Last month, the university’s Center for the Science of Psychedelics launched a free, online course titled “Psychedelics and the Mind.” The launch of the course marks another expansion of the Center, which itself launched three years ago.
According to The Daily Californian, the course “will be taught by David Presti, neurobiology professor and one of [Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics] founders.” It will be available for free due to the largess of the Steve and Alexandra Cohen Foundation.
Steve Cohen, the billionaire owner of the New York Mets, is a longtime advocate of psychedelic research and therapy. In June, the foundation offered a $5 million grant to MAPS, or the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelics Studies, a nonprofit dedicated to researching the potential of psychedelic drugs for medical use.
Imran Khan, the executive director of the Center for the Science of Psychedelics, said that the newly launched course is “an amazing thing,” calling Presti “a legend at Berkeley.”
“When I tell people what I do for a living, they often first respond by telling me how much they loved learning from David in person many years ago. What we’ve done is convert that class into a high-quality multimedia and interactive online version available worldwide for free. It’s a university-level course on the history and science, as we know it, about psychedelics,” Khan said in an interview with the university.
According to Khan, the course might also be wholly unique.
“As far as we’re aware, there’s no other course like Psychedelics and the Mind that’s comprehensive, free and focused on psychedelic science. It feels like a uniquely Berkeley thing to be able to offer,” Khan said. “We want it to be accessible to as many people as possible, so we plan to continue promoting it. But we also want it to be a baseline so that we can then launch further courses. For example, we’re interested in explaining the medical side of psychedelics, or the connection between psychedelics and particular communities — whether that’s certain racial groups, veterans or people who come from specific professions who want to understand the nature and implications of psychedelics.”
“There’s tremendous potential there for us to continue being that link between what’s happening in research and practice and meeting the need and the desire to know more in the future,” Khan added.
University of California, Berkeley launched the Center for the Science of Psychedelics in September of 2020 thanks to $1.25 million in seed funding from an anonymous donor.
“There’s never been a better time to start a center like this,” Presti said at the time. “The renewal of basic and clinical science with psychedelics has catalyzed interest among many people.”
The Center also counts bestselling author Michael Pollan as one of its co-founders. Pollan’s 2018 book “How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression and Transcendence” was cited as “one of the inspirations for the center.”
“We’re really interested in what psychedelics can teach us about consciousness, perception, creativity and learning,” Pollan said at the time.
“Psychedelics have a particular value later in life, because that is when you are most stuck in your patterns. They give you the ability to shake them loose,” he added.
In June, the Center released a first-of-its-kind poll that showed a significant majority of Americans supporting therapeutic access to psychedelics.
“More than six out of 10 (61%) American registered voters support legalizing regulated therapeutic access to psychedelics, including 35% who report ‘strong’ support,” the university wrote in a press release detailing the poll’s results. “In addition, more than three-quarters of voters (78%) support making it easier for researchers to study psychedelic substances. Almost half (49%) support removing criminal penalties for personal use and possession.”
Khan said at the time that the poll provided “the first clear picture we have of what the American public think and feel about psychedelics.”
“The Berkeley Psychedelics Survey shows that the majority of American voters are interested in, and supportive of, the field. They want fewer barriers to research for scientists, and they want regulated, therapeutic access for the public,” Khan said. “Amidst all the stigma and the hype about these powerful substances, it’s vital that researchers, policymakers, and practitioners can understand and respond to the public’s hopes and fears. We’re excited to reveal the full results of the Berkeley Psychedelics Survey in the coming weeks.”
In the interview with the university published late last month, Khan said that the future of psychedelics in the U.S. remains unknown.
“We’re near the beginning of a journey with psychedelics. These substances have been used for decades, centuries and millennia, in some contexts, and there’s now been this fairly recent resurgence in popular, cultural and research interest in them. We’re so near the beginning of an inquiry that I hope is going to last many more decades. There are questions that we don’t even know enough to ask, at this stage,” Khan said.