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Posted Thursday August, 6th 2020

From LSD to Ecstasy, How Psychedelics Are Altering Therapy

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People have been taking psychoactive drugs since the beginning of human history, but there hasn’t been a lot of good scientific study of these substances. One person who has been trying to turn a scientific lens toward them is Prof. Harriet de Wit of the University of Chicago, and what she’s discovered is surprising.

The latest research shows that there may be more uses for drugs like MDMA and LSD than sending people on mind-altering trips. In fact, they could radically change how some people engage with therapy. De Wit also examines microdosing, why it is so popular, and whether it does what people suggest.


Paul Rand: Hello, Big Brains listeners. As of our last show, we’re celebrating 50 episodes of this podcast. It’s been an incredible journey through some of the best research the University of Chicago has to offer, and we’re excited to continue exploring how the work these scholars do is changing our world, and it’s all been possible because of you. Thank you for listening. As we hope to expose more people to this important work, we’d be very grateful if you would give our podcast a rating, a review, and share it with your friends and family. Thank you.

Paul Rand: Just a quick note before this current episode starts: Most of the drugs that are discussed in this episode are still considered illegal. All the studies in this episode are done under the supervision of trained professionals and with legal approval.

Paul Rand: Two years ago, renowned author, Michael Pollan’s book, How to Change Your Mind, about psychoactive drugs made a huge splash.

Tape: I was hearing about this incredible research using psychedelics like psilocybin and LSD to help people with their mental health problems.

Paul Rand: People have been taking psychoactive drugs for, well, almost since the beginning of human history, but there hasn’t been a whole lot of scientific research of these drugs, mostly because it’s really difficult.

Harriet de Wit: Unfortunately, most drug experiences are very internal, so there isn’t really a lot to see.

Paul Rand: Harriet de Wit is a scientist at the University of Chicago, and she’s been studying these drugs her entire career. She’s the type of expert, people like Michael Pollan speak to in order to actually understand what these drugs do to our brains.

Harriet de Wit: It’s something that we’re all intuitively interested in. It’s something we all have a little bit of experience, we’ve all had a few too many drinks, or caffeine or something, and we all have some sense of how the drug can change your view of the world, and so I think that the subject itself is just fascinating.

Paul Rand: It turns out, they can do a lot more, and can be used for a lot more, than just sending us on a mind-altering trip. De Wit’s research shows how these drugs may be an important tool for revolutionizing therapy and treating mental illness.

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