The Heffter Research Institute: Psychedelic Medicine

Research into psychedelic medicine is a layered process. Complicated by legal issues and decades of social stigma, this work has only recently begun recapturing the attention it deserves. Serious scientific attention is being paid to psychedelic medicine’s spiritual and therapeutic potential to combat a range of health problems. As we continue covering multiple actors in this expanding field, it’s important to look at key networking and funding points. The Heffter Research Institute is both, functioning as a crucial hub for other institutions where some of the leading figures in the growing medical psychedelic establishment can collaborate.

Background and Namesake of The Heffter Research Institute

Incorporated in 1993 as a registered non-profit scientific organization, the Heffter Institute is based in Sante Fe, New Mexico. Their mission statement is broad, professing a desire to use research into psychedelics to “contribute to a greater understanding of the mind leading to the improvement of the human condition, and to alleviate suffering.” More specifically, they are tied to studies exploring distress related to cancer, addiction, understanding spirituality, and psychedelics’ ability to help map and comprehend neurophysiology. They are not permanently endowed, and require regular donations and funding to continue operating.

The Heffter Institute is named after German pharmacologist and pioneering psychedelic researcher Dr. Arthur Heffter. Born in Leipzig in 1958, Heffter would enjoy a distinguished scientific career spanning the unification of the German Empire and its transformation into the Weimar Republic. His seminal contribution to psychedelics was to isolate the alkaloids of the peyote cactus, and to demonstrate through animal testing that mescaline was the compound responsible for its psychoactive affect. This marked the first systematic scientific study of a natural hallucinogen. Heffter’s influence in chemistry extended far beyond psychedelics, with a particular expertise in poisoning and toxicology. His achievements helped establish Germany as a world leader in the field leading up to, and following, the First World War. Just prior to his death, Arthur Heffter was named Rector of Berlin University. He died in 1925, and was remember by his students as a modest, caring teacher, eager to share credit for discoveries with his students. It’s for these reasons that a leading psychedelic institute now bears his name.

Board of Directors and Affiliate Institutions

Designing, assigning, and funding tests and trials for psychedelic medicine is a job unto itself. The Board of Directors at the Heffter Institute consists of top psychedelic researchers from lead institutions. We’ve already covered Dr. Roland Griffiths of Johns Hopkins. Present and equally notable from the medical psychedelic field are Dr. David Nichols, one of the leading experts on hallucinogenic chemistry, and Dr. Charles Grob, the first to receive FDA approval to carry out human trials with MDMA. Dennis McKenna, ethnopharmacologist and brother of Terrence McKenna, was a founding board member.

As one would expect, The Heffter Institute is a knowledge and resource sharing non-profit working with lead universities and their research faculties. Both through their Board of Directors and less direct connections, the Institute is affiliated by funding and research with The Usona Institute, Johns Hopkins University, Yale, Harbor UCLA, New York University, and the University of New Mexico in the United States. Internationally, it is involved with research at the University of Zurich, Switzerland. Given the growing worldwide interest in psychedelic medicine, it’s likely this list will be expanding further in the years to come.

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Current and Future Research Associated with The Heffter Institute

All major scientific researching projects need mentoring. The Heffter Institute, while not conducting the research itself, associates with most leading research projects into psilocybin. It should be mentioned explicitly that the institute considers psilocybin to be medicine, and takes a stance opposing the use of any psychedelic substance outside of a medically supervised context.

Through Usona, the Heffter Institute is involved in an ongoing project to measure the effectiveness of psilocybin in treating anxiety and depression related to cancer diagnoses. Their addiction studies involve the use of psilocybin in treating alcoholism, cocaine dependence, and helping with smoking cessation. These are being conducted by UNM, The University of Alabama at Birmingham, and Johns Hopkins, respectively. Heffter and Johns Hopkins are also partnering on spiritual psilocybin studies involving meditation and spiritual practices, with NYU collaborating with both other institutions on a study of religious professionals’ detailed psilocybin use and the mystical experience. Finally, The Heffter Institute is working with the University of Zurich to use psilocybin to understand the neurobiology of clinically depressed patients, studying its effect on mood and related attitude. All of this research has the potential to alter scientific perceptions of the body, mind, and spirit.

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