UC Berkeley Research to Investigate How Psychedelics Alter People’s Views

Psychedelic fungi and plants have been used by various Indigenous communities in their healing and spiritual ceremonies for millennia. In the 1950s and 1960s, western therapists, psychiatrists and researchers began looking into whether these drugs could be used to manage mental-health conditions. However, the approval of the Controlled Substances Act halted this research, up until about a decade ago.

Now, researchers at the UC Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics are set to begin a study looking into how psychedelic substances shape how humans perceive things.

Previous research has determined that the effects of these drugs on an individual’s perception can bring about illusions or even lead to contrary interpretations of one’s image. During the study, the researchers plan to administer psilocybin to healthy human participants. Psilocybin is the primary psychoactive compound found in hallucinogenic mushrooms.

Once the drug is ingested, each participant will be asked to perform perceptual tasks while the researchers monitor their visual cortex using fMRI. The researchers’ objective is to acquire a better understanding of how this psychedelic interacts with the visual system of the brain while also gaining insights into the impact of these drugs on the human mind.

The study’s lead, Professor Michael Silver, explained that understanding how psychedelics worked at a neuroscientific level would provide insights into how the substances worked as medicines and hopefully aid in the development of more-effective treatments for a range of mental-health conditions.

Silver, who specialized in optometry, vision science and neuroscience, also noted that the researchers plan to test a hypothesis called relaxed beliefs under psychedelics. This hypothesis suggests that psychedelics relax implied assumptions, making it easier for an individual’s perception to be shaped more by raw sensory info and less by vision. This hypothesis was developed by neuroscientists Karl Friston and Robin Carhart-Harris and could be used to explain why psychedelic-assisted therapy may aid in the treatment of different mental health conditions.

This study is one of the few trials investigating the neurobiological actions of psilocybin, unlike others, which center on its effects on clinical behaviors and symptoms. This is also the first study to use human subjects in research that involves the administration of psilocybin or any other drug classified under Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. To obtain the campus, state and federal-level regulatory approvals needed to administer psilocybin in human subjects for their research, the scientists put in years of work.

After obtaining approval, strict rules have to be followed to handle the drug, which includes storing psilocybin in a safe, bolted securely and located behind a number of locked doors. Researchers have already began screening participants and are currently enrolling more volunteers.

Compass Pathways PLC (NASDAQ: CMPS) and other entities are also conducting clinical trials on psychedelics. More information about how these substances trigger the effects that have been observed could soon become available.

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