Harvard University is rolling out a new course of study dedicated to the use of psychedelics.
The school announced the program, saying the Study of Psychedelics in Society and Culture “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,” Robin Kelsey, dean of arts and humanities, said in a statement. “Harvard is uniquely poised to become the most exciting place to debate, discuss, and innovate in this area.”
Psychedelics (also known as hallucinogens) are a class of psychoactive substances that produce changes in perception, mood and cognitive processes, according to the Alcohol and Drug Foundation. Psychedelics affect all the senses, altering a person’s thinking, sense of time and emotions, and can also cause a person to hallucinate—seeing or hearing things that do not exist or are distorted. Types of psychedelics include LSD, psilocybin (found in mushrooms), peyote, mescaline and DMT.
Harvard said its program is an interdisciplinary effort across the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard Law School and Harvard Divinity School.
The course was funded by a $16 million grant from the Gracias Family Foundation, started by former Tesla Director and CEO of Valor Equity Partners, Antonio Gracias.
“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,” said Gracias.
The university said the $16 million gift will include an endowed professorship with a broad focus on human health and flourishing, as well as research support. It comes at a time when interest in psychedelics has risen among the scientific and academic communities, driven by findings that the drugs may help treat disorders such as PTSD, depression, and addiction when used in conjunction with therapy, the school added.
“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, a professor of the practice in Harvard’s Creative Writing program who has explored the complex history of psychedelics in America.
According to the university, the Study of Psychedelics in Society and Culture will 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.