California Institute of Integral Studies: Out in Front on Psychedelic Research

Summary: The California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) announces plans to launch the Center for Psychedelic Therapy and Research, an academic program intended for prospective psychedelic therapists. The article cites MAPS and other organizations’ research as the inspiration for the new program. “We want to see our CIIS graduates working across the country as trained psychedelic researchers,” explains Professor Janis Phelps.

Originally appearing here.

CIIS and Partners to Train Therapists on New Treatments in Mental Health

To address the demand for trained psychotherapists to work in the expanding field of psychedelic studies, CIIS has announced the creation of the Center for Psychedelic Therapy and Research (the Center), to be directed by Janis Phelps, professor in the East-West Psychology program.

Beginning in spring 2015, the Center will offer a series of evening lectures, weekend workshops, webinars, and films, shown at CIIS and online, as part of a public service campaign to teach a variety of topics related to psychedelic research. In the 2015–2016 academic year, the Center will introduce a certificate program to teach licensed psychotherapists to become psychedelic researchers.

Throughout its history, CIIS has been a leader in consciousness research, including research into nonordinary states of consciousness.

In 1997, nearly three decades after the enactment of the Controlled Substances Act made psychedelic drugs illegal, CIIS began offering the Robert Joseph and Wilhelmina Kranzke Endowed Scholarships, a gift of Robert Barnhart in memory of his parents. The endowment supports two to four annual scholarships of $5,000 each for students who are conducting approved psychotropic research.

CIIS Trustee Meihong Xu and her husband, Bill Melton, are now continuing in this tradition by generously offering to match all gifts and grants to the Center, up to $300,000, doubling the value of any donation made to support psychedelic studies at CIIS.

Should the Xu-Melton challenge grant be met, the Center will be funded for its first three years.

Solid Partnerships With Psychedelic Researchers

Creation of the Center means that CIIS gains a critical opportunity to build strong partnerships with other universities, medical centers, researchers, and research groups.

More than a dozen top psychedelic researchers—including Bill Richards, from Johns Hopkins University; Charles Grob, from the University of California, Los Angeles; and Michael and Annie Mithoefer, lead researchers for the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies (MAPS)—have agreed to partner with the Center to teach in the certificate program.

Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, and California Pacific Medical Center have agreed to join the Center’s council of advisors.

“This is an exciting moment for CIIS,” says Phelps. “Not only will we be working with some of the top psychedelic researchers in the country, but also we’ll be preparing our graduates to make important advances in the fields of psychedelic research.”

By bringing together these top researchers, the Center is opening an avenue for collaboration between MAPS and the Heffter Research Institute (Heffter), two of the most renowned research groups for psychedelic studies.

The certificate program will be the largest collaborative program focusing on psychedelic studies within a nonmedical graduate university. Licensed therapists who earn a certificate in psychedelic research and therapy from CIIS will be specially trained as researchers and will be eligible to be hired at current research centers across the United States.

“Not only will we be working with some of the top psychedelic researchers in the country, but we’ll also be preparing our graduates to make important advances in the fields of psychedelic research.”

The Early Experiments

Indigenous cultures across the globe have used mind-altering substances such as ayahuasca, psilocybin, and peyote in rituals and as medicines for millennia. Similar explorations with hallucinogenic drugs continued in the U.S. with legal sanction well into the 20th century. In the decades following World War II, the field of psychedelic studies expanded. It was not uncommon for leading academics and researchers to experiment with hallucinogenic drugs.

Alan Watts, the British-born philosopher and accomplished writer, joined the faculty of the American Academy of Asian Studies (the original name of CIIS) in 1951 and served as dean of faculty from 1952 to 1957. Watts ultimately became famous for popularizing Eastern philosophy in the West through his books and his radio show on KPFA in Berkeley. In 1960, after Watts left the American Academy of Asian Studies, he published the essay “The New Alchemy,” in which he chronicled his experiments with LSD.

Ralph Metzner, after earning his PhD, began teaching psychology at CIIS in 1975, and eventually served the Institute as both the academic dean and academic vice president. Stanislav Grof, one of the founders of transpersonal psychology, explored the use of psychedelic drugs in therapy practice before the drugs were made illegal. By the late 1960s, Grof and his wife, Christina, had developed a breathing technique that they called Holotropic Breathwork, based on the idea that one could achieve an altered state of consciousness without the use of psychedelic drugs. In the ’90s, Grof joined the faculty of CIIS, where both he and Metzner continued their explorations and research into nonordinary states of consciousness.

“The study of consciousness in its fullness and multidimensionality is central to an integral education,” says Bahman Shirazi, CIIS archivist. “This necessitates openness to various ways of knowing. This is why, throughout its history, the University has partnered with faculty who have been leaders in these areas.”

The Current Landscape

Between 1945 and 1970, tens of thousands of research subjects took part in hundreds of psychedelic studies across the U.S. In 1970, as a response to the counterculture movement and the rise of recreational drug use, Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act, enacting a classification system that created five levels of severity by which drugs are grouped. in Clinical Psychology from Harvard University in 1962, participated in psychedelic research at Harvard with Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert, who later became known as Ram Dass.

Psilocybin, MDMA, LSD, ibogaine, and peyote are categorized as Schedule I, the most restrictive level. By criminalizing the use of hallucinogens, the Controlled Substances Act brought an end to research into psychedelic drugs in the U.S. for more than 20 years.

In the past two decades, however, the Food and Drug Administration has approved studies exploring the therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse and addiction, and end-of-life anxiety.

There are three phases in the FDA’s drug development and review process.

In Phase 1 studies, researchers must demonstrate that a medicine can be used safely. Phase 2 studies must show that a medicine has efficacy for a particular set of medical conditions. If a drug is shown to be effective, it can move to Phase 3, where researchers attempt to show that the drug is as effective or more effective than the drugs that are used in existing treatments.

In the U.S., psychedelic researchers depend on funding from MAPS and Heffter. Researchers can seek other private funding as well as support from their academic institutions, but currently there is no federal funding for psychedelic studies. Many curr
ent MAPS and Heffter-funded studies are in Phase 2; others are exploring Phase 1 trials for newly studied medical conditions. Both MAPS and Heffter are preparing Phase 3 initiatives.

Heffter’s clinical research centers on psilocybin. MAPS-funded studies in the U.S. focus on MDMA, although the organization funds international studies in LSD, ibogaine, and ayahuasca.

As research moves forward, it’s important to note that universities and research groups are not the only parties interested in looking for new and better ways to treat illness. The Department of Defense, for example, is spending millions of dollars each year on treatment of veterans with severe post-traumatic stress disorder.

MDMA and psilocybin, used as medicine, have been proven effective for military veterans who have made multiple suicide attempts, have had psychotic breaks, and are desperate to return to their relationships and families.

What’s Next?

As MAPS and Heffter push into Phase 3 studies, researchers can seek what are known as expanded access programs, which are studies run outside of clinical trials to treat patients who have serious diseases or conditions and who, according to the FDA, do “not have comparable or satisfactory alternative therapies to treat the disease or condition.”

The FDA’s benchmark for expanded access is that the intent of using the investigational drug is to provide treatment rather than to conduct research. In expanded access programs, graduates of the certificate program at CIIS would be eligible to work as psychedelic researchers, under the supervision of a psychiatrist who would prescribe and administer the medication.

Where Will the Center Be in Five Years?

“One of our primary goals is to build a cohort of licensed therapists with CIIS certificates,” says Phelps. “We want to see our CIIS graduates working across the country as trained psychedelic researchers.” Another goal is to continue to build partnerships and to raise funds so that CIIS can eventually run a Phase 3 study here in San Francisco. One thing is certain: With the creation of the Center for Psychedelic Therapy and Research, CIIS has placed itself in the center of the cutting-edge field of psychedelic studies.