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Psychedelic drug research center started at UW-Madison

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Psilocybin pill in dish with glass (copy)

In a 2015 study at UW-Madison's School of Pharmacy, volunteers took controlled doses of psilocybin, a psychedelic drug, in the form of a white pill, with a glass of water.

UW-Madison is starting a center to expand its research on psychedelic drugs such as psilocybin and MDMA, which have shown promise in treating conditions such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Pfizer says new data suggests a third dose of its COVID vaccine can strongly increase protection against the delta variant.

The Transdisciplinary Center for Research in Psychoactive Substances, to be housed within the School of Pharmacy, comes after a groundbreaking ceremony in Fitchburg this month for the Usona Institute, a nonprofit researching psychedelic drugs that was started by the CEO of Promega Corp.

In addition, UW’s pharmacy school is starting the country’s first pharmacy master’s program in the field this fall.

The new research center at UW will expand the scope and reach of psychedelic research that started on campus in 2014, a university statement said. Four clinical trials are currently underway to prepare for submitting applications for new drugs to the Food and Drug Administration. They involve MDMA in treating post-traumatic stress disorder and psilocybin as a treatment for major depression and opioid addiction.

“Psychoactive agents are the new frontier for potential new therapies and medications,” said Paul Hutson, a UW pharmacy professor and center director, adding he thinks FDA approval of psilocybin and MDMA will come within five years.

The center aims to involve researchers from other parts of campus to explore how the drugs affect the brain and behavior, investigate the conscious experience in psychiatric therapies, study how perceptions and use of psychoactive drugs have been shaped by culture and politics, and consider policies related to the compounds.

The center will seek to include minorities, elderly, and marginalized groups in its studies, Hutson said.

The Usona Institute, formed by Promega CEO Bill Linton in 2014, is expected to move into a $60 million, 93,000-square-foot facility on 17 acres adjacent to Promega’s Fitchburg campus in 2024. The institute is now housed in other Promega buildings.

Usona is conducting a phase 2 study of psilocybin to treat depression at UW-Madison and six other sites.

The new pharmacy master’s program will cover the science, history, ethics and legal environment surrounding psychoactive treatments, including psychedelics and cannabinoids, said Cody Wenthur, an assistant professor of pharmacy and director of the program. The market is expected to grow nearly 20% a year, with a value of $100 billion by 2030, Wenthur said.


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