UW-Madison program to study psychoactive drugs in treatment | Wisconsin News

By ELIZABETH DOHMS-HARTER, Wisconsin Public Radio

MADISON, Wis. (AP) – A new master’s program beginning this fall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison will prepare students for careers studying the therapeutic effects of psychoactive drugs to treat mental illnesses such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. .

Once legal and a thriving potential treatment option in the field of psychiatric research, psychedelics were swept away by the counterculture movement of the 1960s, made illegal, and lost credibility during the War on Drugs.

But renewed interest over the past decade in psychedelics as a legitimate treatment option has led to an increase in clinical trials testing psilocybin (the psychedelic compound found in magic mushrooms), MDMA (also called ecstasy and molly) and LSD. Reputable universities, including Johns Hopkins and Berkeley, have established research centers to study the effects of these drugs as therapies.

Completely online, the master’s program at UW-Madison is the first of its kind in the country, said Cody Wenthur, assistant professor at UW-Madison’s School of Pharmacy. He is the director of the new master’s program in psychoactive pharmaceutical investigation, Wisconsin Public Radio reports.

political cartoons

Wenthur said student training will focus on psychedelics, dissociatives, cannabinoids and other psychoactive pharmaceuticals. Anyone interested in applying to the Masters program can do so by July 31 for fall admission.

“We are particularly interested in training students to enter the growing pharmaceutical industry surrounding the use of these substances, providing them with the tools to understand the data and also to work ethically and adhere to all regulatory elements surrounding the use of these compounds,” he said.

Some states have decriminalized the use of psychedelics for therapeutic purposes, but Wisconsin is not one of them. Wenthur said he and his colleagues are required by law to have Schedule 1 licenses to work with these compounds. Schedule 1 means these drugs have no accepted medical use according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

But it’s complicated, Wenthur said, because MDMA and psilocybin have been flagged as potential breakthrough therapies by the Federal Drug Administration for treating PTSD and depression, respectively.

Wenthur said some of the psychedelics he uses in his lab come from the Usona Institute of Madison, a nonprofit organization focused on studying the effects of these drug therapies and supporting the manufacture of pharmaceutical-grade psilocybin. .

Research is still ongoing to determine the impacts of these drugs on mental health disorders. MDMA is in the final stage of clinical trials for the treatment of PTSD, and psilocybin is in the penultimate stage for the treatment of depression. Early research from clinical trials shows promising results for treating substance use disorders and anxiety, especially for people who are terminally ill.

“Some of the first human trials were actually in terminal cancer patients and the use of these compounds, with psilocybin in particular, with a single dose or two doses combined with psychotherapy, has shown significant benefits. ‘huge improvements in anxiety and quality of life for these patients,’” Wenthur said.

While there have been reports of people using psychoactive drugs to self-treat depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses – including around 6% of 110,000 respondents to a global drug survey – doctors warn that these drugs should be taken with caution and qualified monitoring.

This is precisely how these drugs would be administered, Wenthur explained. Patients take these medications in a safe environment and under the guidance of trained therapists who support them throughout the experience, including integration sessions afterwards where patients and therapists talk about the experience.

Researchers don’t know exactly what makes these psychedelic drugs work as a treatment, but they suspect it’s related to how these compounds change the way brain regions connect and communicate with each other.

There is also evidence that the compounds alter the structures of neurons and the way these cells communicate with each other, which impacts learning and growth.

“The most important first step is for us to not get caught up in the hype and say this is absolutely a 100% guaranteed cure for all ills in society,” Wenthur said. “I think it’s a mistake. But I also think it’s a mistake to ignore the promise that these compounds hold.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Alvin J. Chase