain works, and perhaps how consciousness works. There's some promise, but it's not really a subject that a lot of people are experts in."
The group, which will meet monthly at the Yale School of Medicine, will incorporate historical perspectives like the writings of the late-19th century psychologist William James, a pioneer in the use of psychedelics, in order to take a more holistic approach to the study of the somewhat mysterious medical field. The group will address fundamental questions, such as "What are psychedelic substances?" "How do they affect the brain?" and finally "What is the evidence to guide clinical use?"
Other faculty organizers include Gerald Valentine, M.D., clinician in psychiatry, and Robert Krause, MSN, lecturer at the Yale School of Nursing. The group is open to researchers, graduate students, fellows, and other faculty members, as it looks to foster a multidisciplinary approach to better understand how psychedelics affect the mind.
"We know all sorts of things about the serotonin system in the brain and body, and most of these compounds are serotonergic in nature," said Addy, "but how does the serotonin system relate to consciousness? Or mysticism? If we could have people from the Divinity school talking to neuroscientists, that would be very interesting."
Addy, who has a background in Transpersonal Psychology, a school of thought that values transcendent and spiritual experiences within its psychotherapeutic framework, sees the potential value in having spiritual experiences aided by psychedelics like psilocybin, though he cautions against overvaluing the experience in and of itself without additional processing in psychotherapy.
"If you have this amazing experience, and you have tea with Jesus and the buddha and everything's blissful, that's great, but what about next week? Or next month?" Addy said. "Are you still a jerk to your spouse? If it doesn't change anything, then... I'm not really sure what the utility of it is."