The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has issued a license to Ohio State University that allows researchers to cultivate psilocybin mushrooms for use in scientific studies. The license, which was awarded to Ohio State and partner Inner State Inc., a mental health and wellness research and development company, is the first license issued by the DEA for the cultivation of whole psilocybin mushrooms for research.
“This license is a major milestone not only for Inner State and Ohio State, but for the entire field of psychedelic research,” Inner State CEO Ashley Walsh said on Wednesday in a statement quoted by the Columbus Dispatch.
Multiple studies have shown that psilocybin, the primary psychoactive compound in magic mushrooms, may have extraordinary potential as a treatment for several serious mental health conditions. But studies of psilocybin normally use forms of the drug that have been synthesized in a laboratory. The new license issued by the DEA allows Ohio State and Inner State to grow whole psilocybin mushrooms to produce the compound naturally. Under the terms of the license, all cultivation of psilocybin mushrooms will take place in a federally registered facility in accordance with strict DEA regulations.
“By combining cutting-edge techniques in genomics and metabolomics, we have the opportunity to obtain a high-resolution picture of the chemical diversity of mushrooms that have remained difficult to study for several decades,” said Ohio State researchers Dr. Jason Slot and Dr. Kou-San Ju.
Researchers believe that using whole mushrooms in mental health studies could give participants the advantage of other compounds besides psilocybin, potentially offering additional therapeutic benefits. Walsh said that it is possible that psilocybin mushrooms “have multi-dimensional healing properties” that could more effectively improve the quality of life for people with severe mental illness.
Continuing research into psychedelics including psilocybin, MDMA and ketamine has shown that the drugs have potential therapeutic benefits, particularly for serious mental health conditions such as depression, addiction and anxiety. A study published in the peer-reviewed journal JAMA Psychiatry in 2020 found that psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy was an effective and quick-acting treatment for a group of 24 participants with major depressive disorder. Separate research published in 2016 determined that psilocybin treatment produced substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer.
In 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration designated MDMA as a breakthrough therapy for PTSD, a move that streamlined clinical trials to test the effectiveness of the drug. The following year, the FDA granted the same status to psilocybin as a breakthrough therapy for treatment-resistant depression.
Alan Davis serves as the director of the Center for Psychedelic Drug Research and Education in the College of Social Work at Ohio State University, which he launched last year with the assistance of a private donation of $1.5 million. The center has developed a 25-hour continuing education program and an undergraduate minor in psychedelic studies. In January, the center launched its first clinical trial to explore the use of psilocybin as a treatment for military veterans diagnosed with PTSD.
“Currently, there have been clinical trials completed for people with addiction, depression, PTSD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, social anxiety [and] end-of-life distress in patients who are terminally ill,” Davis told Columbus Monthly earlier this year. “All of those studies so far have shown really promising effects.”
The ongoing research suggests that treatment with psychedelics such as psilocybin, when combined with psychotherapy, can “reduce and, for some, ameliorate, the mental health problems that they are dealing with,” Davis said. “With some studies, they’ve seen that those positive effects can last six to 12 months.”
Other universities are also studying the therapeutic value of psilocybin and other psychedelics, but Davis says Ohio State is the first to create such a center in a social work setting. He added that educating professionals with social work degrees is essential because they are the biggest part of the workforce dealing directly with patients in a clinical setting.
“Usually, the only message that’s been out there is, ‘drugs are bad, drugs are dangerous, don’t do drugs,’” Davis said. “This is meant to provide that foundational knowledge for people so that they can understand all the interdisciplinary work that’s been done about psychedelics.”
Slot believes that we can learn a lot from mushrooms, noting that government prohibition has hindered study and set back researchers decades during an era of significant advancement in the biological sciences, especially genetics. He hopes that recent efforts to destigmatize psychedelics are successful so that the research can continue to advance.
“I don’t think psychedelics are going away. They get at the nature of consciousness, of the relationship between the mind and the body,” said Slot. “These are questions fundamental to our nature.”