As an increasing number of Americans embrace the use of mind-altering substances like psilocybin and MDMA to treat conditions such as depression, addiction and PTSD, so too are charitable benefactors stepping up to help fund groundbreaking psychedelic studies and efforts to reduce harm for users.
The vast tidal change in acceptance of psychedelic therapies is coinciding with serious research being conducted by esteemed organizations like Johns Hopkins University and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS).
Featured in a widely watched 60 Minutes episode in October, cancer patients involved in clinical trials at Hopkin’s explained how psilocybin — the active agent in magic mushrooms — has aided them in dealing with their fear of dying. Patients interviewed reported that after merely one single dose of psilocybin they had an acute easing of anxiety and a deep acceptance of their fates.
Those positive results using psychedelics have led many charitable donors to back new studies involving psychedelics and other mind-altering substances, for cures ranging from opiate addiction to anorexia nervosa.
In September, after receiving a donation of $17 million from a private foundation of four philanthropists — including author and podcast host Tim Ferriss — Hopkins created the first ever U.S. Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research. Ferriss explained to the New York Times the impetus behind his motivations for donating to Hopkins’ groundbreaking research.
“I lost my best friend to a fentanyl overdose,” he said. “I have treatment-resistant depression and bipolar disorder in my family. And addiction. It became clear to me that you can do a lot in this field with very little money.”
That wasn’t Ferriss’s only foray into psychedelic sponsorship. The author-entrepreneur has also put money towards a similar center at Imperial College London, as well as ponied up for research projects at the University of California, San Francisco, testing psilocybin as an aide to psychotherapy for distress in long-term AIDS patients.
This year has been an important year legislatively for psychedelic devotees, who’ve witnessed the first significant moves of a tectonic shift that’s advancing psychedelic drug law reform. Three major cities in the U.S. — Denver, Oakland and Chicago — have each decriminalized the use of natural plant entheogens, of which psilocybin is one. Not since the establishment of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 has the use of such psychedelics been legal for personal consumption outside of clinical settings.
The key reason for all this interest and activity around psychedelic substances is pretty simple: Psychedelics actually work. They deliver positive results where other traditional pharmacological remedies have often fail.
At the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, a non-profit organization sponsoring clinical trials using MDMA as an adjunct to psychotherapy in patients with PTSD, benefactor dollars are rolling in to support a harm reduction effort called the Zendo Project. Made up of volunteers assisting individuals at events who experience challenging emotional encounters on psychedelics, team members provide calm spaces and support to ride out the roller-coaster ride of difficult moments. Zendo’s presence at events has effectively helped to reduce the number of psychiatric hospitalizations and arrests that sometimes occur for people overwhelmed by ingesting substances. Between August and October this year, Zendo raised $108,418 — exceeding the projected goal of $100k — achieving that amount with the help of matching grants from key patrons, including the Riverstyx Foundation, Connor Hill, and Dan McMurtrie.
“This year, millions of people will use psychedelics outside of supervised medical contexts, many of them for the first time,” says Zendo. “Taking psychedelics can result in overwhelming and uncomfortable experiences, more likely with high doses, amongst first-time users, and without adequate preparation or setting. Psychedelic harm reduction includes a variety of methods to help prevent and transform difficult experiences while in a non-ordinary state of consciousness.”
Launched by MAPS in 2012, Zendo volunteers have provided care in close collaboration with event medics in the U.S., Costa Rica, Mexico and South Africa, and will be providing peer support services at a handful of events in 2020. Part of the money raised will go toward psychedelic peer support training workshops offered in 2020 across the U.S. and worldwide.
Backing for psychedelic research is sure to continue expanding, aided by ongoing progress like the Food and Drug Administration’s decision to approve human clinical studies of psilocybin for a host of universities, including Harvard, Columbia, Purdue, Penn, Stanford, University of Toronto and University of Alabama — all of which enjoy generous contributions from alumni and other private patrons.
It appears the political and social headwinds that psychedelics faced for decades is diminishing, and with it the prejudice that donors once felt being openly linked to their support.