A new academic center in the College of Social Work at The Ohio State University aims to fill two gaps in the burgeoning field of study into psychedelic drugs: focusing research on populations and psychological disorders underrepresented in current studies and preparing future scholars and clinicians through a variety of interdisciplinary educational initiatives.
The Center for Psychedelic Drug Research and Education (CPDRE) was approved by the Ohio State College of Social Work faculty in January, and its director, Assistant Professor of Social Work Alan Davis, officially took the helm in March.
The new center is designed to formalize a network of experts across the university based in a range of academic departments as well as existing centers focused on drug policy and substance misuse prevention and recovery. Center designation also enables the hiring of research and administrative staff, postdoctoral fellows and graduate students who will help propel the work.
“Creating this infrastructure helps establish a system of values that shapes our goals and focuses our mission in strategic ways – all important steps given that the topic is so new,” Davis said.
“All of this allows us to demonstrate the ways we are capable as a group of investigators and instructors to best utilize resources for future work, which sets us up to be competitive for future funding.”
Davis came to Ohio State in 2019 with a research background in psychedelics after completing a postdoctoral research fellowship in Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Psychedelic & Consciousness Research. He is still affiliated with the Hopkins center, and holds an additional Ohio State faculty appointment in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health.
Jason Slot, an associate professor of fungal evolutionary genomics in the Department of Plant Pathology, is the director of educational initiatives for the CPDRE. Slot studies the evolution and ecology of the roughly 300 species of mushrooms that contain the hallucinogenic compound psilocybin.
“Although more mental health services are provided by social workers than all other disciplines combined, no other social work program in the country is engaged in this type of work that Dr. Davis and his colleagues are undertaking,” said College of Social Work Dean Tom Gregoire. “This line of inquiry has great promise in helping individuals and families with what can be intractable challenges.
“Our purpose as scholars and educators is to advance innovation in practice and widely disseminate it so that it touches many lives. Our capacity to reach so many makes this commitment essential.”
In the United States, there are two leading drug-assisted therapies in phase 3 clinical trials testing MDMA (ecstasy) as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and psilocybin for depression. Davis and Slot predicted that as things stand, these therapies could be federally approved in three to five years.
“If psychedelics are made available at the national level for medical purposes, then there will be a rapid shift in our cultural perspective, one that will need to integrate psychedelics and psychedelic-assisted therapy into our communities, families and mental health system,” Davis said.
“Making sure we can educate people and help them understand what psychedelic experiences are, how people talk about these experiences, the history of psychedelics and their cultural context, how they act in the brain – are all critical endeavors which the CPDRE will undertake.”
Initial goals of the center are focused on research and educational initiatives. On the research side, several new clinical studies are under development at the center, subject to regulatory approval at the federal, state and university levels. Educational initiatives include hosting the “Psychedemia” conference on Interdisciplinary Psychedelic Scholarship in August 2022 and development of psychedelic studies curricula for an online continuing education certificate program and an interdisciplinary undergraduate minor. An existing course in the Department of Plant Pathology titled Psychedelic Studies: Neurochemistry, Plants, Fungi and Society will be a core component of the new programs.
“The interdisciplinary minor would be aimed at really bringing pieces together from drug discovery to historical and ethical aspects through the clinical realm,” Slot said. “One big outcome will be that we can give a holistic education and perspective to our students both at the graduate and undergraduate level to be able to understand the history of what they’re working on, the pitfalls and the ethics.
“This being an explosive time in psychedelic science, it’s important to bring together different perspectives in an emerging field and create a place where people can focus together on psychedelics.”
The center’s initial $1.5 million in financial support comes from the Fund for Psychedelic Drug Research and Education financed by two anonymous donors, one of which dedicated their donation in the name of Peter and Barbara.
Additional Ohio State CPDRE fellows, graduate students and staff include Stacey Armstrong, Diana Quinn, Nate Sepeda, Yitong Xin, Rafael Lancelotta and Grace Adams of the College of Social Work; Adam Levin of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health; Paul Nagib of the College of Medicine; and Nese Devenot and Brian Pace of the Department of Plant Pathology.