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Scientists Discuss Medical Effects of Psychedelic Drugs at Harvard Law School Petrie-Flom Panel

The Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics is housed at 23 Everett St.
The Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics is housed at 23 Everett St. By Ariana-Dalia Vlad
By Joshua Park and Camilla Wu, Crimson Staff Writers

A panel of three researchers discussed the medical effects of psychedelic drugs at a virtual event hosted by Harvard Law School’s Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics on Thursday.

The event, titled “Psychedelics in the Global South,” was the second of a three-part series that previously explored psychedelics in the Global North. The series is sponsored by the Project on Psychedelics Law and Regulation and the RAND Drug Policy Research Center. The conversation, moderated by POPLAR Senior Fellow Mason M. Marks, featured experts from Mexico, Brazil, and South Africa.

Marks began the panel by describing the renewed interest in psychedelics research as a “psychedelic renaissance.”

“But with all the regulation and commercial activity in the United States and Canada, it can be easy to forget that psychedelics are truly a global phenomenon,” he said.

Rafael Guimarães dos Santos, a researcher at the University of São Paulo, discussed research into a psychedelic called ayahuasca, a plant commonly used for ritual and therapeutic purposes in South American countries including Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador.

Santos said the history of ayahuasca’s use has been marked by “several legal problems,” though ayahuasca is now legal in Brazil.

“We can promote research of ayahuasca freely in Brazil,” Santos said. “But that’s not the same around the globe.”

Santos said his own research on ayahuasca has suggested promising medical benefits of the drug.

“We are also doing the first trial for ayahuasca for university students who abused alcohol,” Santos said. “We can see the apparent reduction of days drinking and the quantity of alcohol units used.”

Sanah M. Nkadimeng, a senior lecturer at the University of South Africa, discussed psilocybin mushrooms and their potential use as a natural remedy for psychological disorders. Due to South Africa’s prohibition on the mushroom’s use as a psychedelic, however, Nkadimeng conducted her study without much previous research available.

“The research on their safety, physiological, and psychological effects is very limited even globally as well,” Nkadimeng said.

In her research, Nkadimeng found that “magic mushrooms,” despite government concerns, did not have deleterious effects on health.

“The study also showed that these mushrooms were generally safe,” Nkadimeng said. “It was showing that this was a result that actually came from the mushrooms themselves showing the antioxidants and also showing those anti-inflammatory effects.”

Laura G. Dávolos, a professor and head of the Mycology Lab at the University of Guadalajara, said though the Mexican government currently prohibits the use of psychedelic drugs, there is a long history of the use of psychedelics by Indigenous groups in the country.

“I just want to emphasize the importance of psilocybin mushrooms as sacred,” she said. “Used since time immemorial for religious and healing purposes by Indigenous groups in Mexico.”

Davalos also noted researchers have identified psilocybin’s potential uses in treating psychological and psychiatric conditions.

“We hope that the legal status before the Mexican government and other governments around the world change very soon,” she added.

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