Harvard University has created a psychedelic studies program following a $16 million donation from the Gracias Family Foundation. The venture aims to rejuvenate and revolutionize the academic exploration of psychedelics, fostering a hub of innovation focused on the substances’ societal impacts and therapeutic potentials. The initiative heralds a renaissance in psychedelic research at Harvard.
Psychedelic substances have intrigued scientists and enthusiasts of psychoactive substances worldwide for years. These mysterious chemical compounds, used both in traditional rituals and modern medical research, are becoming key to understanding not only the functioning of the human brain but also the potential therapies for many ailments.
A few days ago, Harvard University announced the establishment of the Study of Psychedelics in Society and Culture, thanks to a donation from the Gracias Family Foundation, as reported by the university.
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A Revolutionary Contribution
The aim is to revolutionize research on psychedelics through innovative studies and meetings between lecturers, students, and experts to discuss their far-reaching consequences.
“We are excited about the opportunity to bring together students, professors, and researchers around the important issue of the impact of psychedelics on our society,” said Robin Kelsey, dean of the arts and humanities at Harvard University. “Harvard is uniquely positioned to become the main place for debates and innovations in this field.”
The donation of $16 million includes, among others, a professorship focusing on human health and development and support for research across the university. Interest in psychedelics has increased in recent years, mainly due to research on their potential in treating PTSD, depression, and addictions.
Expanding the Horizons of Psychedelic Studies
In 2021, the Center for Health Law, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School established the POPLAR Project, analyzing the ethical, legal, and social aspects of psychedelics. Additionally, the Center for the Study of World Religions examines psychedelics in the context of altered states of consciousness and spirituality.
Michael Pollan, a professor of creative writing at Harvard, has explored the history of psychedelics in America. He is the author of the book “How to Change Your Mind,” which was adapted for Netflix. “This is a visionary gift that extends the renaissance of psychedelics beyond medicine, appreciating the role of the humanities in studying these extraordinary substances.”
Engaging in Multidisciplinary Dialogues
The Study of Psychedelics will analyze psychedelics from various perspectives, such as law, ethics, religion, consciousness, and art.
The key will be organizing public discussions. Plans include seminars, conferences, and other events. The donation will also support educational programs for future leaders in this field.
“One of our assets is the ability to conduct discussions between experts from various fields,” said Bruno Carvalho, director of the Mahindra Humanities Center. “This will give us space to talk about psychedelics, their potential, and consequences.”
Funding for Future Psychedelic Research
The donation will also support existing programs and new psychedelic research scholarships.
Scholarships in the field of Psychedelics, Transcendence, and Consciousness Research will collaborate with the University of California, Berkeley.
The Gracias Family Foundation has long been interested in the therapeutic use of psychedelic substances, funding research in this field. Antonio Gracias, the president of the foundation, is the founder and director of Valor Equity Partners.
“Harvard is the perfect place to study psychedelics from new perspectives,” said Gracias, “and to create frameworks for their impact on society.”
The History of Psychedelics at Harvard University
It has been several decades since Harvard focused its attention on psychedelic substances. The university became the center of the “Harvard Psilocybin Project,” which was a series of experiments examining the effects of psilocybin on humans, conducted by Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert, also known as Ramm Dass. Experiments began around 1960 and lasted until March 1962, but they met with criticism for using students in tests. In 1961, the school newspaper The Crimson reported that two students were admitted to a psychiatric hospital after consuming psilocybin, causing the university to distance itself from the research.
Although psilocybin and LSD were legal at that time, professors were criticized for consuming psychedelic substances together with the subjects. The Advisory Committee believed that professors should refrain from taking psychedelics with students if they were actually conducting experiments. The Crimson also noted that the subjects were carefully selected, making the studies biased.
Alpert was dismissed for administering psilocybin to a student, and Leary was also dismissed. Professors were also accused of acquiring psychedelic substances for themselves through contacts at Harvard. The college scandal associated with psychedelics actually increased interest in these substances, instead of deterring people from them.
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