Harvard To Create Psychedelics Program

The Harvard Gazette announced that the venerable Ivy League University will create a Study of Psychedelics in Society and Culture with a multi-million dollar gift from the Gracias Family Foundation. According to the announcement, the study will be interdisciplinary across the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard Law School, and Harvard Divinity School.

“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 Gazette wrote that the $16 million gift will include an endowed professorship with a broad focus on human health and flourishing, as well as research support across the University. The school has other psychedelic programs as well. It was noted that in 2021, the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at HLS established its Project on Psychedelics Law and Regulation (POPLAR) to examine the ethical, legal, and social implications of psychedelics in research, commerce, and therapeutics. In addition, the Center for the Study of World Religions (CSWR) at HDS examines psychedelics as they relate to altered states of consciousness, the relationship of mind and matter, and the global history of spirituality and religion.

“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,” said Michael Pollan, author of How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence. He is a also professor of the practice in Harvard’s Creative Writing program.

According to the statement, the Study of Psychedelics in Society and Culture will approach the field from various humanistic and social scientific viewpoints including law, policy, ethics, religion and spirituality, the nature of consciousness, and art and literature.

It’s been decades since Harvard turned its focus on psychedelics. The university became the center for the Harvard Psilocybin Project which was a series of experiments exploring the effects of psilocybin on humans conducted by Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert also known as Ramm Dass. The experiments began sometime in 1960 and lasted until March 1962, but came under criticism over the professor’s use of students in the tests. In 1961, it was reported by the school paper The Crimson that two students ended up in the mental hospital after consuming psilocybin causing the university to distance itself from the studies. 

While psilocybin and LSD were both legal at the time, the professors were criticized for consuming psychedelics along with the study subjects. An Advisory Committee believed the professors should abstain from psychedelics with the students if indeed they were conducting experiments. The Crimson also noted that the subjects of the studies were hand-picked making the research biased.

Alpert was fired for giving a student psilocybin and Leary was dismissed as well. The professors were also accused of obtaining more psychedelics for themselves through Harvard connections. The scandal at the college over psychedelics actually ended up increasing the attention on psychedelics versus turning people away from the drugs.

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