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Photo by Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT. Dell Medical School has announced it's launching a center to study the therapeutic effects of psychedelics.

Researchers at Dell Med are studying psychedelics as treatment for severe depression, anxiety and PTSD

Thursday, December 16, 2021 by Ashley Lopez, KUT

The Dell Medical School at UT Austin is launching a research center focused on studying the therapeutic effects of psychedelics, which are drugs that affect an individual’s state of consciousness, including psilocybin, MDMA, ibogaine and ayahuasca.

Researchers say the center’s goal will be to come up with possible treatment plans and options for people suffering from severe depression, anxiety and PTSD, who have not had success with more traditional treatments.

“This research will bring further scientific rigor and expertise to study psychedelic therapy,” Dr. Charles Nemeroff, co-lead with the Center for Psychedelic Research and Therapy at Dell Med, said in a statement. “Recent studies have demonstrated considerable promise for these drugs when incorporated with clinical support, and this work has the potential to transform how we treat conditions like depression and PTSD, and to identify synergies between these and other well-established therapies to achieve long-term benefits for those seeking treatment.”

Initially, researchers plan to focus on helping military veterans and people who suffered an early childhood trauma, as well as adults experiencing prolonged grief disorder or depression.

Greg Fonzo, an assistant professor and co-lead at the center, told KUT that part of the motivation to create this center was to bring this kind of research to the middle of the country. Currently, research centers studying psychedelics are concentrated on the East and West coasts.

“We felt that it would be important to have (a center) here in Central Texas to serve the greater Texas community, as well as individuals that are more from the Midwest,” he said.

In particular, Fonzo said, it was important to serve the large military community in the state.

According to Dell Med, “Texas has the nation’s second-largest veteran population of about 1.6 million Americans, (and) Central Texas alone is home to more than 250,000 vets.”

Fonzo said another factor that led to the creation of the center was that there has been growing interest in finding alternative treatment options for veterans with PTSD, anxiety and depression.

In fact, during the legislative session this year, lawmakers passed a bill  House Bill 1802 that directs a state health agency to study psychedelics.

By next December, the Texas Department of State Health Services, in collaboration with the Texas Medical Association, was directed to submit a written report on the study of “the therapeutic efficacy of alternative therapies,” including the use of MDMA, psilocybin and ketamine, “in the treatment of mental health and other medical conditions.”

Fonzo said “now more than ever” there is a need for effective mental health treatments. He said it’s becoming clear that a lot of the current treatment options for these disorders is not working for many people.

“Part of this is recognizing that we need to be somewhat creative and out of the box in terms of thinking about how we approach the treatment of mental health disorders,” he said. “And more and more we are beginning to recognize that psychedelic-assisted therapies might hold a real benefit for some individuals in particular.”

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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