Skip to main content
Move the World.
psychedelic research center

Lead Image Courtesy of Mount Sinai Medical System

Another big name medical school has joined the psychedelic research renaissance: the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai has announced the launch of the Center for Psychedelic Psychotherapy and Trauma Research.

Under the direction of Icahn professor of neuroscience and psychiatry Rachel Yehuda, the psychedelic research center will include studies on MDMA — its therapeutic use for PTSD and trauma — as well as psilocybin and other compounds.

The institution's history of treating trauma in unique populations — for example, Yehuda's lab has worked with children of Holocaust survivors — has led to discoveries like the role of epigenetics in intergenerartional trauma.

"We are in a perfect position to not only do clinical trials in very interesting groups — like intergenerational trauma and other kinds of trauma — but we're also in a very unique position to be able to apply what we've learned in more than 15 years of doing biomarker work before and after different kinds of therapy," Yehuda says.

In other words, their work has shown what improvements in mental health look like in the physical body — and they hope this will help them leverage the potential of psychedelics to treat mental trauma. 

The Age of Asclepius

As regular Dope Science readers know, there has been a renewal of academic interest in psychedelic drugs, especially psilocybin, ketamine, and MDMA. The opening of a psychedelic research center at Johns Hopkins can be seen as the bellwether of the psychedelic research renaissance.

Adding Icahn to that list could help the field accelerate, and it is "another sign of the increasing interest within mainstream psychiatry in the potential of psychedelic compounds to facilitate positive therapeutic change in patients suffering from conditions that are often unresponsive to conventional treatments," Charles Grob, a professor of psychiatry at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, told Freethink via email.

Magic mushrooms and especially ketamine have proven highly effective therapies for treatment-resistant depression in multiple studies, while MDMA therapy appears especially potent in treating PTSD.

The Center for Psychedelic Psychotherapy and Trauma Research is currently awaiting final approval from the various alphabet soup of agencies that must approve a psychedelic research center, but it looks to experts in the field that it may fit a special need.

"This will be the first Psychedelic Center (among the many that have popped up recently) to focus on MDMA and PTSD," Charles Nichols, a professor of pharmacology and psychedelic researcher at LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine, wrote to Freethink in an email.

"I think that will distinguish them from the others."

Diversifying Psychedelic Research

The focus on MDMA and PTSD will not be limited to clinical trials. 

With help from MAPS, the psychedelic research center is establishing a training program, including curriculum and clinical rotations, for mental health professionals looking to provide psychedelic-assisted therapy to their patients — including those in communities that are often left behind.

"Our intention is to include a very diverse population, because I think that's been some limitations of the current work."

Rachel Yehuda

"In our first round of training, we made a very special point to include therapists of color," Yehuda says. "Our intention is to include a very diverse population, because I think that's been some limitations of the current work."

Including clinicians and study candidates who are people of color will be crucial as psychedelic-assisted therapy research continues, according to Rebecca Kronman, a therapist who works with patients before and after psychedelic sessions like MDMA therapy — although she can't give them the drugs, of course.

A psychedelic research center's work is inherently flawed if it includes only a narrow band of people in its studies, Kronman writes via email. 

"It is critical that research institutions take specific and intentional actions to actively recruit clinicians and participants from diverse racial backgrounds."

"Everyone with Trauma"

That commitment to casting a wide net will extend to its clinical trials, as well. The psychedelic research center's first trial will study the impact of doing 3 MDMA-assisted therapy sessions as opposed to 2 in patients with PTSD, with combat veterans the first focus, Yehuda says.

She does not intend to stop there.

"We're going to work our ways towards everyone with trauma and PTSD," Yehuda says.

With Yehuda and Mount Sinai's reputation in the field of PTSD and trauma — a rep echoed, unprompted, by Grob and Nichols — she is determined to have the center follow the science and "play it straight."

Among the other questions the psychedelic research center will investigate are who should not be treated with MDMA-assisted therapy, which Yehuda says hasn't really been asked in the field.

She's been active long enough to begin thinking about the sunsetting of her career, Yehuda says, and sees the Center as a necessity.

"It just felt like something I just had to do; it's just something that was important to do," she says. 

"Almost, I would say, a moral imperative to do, given that there's so many trauma survivors out there."

We'd love to hear from you! If you have a comment about this article or if you have a tip for a future Freethink story, please email us at [email protected]

Up Next

Dope Science
Take a Trip to Johns Hopkins' New Psychedelic Research Center
Take a Trip to Johns Hopkins' New Psychedelic Research Center
Dope Science
Take a Trip to Johns Hopkins' New Psychedelic Research Center
Johns Hopkins is throwing its considerable clout behind the fast-growing field of psychedelic research, pouring $17 million into a research center to study the hallucinogenic drugs.

Johns Hopkins is throwing its considerable clout behind the fast-growing field of psychedelic research, pouring $17 million into a research center to study the hallucinogenic drugs.

Dope Science
Healing PTSD with MDMA Therapy
mdma therapy for ptsd
Dope Science
Healing PTSD with MDMA Therapy
New hope for PTSD sufferers is coming from an expected quarter: MDMA.
By Kurt Hackbarth

New hope for PTSD sufferers is coming from an expected quarter: MDMA.

Dope Science
MDMA Therapy and the Promise of Psychedelics
mdma therapy
Dope Science
MDMA Therapy and the Promise of Psychedelics
Despite years of work with a "stellar" therapist, Charlotte needed more. She turned to MDMA therapy.

Despite years of work with a "stellar" therapist, Charlotte needed more. She turned to MDMA therapy.

Dope Science
Ketamine Infusion: What It's Like and How It Works
ketamine infusion
Dope Science
Ketamine Infusion: What It's Like and How It Works
Ketamine infusion therapy takes the anesthetic from dance floors to depression clinics. But how does the drug work, and what is it like?

Ketamine infusion therapy takes the anesthetic from dance floors to depression clinics. But how does the drug work, and what is it like?

Dope Science
How Long Are You Too High To Drive? The Science Is Fuzzy.
cannabis intoxication
Dope Science
How Long Are You Too High To Drive? The Science Is Fuzzy.
Some drug driving laws outlaw any amount of THC. To create better laws, researchers are trying to find out how long cannabis intoxication itself lasts.

Some drug driving laws outlaw any amount of THC. To create better laws, researchers are trying to find out how long cannabis intoxication itself lasts.

Dope Science
Can CBD Be the Next Superbug Slayer?
CBD and antibiotics
Dope Science
Can CBD Be the Next Superbug Slayer?
In the search for new weapons against superbugs, CBD and antibiotics in combination, as well as CBD alone, may prove to be promising candidates.

In the search for new weapons against superbugs, CBD and antibiotics in combination, as well as CBD alone, may prove to be promising candidates.

Dope Science
Microdosing Mushrooms: Explained
microdosing mushrooms
Dope Science
Microdosing Mushrooms: Explained
Microdosing mushrooms — taking doses of psilocybin too small to cause a trip to enhance daily life — is gaining momentum. But does science support it?

Microdosing mushrooms — taking doses of psilocybin too small to cause a trip to enhance daily life — is gaining momentum. But does science support it?

Dope Science
“Candy Flipping” — Mixing MDMA and LSD — Is Hitting the Lab
candy-flipping
Dope Science
“Candy Flipping” — Mixing MDMA and LSD — Is Hitting the Lab
A clinical trial of mixing LSD and MDMA, known as “candy flipping,” wants to see if molly can take a trip’s edge off and make LSD therapy more effective.

A clinical trial of mixing LSD and MDMA, known as “candy flipping,” wants to see if molly can take a trip’s edge off and make LSD therapy more effective.

Dope Science
Microdosing LSD May Provide Pain Relief
microdosing lsd
Dope Science
Microdosing LSD May Provide Pain Relief
Since the 1960s, LSD has been seen as a potential painkiller. Now, new research suggests microdosing LSD may indeed provide relief.

Since the 1960s, LSD has been seen as a potential painkiller. Now, new research suggests microdosing LSD may indeed provide relief.