University of Wisconsin: New UW Center To Study Emerging Field Of Psychedelic Compounds For Medical Treatments

The University of Wisconsin–Madison is launching a new research center to coordinate ongoing research and education in psychedelic compounds, as evidence grows for their utility in treating substance abuse and psychiatric disorders, such as major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Housed within the UW–Madison School of Pharmacy, the Transdisciplinary Center for Research in Psychoactive Substances will conduct scholarly research into the science, history, and cultural impact of psychedelic agents, in addition to studying the potential for therapeutic use of psychoactive substances. This center will expand the scope and reach of the psychedelic research enterprise at UW–Madison to build on clinical studies that have been active on campus since 2014.

“From cannabis to psilocybin (magic mushrooms) and MDMA (ecstasy), psychoactive agents are the new frontier for potential new therapies and medications,” says Paul Hutson, founding center director and UW–Madison School of Pharmacy professor.

“Psychoactive agents are the new frontier for potential new therapies and medications.”
—Paul Hutson

Four clinical trials in phases 1 to 3 are currently underway at UW–Madison to prepare for submitting applications for new drugs to the Food and Drug Administration. These include studying the efficacy of MDMA in treating PTSD, and psilocybin as treatment for major depression and opioid addiction.

“I anticipate FDA approval of psilocybin and MDMA within the next five years, and the UW Transdisciplinary Center for Research in Psychoactive Substances will help meet the need for more research into these applications, as well as others, that could dramatically improve patients’ lives,” says Hutson.

In its biomedical and clinical research focus, the center seeks to increase participation in research by underrepresented groups.


Professor Paul Hutson outside the clinical therapy room
“There is a substantial imbalance in the numbers of Black, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American research participants in studies of psilocybin and other psychoactive medications. The center will seek opportunities to improve the representation of minorities, elderly, and marginalized groups in the forthcoming research on psychedelics,” says Hutson. “Efforts to accomplish these goals align with established projects at the university that investigate the role and impact of psychedelic compounds across different cultures, including Indigenous communities.”

The UW Transdisciplinary Center for Research in Psychoactive Substances also will support cutting-edge, interdisciplinary educational programs to train the next generation of scientists, teachers, and practitioners. The new center is a partner of the School of Pharmacy’s Master’s of Science program in Psychoactive Pharmaceutical Investigation, which offers the first accredited U.S. degree focusing on the study and therapeutic development of psychedelic compounds and related psychoactive drugs. The center also is part of the Capstone Certificate in Psychoactive Pharmaceutical Investigation.

“The growing list of psychedelic compounds shows tremendous promise in early clinical studies in helping patients with addiction and psychiatric disorders.” —Paul Hutson

As a collaborative, multidisciplinary endeavor, the center brings together researchers and investigators across the UW–Madison campus — School of Pharmacy, School of Medicine and Public Health, College of Letters & Science, School of Human Ecology, and School of Education — to build a powerhouse of research talent. With these diverse capabilities, the center aims to address important multi-faceted issues that range from mechanistic questions about how the drugs affect the brain and behavior; to investigation of the role of conscious experience in psychiatric therapies; to historical studies of how perceptions and use of psychoactive drugs have been shaped by culture and politics; and to policy considerations on access to these compounds.

“In light of the opioid crisis and the ever-increasing mental health needs stemming from the pandemic, the growing list of psychedelic compounds shows tremendous promise in early clinical studies in helping patients with addiction and psychiatric disorders,” says Hutson. “We plan to continue being on the forefront of this field with innovation and development of novel therapies through our research and educational programs on psychoactive agents.”

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