The University of California, San Francisco is launching a new research program to study the neuroscience behind the conditions and contextual elements that shape a psychedelic experience.
In a statement Tuesday, the Neuroscape Psychedelics Division said it’s kicking off after receiving US$6.4 million in private funding. With those funds, the new UCSF program will integrate cutting-edge neuroscience technology with psychedelics treatment, notably during a MAPS phase III trial for MDMA as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.
According to UCSF professors, an appropriate “set and setting” has shown to be essential for producing long-term benefits in psychedelic therapy. These conditions exist prior to, during and after a psychedelic treatment and can vary from patient to patient.
The new psychedelics division is a part of Neuroscape, a research centre at the university focused on neuroscience and technology. It’s known for using novel technology to study the brain, and for having the first FDA-approved use of videogames as a medical treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Researchers in the new division will run studies recording a patient’s neural and physiological data before and throughout a psychedelic experience — all while controlling environmental factors like music, light and scent.
“This research will allow us to understand if a particular treatment is well-suited to an individual, assessing in real-time how an experience is unfolding,” says Jennifer Mitchell, a professor of neurology and psychiatry at UCSF who will be leading the clinical trials on MDMA.
“We aim to dynamically adjust key contextual elements in a way that guides patients toward an optimal experience — thus maximizing long-term, sustainable positive benefits,” she said in the statement.
With more than half a billion people suffering from mental health conditions worldwide, Neuroscape argues there’s a pressing need for new clinical tools, and approaches to optimize the delivery of psychedelic treatments should be explored.
Leading the division as the Ralph Metzner distinguished professor of neurology and psychiatry is Robin Carhart-Harris, one of the most prominent researchers in psychedelics at Imperial College London.
“The founding of this new division is a hugely exciting development in the story of the psychedelic renaissance,” Carhart-Harris says. “I’m delighted to be joining UCSF and the Neuroscape team and hope to steer this new division to great success.”
Neuroscape is known for using custom-designed systems, integrating technologies that include 3D video game engines, brain-computer interface algorithms, virtual reality and motion capture.
Top image: Two guides monitoring the experiences of a subject of a psychedelic treatment study at Johns Hopkins University in 2008. Photo by Matthew W. Johnson via Wikimedia Commons