Photo by Turtix.

Psychedelic Researchers Look To Silicon Valley For Support

Photo by Turtix.

 
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by Aaron Kase

on April 30, 2015

The wealthy techies of Silicon Valley could soon be at the forefront of support for scientific research into psychedelic-assisted therapies. The non-profit psychedelic research center MAPS (the Multidisciplinary Association For Psychedelic Studies), is zeroing in on the region to ask for donations to advance its groundbreaking clinical research into MDMA, LSD, psilocybin and other substances.

“There’s always been a relationship in Silicon Valley between psychedelics and innovation in the tech business,” says MAPS founder Rick Doblin, PhD in a video.

MAPS has a presence in Silicon Valley via its partnership with Sofia University, a private university in Palo Alto with an emphasis on transpersonal psychology.

“What we’re trying to do is create a model where profit maximization is not the primary objective, but social benefit is,” Doblin continues in the video. “We really do have a chance of reintegrating psychedelics into our cultures, and it’s through medicine and through science, those are the ways to change the cultural attitudes about drugs and to help us overcome this horrible burden of prohibition.”

The group’s latest research involves using MDMA to treat social anxiety in adults who are on the autism spectrum. Researchers are hoping to find 12 adults with autism to participate, and to complete the study by the end of the year. Ultimately the goal is to establish whether MDMA can help enhance functional skills in the individuals, and if so, to launch future studies and gather more data about how to administer effective treatment.

The research will analyze the safety and effectiveness of the MDMA therapy as well as checking subjects’ blood concentrations of various stress-related hormones.

“The search for psychotherapeutic options for autistic individuals is imperative considering the lack of effective conventional treatments for mental health diagnoses that are common in this population,” the rationale paper for the study, published recently in Progress in Neuropsychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, states.

MDMA is more commonly known by its street names “molly” and “ecstasy.” But before it gained a reputation as a party drug and was banned by the federal government in the 1980s, MDMA was used successfully in therapy sessions to treat mental disorders like PTSD and anxiety. MAPS has already sponsored several studies looking at MDMA for PTSD, the results of which were overwhelmingly positive and lasting, across the board. Phase I of the MAPS-sponsored MDMA-assisted PTSD research has been so compelling that studies have been approved to enter Phase II by all necessary government agencies.

Among the psychological effects of MDMA that could be helpful for adults with autism are:

  • Decreased feelings of fear
  • Increased feelings of well-being
  • Increased sociability
  • Increased interpersonal trust
  • Alert state of consciousness
  • Increased awareness of some domains of empathy

MAPS is also currently undertaking a study on using MDMA to treat anxiety about impending death in patients who have life-threatening illnesses.

If the therapies prove effective once again, some of MAPS’s MDMA research will enter phase III, after which MDMA could become a legal, prescription treatment used in tandem with therapy. Rick Doblin has predicted that the medicine will likely be widely available within six years.

In addition to MDMA research, MAPS-sponsored government-approved, placebo-controlled human trials looking at LSD, psilocybin, Ibogaine and ayahuasca have turned over promising results. Their LSD study completed last year, for example, was the first study looking at LSD’s potential as a medicine in 40 years. It showed the psychedelic compound’s ability to significantly reduce anxiety in participants facing death. The organization has also been working for more than ten years to get a study of marijuana for PTSD off the ground. The study was finally approved, but after lead researcher Sue Sisley was fired without explanation from her position at the University of Arizona where it was set to take place, it is currently seeking a new home.

For entrepreneurs and people working in the tech industry, this is an opportunity to combat stigma and advance the cause of life-changing therapies.

“There are many people in Silicon Valley who may support our work who have not yet heard about it,” MAPS Director of Development Virginia Wright wrote in a fundraising letter.

The group is asking people to make a donation and/or share the link through social media.

Receiving more gifts allows the organization to rise higher on the Silicon Valley Gives’ Leaderboards, therefore increasing their exposure even more.

MAPS also has the backing of an anonymous donor, who will match donations up to the first $5,000.

“Our goal is to raise the profile of psychedelic therapy research among new potential donors in Silicon Valley,” Wright wrote. “Please help us with this important effort and help make MDMA-assisted therapy into a legal treatment!”