Former Tesla Employee Funds Multi-Million Dollar Harvard Psychedelic Program

Harvard will soon implement a new program of study dedicated to the use of psychedelics and how they impact various facets of the modern day, thanks to an eight-figure grant from a former Tesla employee.

According to a news release, Harvard University will begin teaching a new multidisciplinary study of “Psychedelics in Society and Culture.” The course was funded by a $16 million grant from the Gracias Family Foundation, started by former Tesla employee and CEO of Valor Equity Partners, Antonio Gracias. 

Gracias, a long time friend and colleague of Tesla CEO Elon Musk was a director at Tesla from 2007-2021. A Quartz article said  Gracias’ firm also served as an informal CEO of Twitter after Musk fired the original CEO immediately after acquiring the social media giant. The news release from Harvard said that the Gracias Family Foundation is interested in the potential of using psychedelics for therapeutic use as well as applying funding to such endeavors. 

“Harvard is the ideal place to explore the topic of psychedelics from new angles, and to craft a framework for their legal, safe, and appropriate impact on society,” Gracias said in a statement.

The news release from Harvard said that the new psychedelic-oriented program will be taught as a joint effort between the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard Law School, and Harvard Divinity School. The program will seek to apply Harvard’s record of excellence and professionalism to a topic often marred in mysticism and bro science partially leftover from the somewhat messy psychedelic and psychedelic-adjacent movements of the 1960’s.

In Harvard’s own words, the program “seeks to transform the psychedelics research landscape by producing cutting-edge scholarship and convening faculty, students, and experts to engage in discussion around their far-reaching implications.”

“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to bring students, faculty, and researchers together around the important issue of how psychedelics impact our society,” said Robin Kelsey, Shirley Carter Burden Professor of Photography and dean of arts and humanities. “Harvard is uniquely poised to become the most exciting place to debate, discuss, and innovate in this area.”

The new Harvard program would not be considered the first psychedelic-based area of study at an American university as several psychedelic-based credential programs already exist at certain other colleges but this certainly marks a monumental announcement from an Ivy League University of Harvard’s caliber. The Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School also started an initiative in 2021 called the Project on Psychedelic Law and Regulation (POPLAR) to study psychedelics’ “ethical legal and social implications.”

The recent news was hailed by many as much-needed progress in the development of psychedelic education, including Michael Pollan, long-time psychedelic advocate and author of several books on the topic including “How to Change Your Mind” which was later made into a Netflix series. 

“This is a visionary gift, in that it is the first to take the so-called psychedelic renaissance beyond medicine, by recognizing the importance of the humanities in exploring the impact and potential of these remarkable substances,” Pollan said in a written statement. 

It was not immediately clear based on the news release specifically when the new program would be available to Harvard students or what sort of curriculum would be applied to a relatively new and still-emerging field of study. The news release did indicate that the program would “approach the field from a range of humanistic and social scientific viewpoints including law, policy, ethics, religion and spirituality, the nature of consciousness, and art and literature.”

The news release also said that the $16 million from the Gracias Family Foundation would additionally be used to help fund  the expansion of existing programs at the Harvard Center for the Study of World Religions as well as funding new fellowships at the CSWR and the Mahindra Humanities Center. 

“One of Harvard’s greatest strengths is our ability to bring together experts from various fields to engage in vibrant discussions that advance scholarship from multiple angles,” said Bruno Carvalho, interim director of the Mahindra Humanities Center. “This initiative will give us the space to explore and enrich public dialogue around psychedelics, including their potentials, as well as ethical and social implications.”

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