Mount Sinai is opening a psychedelic research center

The Icahn School of Medicine is the newest institution to throw its rep and resources behind psychedelic therapy.

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.

“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.”

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