Hear from leading voices in psychedelics at this special event marking the launch of the BCSP’s new online course.
Research into powerful psychedelic substances is gaining momentum, policy is changing rapidly, and public engagement with psychedelics and their potential benefits is greater than ever.
But how should the public make sense of these complex, dynamic changes? For example, which substances are even classed as psychedelics? Where do psychedelic substances come from? How have they been used throughout history and how do they work in the brain? What are the contemporary debates on psychedelics today, in a field that asks questions of medicine, spirituality, Indigeneity, counter-culture, neuroscience, psychology, law, capitalism, and more?
The BCSP has set out to address questions, and more, with free, comprehensive, and accessible public education on the fundamental science, history and culture of psychedelics.
Watch this recording to join BCSP co-founder Michael Pollan, course instructor and UC Berkeley Professor David Presti, Johns Hopkins associate professor Gül Dölen, award-winning producer of our new course, Nicole Vinnola, and BCSP executive director Imran Khan, as they dig into the latest scientific research, journalism, and contemporary debates surrounding psychedelics.
The launch of Psychedelics and the Mind ensures that the global public will have access to free, culturally-informed, and evidence-based education that cuts through misinformation, stigma, and hype surrounding these powerful substances. Find out more about the course and enroll here.
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As psychedelics gain traction in health care and community settings, comprehensive education is needed for care professionals and recipients alike.
By Moana Meadow and Rebecca Ashton-Dziedzan
In May, the UC Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics graduated its first-ever cohort from the Psychedelic Facilitation Certificate Program: a diverse group of 23 advanced career professionals in the fields of medicine, social work, chaplaincy, psychiatry, nursing and midwifery. The inaugural cohort undertook nine months of intensive learning modules that brought together a socio-culturally and economically diverse group, including 40 percent BIPOC and at least 33 percent LGBTQIA+, two historically underrepresented communities.
“The intentionality of this program, its intimacy, didactic intersections, and real-time practices of equity and accessibility have renewed my approach and presence to my work,” said Felisha Thomas, a marriage and family therapist who is African-American and identifies as LGBTQIA+. Thomas, who practices in Southern California, joined the 2022 cohort with the support of the Center’s significant diversity scholarships.
Members of the historic cohort say exploring psychedelic facilitation in the context of a leading research university was a transformative experience. Though federal laws prohibit the use of most psychedelic substances outside of FDA-approved research studies, the BCSP instructional team developed a curriculum that includes what they believe to be the most essential elements in psychedelic care: spiritual care skills; psychotherapeutic methods; clinical science and research; ancestral entheogenic traditions; justice, equity, diversity and inclusion; ethics; somatics; reciprocity and ecological awareness; and contemplative science and practice.
Four features distinguish the BCSP Certificate Program’s model from other programs. Ninety percent of learning takes place in person, with a core team of instructors who bring deep expertise in key aspects of psychedelic-assisted care. Cohorts are capped at no more than 30 students to enable comprehensive learning through ongoing relationship-building and hands-on practice. The inclusive curriculum includes diverse perspectives, both in terms of the disciplines and the identities represented. And opportunities for ongoing learning, networking and mentorship are supported byan alumni professional development program and a fully-funded 1:1 mentoring program for members of marginalized groups.
Many BCSP graduates enrolled in response to the shifting legal landscape. “As a psychiatrist, I am aware of the need for more efficacious treatments for those who suffer from depression, addiction, and other mental illness,” said Renu Goel, an MD who is Indian-American and practicing in North Carolina. “I hope to offer my patients these treatments as soon as they become available.”
Three years ago, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the UC Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics was initiated by an interdisciplinary group of faculty on the UC Berkeley campus, who proposed the campus’s first psychedelic research and other projects. Among them was Dr. Tina Trujillo, an equity-minded professor of education and leader in the Berkeley School of Education, who took on the role of Faculty Director to launch a professional preparation program for psychedelic facilitators. Dr. Trujillo emphasizes the importance of context in media reports on psychedelics:
“Mainstream media articles often mistakenly focus on the molecule itself, but what we see from the empirical work on psychedelics is that it’s not the substance alone that has the effect. It is likely that appropriate support before, during, and after the journey is equally important. Disseminating this knowledge to the public, and providing excellent training to professionals, is essential.”
Evidence suggests psychedelics carry potential healing benefits for veterans, the terminally ill and others with diagnoses such as depression, anxiety and PTSD. However, these potent substances require much more than standard clinical testing: the set, setting and the individuals administering the medicine can have a critical impact on the effectiveness of the treatment as well as the overall experience of the participant.
Comprehensively trained facilitators from a variety of personal and professional backgrounds will be necessary to support these evolving protocols in diverse communities: not just MDs and PhDs, but trained religious and spiritual care professionals, nurses, social workers and other professionals — all of whom Program leaders believe will be critical to providing affordable, safe, effective psychedelic-assisted care, regardless of one’s financial means.
Developing a team and building a curriculum
The interdisciplinary design echoes the nature of psychedelic medicines and traditional practices. These approaches to expanded states of consciousness tap into human and spiritual experiences that at times go beyond traditional categories of scientific knowledge and psychotherapeutic practice.
“We wanted to create a rigorous professional development program that would bridge the latest knowledge about clinical research, safety and ethics in expanded states of consciousness, the spiritual and mystical dimensions of psychedelic healing, and the fast-moving legislative reforms that are shaping future facilitators’ next steps.The policy landscape is swiftly changing, as we see in Oregon and Colorado. We’ve heard from several of our applicants that they want to be ready when the policy environment shifts to expand access to these therapies, and that they want to have a professional network of like-minded colleagues to prepare for these eventualities. That’s what our program is designed to do,” says Dr. Trujillo.
The psychedelic facilitation curriculum was developed with program staff Director Moana Meadow, MDiv, an interfaith chaplain specializing in spiritual care, and Eve Ekman, PhD, a researcher specializing in contemplative science. The core team team now includes program coordinator Kristina Hunter, a spiritual counselor and author specializing in expanded states of consciousness; Susana Bustos, PhD, a psychologist specializing in ancestral entheogenic traditions; Mary Sanders, an LCSW specializing in justice, equity, diversity and inclusion; Joseph Zamaria, PhD, a psychologist specializing in psychotherapeutic methods; and Kylea Taylor, LMFT, who specializes in ethics. Sylvestre Quevedo, MD, who specializes in clinical science and Indigenous knowledge traditions, is the latest expert to join the team.
The BCSP Certificate was approved as a Psilocybin Facilitator Training Program through the Oregon Health Authority in 2022 and at least two 2023 cohort members plan to practice in that state, where therapeutic facilitation with psilocybin is now legally regulated. Legislation in Colorado may soon make similar psychedelic services available in that state as well.
The Certificate Program is unique in a burgeoning training field. Meadow says: “Working to create a psychedelic facilitation training program that is ethical, equitable and inclusive, that honors all sources of psychedelic knowledge, that does not shy away from questions of body, soul and community, and that seeks to repair historical and current harms — this is our project.”
To ensure program participants had the opportunity to deepen their learning about the ancestral healing practices behind psilocybin and other traditional medicines, the team piloted an optional international education excursion to Oaxaca, Mexico, where Indigenous healers carry generations of experience working with sacred medicines. Thirteen representatives of the Certificate Program spent two weeks in a multicultural exchange, including talks with local anthropologists, artists, Mazatec community elders, and a service project to plant trees on one sacred mountain, Chikon N’indo.
Martha Serpas, a chaplain from Oregon who also identifies as LGBTQIA+, described the trip as “an unparalleled travel seminar. We talked to healers in their own homes, learned the dedication required in facilitation, the generosity, the boundaries necessary to provide a healing space and maintain one’s equilibrium and family commitments.”
Core to the program’s approach is a commitment to diversity in the staff and student body as well as the perspectives included in the curriculum itself. Thanks to the generous support of its funders, dedicated outreach and significant financial support have been provided to BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ students, as well as immigrants and those with disabilities. The first cohort of graduates are ready to serve their communities, and a new, equally diverse cohort of 27 professionals will begin their training in September of 2023.
Research and leadership
The Certificate Program serves as a laboratory school where the latest knowledge of best practices in adult learning and psychedelic-assisted therapy are tested in a continuous cycle of inquiry, and where student and instructor feedback help inform the program to refine its curricular and instructional model.
Dr. Trujillo is conducting both an evaluation of the program’s outcomes, as well as a long-term ethnographic study of the sociocultural and political dynamics that ensue when building a professionally diverse, demographically inclusive program for a range of experts. With the help of graduate student researchers Prince Estanislao and Marlena Robbins, both lines of research will provide key lessons for scholars, practitioners and policymakers in the field of psychedelic facilitation, including lessons for best practices for other professional preparation programs.The American Psychedelic Practitioners Association (APPA) recently co-published “Professional Practice Guidelines for Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy Practitioners,” which are intended to establish provisional benchmarks for standards in psychedelic facilitation. The APPA states it is a “living document that will be updated as the field’s understanding of best practices evolves.” Accordingly, Trujillo has designed her research and collaboration to contribute to that evolution.
To encourage collaboration within the field, the BCSP Certificate Program team hosted a Training Leadership Summit for more than twenty representatives of national and international psychedelic professional preparation programs, at the close of the MAPS 2023 Psychedelic Science Conference. The Summit followed a pre-conference presentation by BCSP Staff Program Director Moana Meadow, who offered an all-day workshop on psychedelic care for religious professionals in collaboration with faculty from Naropa and Emory University and Indigenous leaders Belinda Eriacho and Dr. Joe Tafur. Mary Sanders, BCSP Certificate Program’s justice, equity, diversity and inclusion specialist, co-hosted a standing room-only BIPOC storytelling event during the conference as well.
At the BCSP Training Leadership Summit, attendees came together to share knowledge, identify pressing challenges and develop directions for ongoing collaboration. Collaboratively setting professional standards for psychedelic facilitation, balancing pressures to scale program size with program quality, designing programs that foster more equitable access to training and psychedelic-assisted therapy and sharing limited resources were among the key issues discussed at the summit.
Following the summit, training program leaders were eager for more collaboration. The BCSP is ready to foster partnerships that help elevate professional standards for the field and contribute to more equity-oriented training.
For the 2023 cohort, what’s next?
For Mai Shimada, a physician who is Japanese and who currently offers ketamine therapy in a Bay Area clinic, the program broadened her understanding of psychedelic therapy in its historical context. “The skills I’ve developed through the program will serve as a valuable asset, in my current role, but also in the future,” added Shimada, who recently accepted a position as the study physician for a Beckley Foundation trial involving 5-MeO-DMT.
Martin Epson, a psychiatrist and African-American, joined the Center’s program to “explore the deeper connections between consciousness and modern neuroscience in a manner that is informed by ancient healing practice.” He is already applying his learnings from the course by “exploring people’s experiences of consciousness in their everyday lives.” Epson believes greater awareness of these processes might help in the clinical treatment of mental illness.
Reflecting on the future of psychedelic facilitation and education, Dr. Trujillo says: “I hope that more university schools of education are willing to take up the charge to build a field of psychedelic facilitation that frames this learning as comprehensive professional preparation, not simple technical training.” She adds, “This work requires immense professional judgment, and the BCSP offers a model for how to develop that judgment in deep, comprehensive ways. Research universities are excellently positioned to bridge theory and practice in this field.”
Looking forward, Dr. Trujillo aims “to build scholar and practitioner communities that take up less common questions about not just immediate, easily measurable outcomes or the least expensive ways to train psychedelic care providers, but that instead prioritize efforts to build the highest quality services, especially for our most marginalized communities. Those goals for collectives, not just individuals, may make the difference between psychedelic facilitation training that is just another fad, or a genuine shift in the ways we prepare care providers for the healing our individuals and communities need.”
Conversations about psychedelics and their potential benefits are permeating public discourse. Research into powerful psychedelic substances is gaining momentum, and policy changes are occurring at a rapid pace.
It’s vital that we develop a shared understanding of this increasingly important field. Which substances are classed as psychedelics? Where do psychedelic substances come from, and how have they been used throughout history? How do they work in the brain? What are the contemporary debates on psychedelics today, in a field that asks questions of medicine, spirituality, Indigeneity, counter-culture, neuroscience, psychology, law, capitalism, and more? And finally, why is it important to have accessible public education about psychedelics?
Join the conversation with leading voices in the psychedelics field including best-selling author and BCSP co-founder Michael Pollan, course instructor and UC Berkeley Professor David Presti, ground-breaking Johns Hopkins Professor Gül Dölen, award-winning producer of our new course, Nicole Vinnola, and hosted by BCSP Executive Director Imran Khan.
Rapid change across policy, research, business, and education, mean the public are seeking more information about psychedelics. The launch of ‘Psychedelics and the Mind’ ensures that the global public will have access to free, culturally-informed, and evidence-based education that cuts through misinformation, stigma, and hype surrounding these powerful substances. We look forward to introducing the course and continued discourse on psychedelics.
For more than thirty years, Michael Pollan has been writing books and articles about where the human and natural worlds intersect: on our plates, farms and gardens, and our minds. He is the John S. and James L. Knight Professor of Journalism at UC Berkeley and the author of eight books, including How to Change Your Mind, his 2018 account of the renaissance of scientific research into psychedelics. In July 2022, Netflix released a docu-series based on How to Change Your Mind, exploring the history and uses of psychedelic substances, including LSD, psilocybin, MDMA, and mescaline. Michael leads BCSP’s public-education program, the first effort from a public university to foster a well-informed, nuanced understanding of psychedelics.
As a journalist, author, professor, and co-founder of BCSP, Michael Pollan will share his insights on the changing landscape of the psychedelics field and why accessible public education is especially critical right now.
David Presti has taught neurobiology and psychology at UC Berkeley for over thirty years, with the history, psychological value, and known neurobiology of psychedelics as essential parts of his instructional curriculum. During that same decades-long period, he also worked to shift educational dialogue and public policy related to psychedelics. For over a decade, David worked in treating addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder at the San Francisco VA Medical Center. He also teaches neuroscience and engages in conversations about science with Buddhist monastics in India, Bhutan, and Nepal. David sees BCSP as poised to contribute innovative transdisciplinary investigations related to psychedelics as probes of the nature of mind and to explore the nexus between physical science and spirituality.
As a neuroscientist and psychologist, David will unravel some of the fascinating neuroscience associated with psychedelic experiences, as well as how psychedelics may contribute to expanding the way mind is viewed in science and how such an expansion may contribute to shifts in behavior.
Gül Dölen is an Associate Professor of Neuroscience and Neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. The Dölen lab has discovered critical periods can be reopened with psychedelic drugs like MDMA (Nardou et al. Nature, 2019), LSD, psilocybin, ketamine, and ibogaine. Importantly, understanding psychedelics through this framework dramatically expands the scope of disorders that might benefit from adjunct therapy with psychedelics, an approach she has dubbed the PHATHOM project (Psychedelic Healing: Adjunct Therapy Harnessing Opened Malleability, http://www.phathomproject.org).
Gül Dölen as a leading molecular and cellular neuroscience researcher will enlighten us on the promising potential of psychedelics in treating mental health disorders. Learn about the latest scientific breakthroughs and the therapeutic benefits of these substances, opening up new avenues for mental health care.
Nicole Vinnola is an Emmy award-winning producer focusing on storytelling at the intersection of journalism and spirituality. Nicole began her career in journalism working for The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer and has since become a skilled storyteller, having crafted 200+ hours of content for cable networks and online streamers alike. In 2015, Nicole received a development deal with Discovery Studios. She launched her boutique production company, focusing on developing and creating content more aligned with her worldview. Nezera Films is proud to be working in an expanded way, enjoying producing projects in the online educational space (MOOCs), long-form documentaries, and episodic series.
Nicole Vinnola will share her thoughts, experiences, and learnings on producing engaging courses that align with her values as well as working in the interdisciplinary field of psychedelics.
Event host Imran Khan is the executive director of BCSP. He works closely with the faculty on strategy and manages the BCSP team. Before joining BCSP, Imran was CEO of the British Science Association and head of public engagement for Wellcome, the world’s third-largest philanthropic foundation. He has a BA in biology from the University of Oxford, an MSc in science communication from Imperial College London, and an MBA from Bayes Business School.
Imran Khan will lead our dynamic conversation, bringing the audience into the UC Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics’ mission and vision and how the Center is positioned to support evidence-based public education.
About the UC Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics
The UC Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics (BCSP) is an academic center focused on improving health and well-being for all through culturally informed psychedelic research; psychedelic facilitation training for religious, spiritual-care, and health-care professionals; and accessible, accurate, and reliable public education.
“Psychedelics and the Mind” was developed with generous support from the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation.
More than six in ten (61%) American registered voters support legalizing regulated therapeutic access to psychedelics, including 35% who report “strong” support, the inaugural UCBerkeley Psychedelics Survey has found.
Over half of voters(56%) polled support obtaining FDA approval for psychedelics by prescription. In addition, more than three-quarters of voters (78%) support making it easier for researchers to study psychedelic substances.
Almosthalf (49%) support removing criminal penalties for personal use and possession with support for spiritual and religious use polling at just over four out of ten (44%).
The majority of American voters support policy reforms for psychedelics, the survey revealed. The new national poll, launched by theUC Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics (BCSP) found that almost seven out of ten (69%) voters support at least two of the policy reforms tested.
However, despite the high levels of support for policy changes, 61% of voters also said they do not perceive psychedelics as “good for society” and 69% do not perceive them as “something for people like me.” The data suggests voters are open to policy change but also have significant reservations.
Awareness and use of psychedelics are widespread and appear to predict voter sentiment. 47% of voters have heard something about psychedelics recently and over half (51%) reported a ‘first-degree’ connection to psychedelic use – that either they, or someone close to them, has used a psychedelic.
Respondents with awareness and a first-degree connection to psychedelics are also more likely to support policy reforms, have positive perceptions of psychedelics, and trust in almost all sources of psychedelics information (with the exception of law enforcement). With the exception of research expansion, no psychedelic policy reform is majority-supported by voters who have no first-degree connection to use.
The polling data also illustrated that awareness and first-degree connection to psychedelics are demographically uneven, with African-American and Latino communities most notably underrepresented.
Additional keydata from the survey includes:
47% of voters have heard something about psychedelics recently, with 48% of those saying that they have heard about psychedelics’ use for mental health treatments.
African Americans are the racial/ethnic group least likely to have heard something about psychedelics recently (29%) and also have a much lower first-degree connection to psychedelics use (26%) than other groups.
Liberal voter support for legalized therapeutic access to psychedelics is 80%, compared to moderates at 66% and conservatives at 45%.
Nearly half of voters (47%) who support therapeutic access to psychedelics also believe psychedelics are not “good for society”.
The majority of voters are comfortable with psychedelic therapy being used to treat those suffering from terminal illnesses (80%), veterans (69%), and people suffering from treatment resistant depression and anxiety (67%). Notably fewer are comfortable with open access to psychedelic therapy for anyone over the age of 21 (44%), or the use of psychedelic therapy to treat addiction (45%).
While large majorities say they would trust information about psychedelics coming from nurses (75%), scientific researchers (74%), doctors (74%), and psychiatrists (70%), trust in the FDA as an information source is more split, with only 56% considering it “very” or “somewhat trustworthy,” 17% considering it “somewhat suspicious” and 22% considering it “very suspicious.”
The polling results and insights from the UC Berkeley Psychedelics poll were presented at a dedicated briefing with Best-selling author of ‘How to Change Your Mind’ andBCSP Co-Founder Michael Pollan, BCSP Executive Director, Imran Khan, and, Project Lead, Taylor West.
“The UC Berkeley Psychedelics Survey provides information vital to understanding where the public stands on psychedelics right now. This is critical for anyone working in the psychedelic field,”Michael Pollan said. “Nuanced debate in media, policy reforms and public education programs will be most effective when informed by data-driven insights rather than assumption and conducted in thoughtful response to the hopes, fears, and perceptions held by different communities across the US.”
The poll is an important milestone for the BCSP’s public education program and for establishing longitudinal analysis of public opinion about psychedelics over time. “Amidst competing narratives of psychedelic stigma and hype, it’s vital that we have clear information about what the public really thinks and believes about psychedelics. Our data shows that people are hearing about the research, and support more science – but also that some communities are being left out of an important public conversation,”Imran Khan said.
“At the BCSP our mission is to support the burgeoning field of psychedelics with vital evidence and trustworthy data and the UC Berkeley Psychedelics Survey provides this much-needed information for policy, business, media and research now and in the future”, Khan concluded.
“This inaugural survey shows voters in the U.S. are open to significant changes in policy related to psychedelic access, even as they hold personal reservations about the role of those compounds in our society, “ said Taylor West. “That’s a nuance in public attitudes about psychedelics that anyone working in the field needs to pay attention to.”
The BCSP is grateful to Blake Mycoskie for his philanthropic support of this first edition of the UC Berkeley Psychedelics Survey. The Center is now looking for support for future iterations of the project, including so we can start to identify trends in multi-year data; please get in touch if you’re able to support this important quantitative work.
UC Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics Previews Results of the First-Ever Berkeley Psychedelics Survey at Psychedelic Science 2023 Conference in Denver
More than six out of ten (61 percent) American registered voters support legalizing regulated therapeutic access to psychedelics, including 35 percent who report “strong” support. In addition, more than three-quarters of voters (78 percent) support making it easier for researchers to study psychedelic substances. Almost half (49 percent) support removing criminal penalties for personal use and possession.
These remarkable results are the preview highlights from the first-ever Berkeley Psychedelics Survey, a new national benchmark poll tracking public perceptions and attitudes about psychedelics.
The findings are the first data from a new longitudinal public opinion research project at the UC Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics (BCSP), intended to track evolving public beliefs and understanding about psychedelic compounds as research, policy, and cultural events shine a growing spotlight on the field.
BCSP’s executive director, Imran Khan, said:
“This is 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.
Amidst all the stigma and the hype about these powerful substances, it’s vital that researchers, policy-makers, 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.”
BCSP executive director Imran Khan and Berkeley Psychedelics Survey project lead Taylor West presented the preview findings at Psychedelic Science 2023, the landmark psychedelics conference taking place in Denver.
The full results of the Berkeley Psychedelics Survey will be released on July 12 at an online briefing and presentation from author and BCSP co-founder Michael Pollan, alongside Imran Khan and Taylor West.
Faculty, fellows and the BCSP team are excited to present our full range of programs, offer exclusive updates, and convene conversation on the leading issues in psychedelics today at the largest gathering in the community, Psychedelic Science 2023.
Keep up with the latest news from the UC Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics by subscribing to our new newsletter. Find out about our public education, training and research programs, plus events and other opportunities to engage with the Center.