Funding for drug research is on the rise, along with scientists’ hopes for its use

Funding for drug research is on the rise, along with scientists’ hopes for its use

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This is the third episode of a three-part magic book about psychedelics. You can listen to the first episode here and the second episode here.

Jules Dolin: I remember when I first applied to the National Institutes of Health, my program officer said, “No, no one would ever give psychedelics as a treatment. You’re barking up the wrong tree. You should study why this stuff is bad for the brain.”

the most recent: This was in 2014, when Johns Hopkins neuroscientist Joel Dolin was trying to get funding to study whether psychedelics might be the keys to reopening critical periods in the brain.

subvention: And I said to myself, “No, I think this is a great idea, and if we get this right, we’ll win the Nobel Prize. I want to take credit for coming up with this idea now and I’m not going to change my grant to suit your point of view. So I was very stubborn, and I didn’t get the grant.” And I didn’t get much, much more after that.

the most recent: to science fast, I’m science journalist and author Rachel Noyer. You’re listening to part three of a three-part series on psychedelics.

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If Gul were submitting the same grant application today, she would likely have a much stronger chance of getting it.

subvention: There has certainly been a sea change in terms of attitudes towards financing psychedelics.

the most recent: As funding opportunities for psychedelic science increase, researchers are beginning to seriously consider mind-boggling studies that previously seemed like fantasy.

Juul, for example, is currently seeking funding for a study it designed to see if the drug could be used to reopen a critical period of motor learning that would allow stroke patients to regain lost functions.

subvention: If the drug ends up being able to do that, it would provide treatment for about 500,000 (or) 400,000 people a year in the United States alone who have a stroke but never fully regain function.

the most recent: I was curious to see what other researchers in this field were interested in, so I reached out to several other leading thinkers to see what kind of psychedelic investigations they envision for the future.

Albert Garcia Romeo is a research scientist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. It mainly works on the use of psychedelics in a clinical setting. To date, studies of psychedelic-assisted therapy have mostly focused on PTSD, depression, addiction, and end-of-life anxiety, but there could be all kinds of other applications.

Albert Garcia Romeo: Now you’re starting to see this multiply in many different clinical areas, including things like anorexia nervosa. I’m doing a study (on) early-stage Alzheimer’s disease.

I have a study in development for people with long Covid. There are so many different directions to doing work, which is so great, being a scientist, because it makes you feel like a kid in a candy store.

the most recent: Albert is also interested in studying how psychedelics work People well– That is, people who do not suffer from any particular illness but just want to use substances for things like inner exploration, spirituality, personality enhancement, communication, or just having fun.

Garcia Romeo: It’s something that’s been around for a long time in written history, so it really makes us think, “How can these materials be used outside of the medical setting?”

the most recent: Alpert, for example, imagines a study in which people would be given psychedelic drugs to see if these drugs could help boost creativity. Surprisingly, there is precedent for this. In the 1960s, researchers at Stanford University gave healthy people LSD and mescaline to test this question.

Garcia Romeo: They were taking all these kind of educated professionals and asking them to come in and (say): “Think of one of the tough problems you’re facing in your business right now.

Now we’ll go ahead and introduce you to one of these medications and see if that can help you gain more knowledge or come up with some potential solutions to this.

It has certainly yielded some interesting and fruitful results as people have come out of it with things like patents and designs for new types of devices and buildings. And so… I think that’s an incredibly interesting thing, especially being at a place like Hopkins.

You can talk to physicists, astrophysicists, people who do all kinds of different work in cancer biology, and really see, like, wow, there’s a possibility here that we can take some of these people and put them through a protocol that will help them think about the problems that they’re working on from A different perspective. This, in turn, could lead to some wonderful and innovative new ways to deal with the problems we now face.

We are now in an era full of all these different types of crises.

And in the midst of all this, how do we also position psychedelics as allies or tools we can use to hopefully better navigate this chaotic, rapidly changing era in which we find ourselves?

the most recent: Psychedelics could also be used to help us get through difficult times by allowing researchers to better dissect and understand another very important component of the human experience: happiness.

Sonya Lyubomirsky: My name is Sonja Lyubomirsky, and I am a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside. I have been studying happiness for nearly 35 years.

My lab does what we call happiness intervention.

We conduct randomized controlled trials. It’s like a clinical trial, but instead of testing a new vaccine, we’re testing, like, a happiness strategy, like gratitude or kindness.

the most recent: After years of research, Sonia realized that strategies for making people feel happy tend to boil down to one main thing: making them feel more connected to others.

Lyubomirsky: So I became interested in communication and “How do we enhance communication?”

the most recent: But this created a challenge for Sonia.

Lyubomirsky: It’s really hard to study this in the lab: you know, how… how do you actually foster, like, kind of a bottle, this feeling of kind of a deep connection with someone when you really feel understood and loved?

the most recent: While thinking about how to study this in the lab, it occurred to Sonia that the psychedelic drug MDMA could provide an ideal solution.

Lyubomirsky: It turns out that MDMA is a substance that could provide a sort of shortcut for scientists.

There are actually two ways I see to study MDMA. One is how you can use it to kind of mobilize that feeling of connection and feeling of understanding and empathy, and then that enables you to study psychological mechanisms and brain pathways.

But the other way is: you can try to use it to improve people’s lives, right? There is a kind of loneliness epidemic that we are experiencing. People feel disconnected.

Can we actually improve people’s lives, not just people with mental health conditions but just people who maybe feel a little lonely or people who want to improve their relationships?

the most recent: In 2022, Sonya believed that MDMA could be a powerful investigative tool for psychologists and sociologists, so much so that she authored a research paper proposing a new field called psychedelic social sciences.

She envisions future research using MDMA and other psychedelics to study everything from the basic components of positive relationships to whether it’s possible to change someone’s extreme views.

Lyubomirsky: I hope there are young people in this field who want to take charge, lead it and develop it.

the most recent: Drugs can also ultimately help answer fundamental questions about existence and who we are or what we really are.

David Presti: Deepening our understanding of the nature of mind and consciousness is among the most exciting frontiers of contemporary science, and there are many mysteries there. And there is every reason to believe that whatever psychedelic substances you are exploiting when it comes to their effect on the brain, the nervous system, the body interacting with the mind and our conscious awareness, and all aspects of what the mind may be like. In a way that’s radically different from anything else we’ve ever researched.

the most recent: This is David Presti, a neurobiologist at the University of California, Berkeley. As psychedelics open up new frontiers in neuroscience, David says it’s important for researchers to try to put aside their pre-existing assumptions about what he calls “the deep mysteries of the mind.”

pastor: I truly believe that there is the potential to contribute to elevating our understanding of the relationship between mind, brain, body and physical reality to a deeper level of insight if we are open to it.

the most recent: David also encourages psychedelics to engage in dialogue with experts in religion or spirituality.

pastor: At the heart of many religious traditions is an appreciation for the deep mystery of reality and who we are within that deep mystery of reality. This is a very important system of narratives that has a huge impact on human society all over the planet.

To begin to appreciate that in the context of the biophysical sciences would be a really beautiful thing because there have been a lot of beliefs that have developed over the last hundreds of years of this disconnect between what we call science and what we call religion, and there’s no reason that should be the case.

Both science and religion deal with the deep mystery of reality and our place in it. So I see this as one question that could provide a platform for further interaction between religious narratives and scientific narratives.

the most recent: David hopes that these kinds of collaborations fostered by drugs will also lead to practical results in how humans deal with each other, with other species, and with the planet.

pastor: We begin to see how deeply connected and conscious it is in some way—very different from our feeling but a kind of consciousness, which exists—that might allow us a starting point for developing greater respect and greater thought for how we interact with these conscious systems.

I can only hope so.

the most recent: to Science, fastI’m Rachel Noir. You’ve just listened to part three of a three-part series on psychedelics.

Science, fast Produced by Tulika Bose, Jeff Delvecchio, Kelso Harper and Karen Leung, and edited by Elah Feder and Alexa Lim. Don’t forget to listen to Science, fast Wherever you get your podcasts, visit ScientificAmerican.com for up-to-date, in-depth science news.

This is the third episode of a three-part magic book about psychedelics. You can listen to the first episode here and the second episode here.

Participate: Apple | Spotify

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