Harvard Announces Study of Psychedelics in Society and Culture Following $16M Donation


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Harvard Announces Study of Psychedelics in Society and Culture Following $16M Donation

By Julia Do
By Elyse C. Goncalves and Matan H. Josephy, Contributing Writers

Harvard will be launching a new interdisciplinary program focusing on psychedelic drugs, the University announced last week.

Funded by a $16 million donation from the Gracias Family Foundation, the Study of Psychedelics in Society and Culture will fund “cutting-edge scholarship” and “research support,” along with endowing a professorship in the field, according to the Harvard Gazette, a University-run publication.

Programs through the study will be offered across the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard Divinity School, and Harvard Law School, with a focus on interdisciplinary research.

Michael K. Pollan, a lecturer in the English department who has researched psychedelics, said the broad nature of the research is core to the Gracias Foundation’s mission for the gift.

“The donor is very eager for this gift to be truly interdisciplinary,” Pollan said. “It should facilitate conversation between different parts of the university. We’re exploring different ways to do that.”

I. Glenn Cohen, the faculty director of the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School and the leader of the Project on Psychedelics Law and Regulation, wrote in an email that the study presents an opportunity to expand ongoing psychedelic studies at HLS.

Cohen wrote that because of the funding, HLS will offer its first psychedelic law course and will allow for students at other Harvard schools to cross-register.

Other projects will include “‘bootcamps’ on Law, Ethics, and Policy Training for Future Leaders in the psychedelic space,” Cohen wrote.

“We are hoping to bring together experts from within and outside Harvard to help prepare the next generation of policymakers and stakeholders in this space,” he added.

Bruno M. Carvalho, the interim director of the Mahindra Humanities Center, wrote in an email that the study’s staff members “will allow us to better serve as a convenor, crossroads, and bridge-builder across Harvard (and beyond).”

The Mahindra Center is already collaborating with researchers at the University of California, Berkeley’s Center for the Science of Psychedelics, Carvalho wrote.

Pollan said the gift is “significant” because it “prioritizes the humanities and also law and divinity,” as opposed to funding for psychedelic research nationwide, which is generally focused on scientific research.

“But psychedelics are a cultural phenomenon as well as a medical phenomenon. They have huge implications for law and policy as we kind of stumbled toward approval and legalization,” Pollan said. “So I think it’s wonderful that these other dimensions of psychedelics are going to get studied.”

“It’s just a very rich field, and Harvard has the opportunity to lead,” he added.

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