US Military Invests $26.9 Million into Researching Psychedelic Drugs

North Carolina's School of Medicine has received millions in funding to explore the potential applications of psychedelic substances such as ketamine and psilocybin.

The US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has confirmed that it is currently funding a study by the University of North Carolina's School of Medicine, on the potential use of psychedelics—including ketamine and psilocybin—for mental health medications.

The $26.9 million agreement is set to run for four years, and will also include researchers from the University of California-San Francisco, Duke University, and the Stanford University, Icahn School of Medicine,

Depression, anxiety, and substance abuse affect large segments of the population. Creating safe, rapidly acting and more effective medications would revolutionize the treatment of these disorders thereby diminishing death and disability. University of North Carolina Professor of Pharmacology, Dr Bryan L Roth

The research team is being led by the Michael Hooker Distinguished Professor of Pharmacology, Dr Bryan L Roth, who argues that these drugs potentially offer "rapid antidepressant actions", however their clinical use is currently limited due to the possibility of "hallucinogenic, addictive, and disorienting" side effects.

"Our team has developed innovative methods and technologies to overcome these limitations with the goal of creating better medications to treat these neuropsychiatric conditions," Roth said.

"Rapidly acting drugs with antidepressant, anti-anxiety, and anti-addictive potential devoid of disabling side effects do not exist, not even as experimental compounds for use in animals."

"Creating such compounds would change the way we treat millions of people around the world suffering from these serious and life-threatening conditions."

The news follows an announcement from psilocybin researcher, Roland Griffiths, about the founding of the Centre for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research—which is funded by more than $17 million in private donations—at Johns Hopkins University in September 2019.

According to Griffiths, the Centre's research team will be focusing on exploring psilocybin as a potential treatment method for a variety of different illnesses, including Alzheimer's disease, PTSD, alcoholism, nicotine addiction and Lyme disease.  

At the same time, the American Government has also begun to demonstrate an increasing interest in psychedelics research, such a DARPA's Focused Pharma program, which is aimed at developing drugs that will take effect, "quickly and deliver lasting remedies for conditions such as chronic depression and post-traumatic stress."

"It is research we need to undertake given the scale of the mental health crisis our veterans face," Focused Pharma program manager Dr Tristan McClure-Begley said.

"And if it works, the payoff is a completely new, safe, and effective therapeutic option that transforms complex and previously intractable mental conditions into something more acutely treatable."

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Hugo Gray
Hugo Gray

Hugo Gray is a Melbourne-based journalist with a body of work that covers a diverse range of topics, including immigration law, sex technology, and now the rapidly expanding cannabis industry.

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