Psychedelic Research Nationally and at the U of M Nielson Lab

Adam Erickson, Contributor

Between the early 1960’s and the mid 1970’s was a time known as the psychedelic era. You may picture hippies, the desire for political activism, and images of hundreds of thousands of people enjoying three days of peace, love and rock and roll at Woodstock. While all this is true, perhaps the more important influence that psychedelic drugs had during this time was through the interest and research of the drug LSD by various scientists and the United States Central Intelligence Agency.

There are claims that the CIA’s interest in psychedelic drugs, specifically in Lysergic acid Diethylamide or LSD was somewhat unethical as many of the patients were being tested without any knowledge that they were the subject of a study.  Allegedly, the main motivation for the research was to get an upper hand on the potential “brainwash warfare” that was rumored to be under development in communist countries.

Today however research on psychedelic drugs is more focused on the positive effects that certain drugs can have on our brains, especially when dealing with depression, anxiety and addiction. A recent “60-minutes” segment investigated the research being done at Johns Hopkins University. Volunteers who have been suffering from one of these mental health problems participated in either one or multiple psychedelic encounters that are commonly known as “trips”. Instead of LSD this research is focusing on the main psychedelic component found in “magic mushrooms” known as psilocybin.

Carine McLaughlin and Jon Kostakopoulos were suffering from smoking and alcoholism respectively, and after their experience with therapeutic psychedelics haven’t been crippled with effects of their addiction. Not one smoke or one drink between the two of them. Kerry Pappas, another participant in the study, was suffering from stage 3 lung cancer and has dealt with a great deal of anxiety about death. After her trial with psilocybin she began to worry less and her anxiety was gone.

“I mean, I feel like death doesn’t frighten me. Living doesn’t frighten me””

— Kerry Pappas


Pappas’ mindset after her trip sent her into a stunning visual trip about life.  It is important to note that these trials are regulated and being done under the supervision of experts and researchers who don’t endorse it otherwise.

Another advocate for the positive effects of psilocybin is retired NHL player and current personality on the “Spittin’ Chiclets” podcast Paul Bissonnette. Being the grinder that he was in the NHL he often engaged in fights and big hits, and because of this Bissonnette has had his fair share of concussions. He explains on the podcast that “micro dosing” has helped him clear his head and decreased the negative effects of anxiety. Micro dosing is when the administration of the dose is very low or sub therapeutic. This prevents a full-blown psychedelic experience while still providing what is described as a mental health boost, increase in energy levels and overall positive effect on well-being.  The openness of influential figures in our society about the positive effects that psychedelics can have on mental health has helped eliminate the stigma around these drugs.


The interest in research on this topic has gained some momentum locally as the Nielson Lab at the University of Minnesota has begun to engage in similar research. The labs website addressed the need to continue such research stating that

“Psychedelic research is undergoing a renaissance within the scientific arena where an astounding volume of literature and data are emerging to support this new frontier in science and medicine.””

— Nielson Lab UMN

Another critical mental illness that research on psilocybin hopes to address is post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.

One of the current projects at the Nielson lab has to do with another popular psychedelic known as Ayahuasca.  Ayahuasca is a powerful drug that is made from a mixture of leaves and shrubs. It is consumed as a drink and usually involves hallucinations, some of which are profound and enlightening while others can be terrifying and stressful. The Nielson lab has been in the process of collecting and analyzing data from anonymous online surveys of Ayahuasca users in natural and recreational settings to further understand the effects related to visual perception.

It is going to be interesting to see where this research, both nationally and locally on the functional uses of psychedelics will lead, especially considering the increasing need for mental health treatments in our modern world.