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Health, Science & Environment

OSU launches center to study therapeutic potential of psychedelics

A growing body of research suggests psychedelic mushrooms may have therapeutic benefits for certain conditions.
Peter Dejong
Psychedelic mushrooms are being weighed and packaged at the Procare farm in Hazerswoude, central Netherlands.

Once thought of as dangerous drugs popular in the counterculture movement of the mid-20th century, psychedelics are gaining ground as legitimate therapeutics for depression and a host of other psychological issues.

Just this week, some protesters were arrested outside the DEA headquarters while calling for access to psychedelics for terminally ill patients.

Earlier this year, researchers at Ohio State launched a psychedelic research initiative aimed at unlocking the potential for these substances and to train the next generation of scholars and clinicians.

“These psychedelics have been used by indigenous cultures for millennia," said Alan Davis, Assistant Professor of Social Work and Psychiatry at Ohio State.

Davis is one of a growing number of researchers across the country that have in recent years renewed interest in psychedelics and their healing potential.

He’s also the director of Ohio State’s new Center for Psychedelic Drug Research and Education. It opened in January and is the first of its kind in the state.

“There are hundreds of millions of people worldwide that are suffering with depression, and almost 70% of them aren't helped on current antidepressant or psychotherapy treatments," Davis said.

Davis came to OSU in 2019 with a background in researching psychedelics at Johns Hopkins University. There, he worked on a study in which longtime depression sufferers were given two doses of psilocybin in a clinical setting combined with traditional psychotherapy.

He says 54% of participants were in total remission from their depression one month later.

“For people who are depressed who are locked into a negative thought pattern and a negative kind of emotional reaction to things, this treatment can provide an opportunity to disrupt that negative pattern and allow the individual to potentially develop a new one," Davis said.

Davis cautions against people trying psychedelics without medical supervision. The National Institute on Drug Abuse also warns of potential side effects like paranoia, insomnia and even long-term psychosis, although that’s considered rare.

Psychedelics also remain illegal. They are listed as a Schedule I drug by the federal government, a classification reserved for substances with high potential for abuse; no accepted medical use; and deemed unsafe even under medical supervision.

Still, some people swear by the life-changing power of these substances. Just ask Amber Capone.

Amber's husband Marcus, a retired Navy SEAL, left the military in 2013 after multiple combat deployments. Amber said childhood and war trauma combined with other issues took their toll on Marcus and their relationship.

“There was no amount of talk therapy that was going to get him out of the place he was in, unfortunately, and pharmaceuticals were actually compounding the problem and making it worse," she said.

Marcus and Amber Capone
Vance Jacobs
Courtesy of Amber Capone
Marcus and Amber Capone

A friend convinced the couple to leave the country for a radical therapy. Marcus took what Amber calls the “nuclear option” — a combination of ibogaine and 5-MeO-DMT. She said the results were transformative.

“The medicine was very unkind to him, and showed him areas of his life that needed improvement. And he walked away with just a ton of insights, but also a feeling of having purged like 1,000 pounds of trauma," Amber said.

Their experience led Marcus and Amber to found Veterans Exploring Treatment Solutions or VETS. The non-profit helps veterans seek out psychedelic-assisted therapies abroad.

“Our entire nation is experiencing a suicide epidemic, especially on the heels of COVID, and I would just say to anyone that those days can end, they really can," she said.

Back at Ohio State, Professor Alan Davis said research currently underway will hopefully lead to a favorable FDA ruling in the next few years, allowing more people access to psychedelic-assisted therapies.

“My hope is that it just adds another option for people who aren't being helped by our current system, and hopefully can just bring us closer to getting the healing that people need," he said.

Health, Science & Environment psychedelicsMental Health
Matthew Rand is the Morning Edition host for 89.7 NPR News. Rand served as an interim producer during the pandemic for WOSU’s All Sides daily talk show.