One goal for any budding researcher is to see their work have a tangible public impact. But, with endless hours spent in a lab or hunched over a computer, there are times where research can feel abstract or removed from reality. Neuroscience, in particular, faces this stereotype. True, many (including myself) believe that neuroscience holds the key to understanding our conscience and, by extension, our modern predicament. But the question remains: where can an aspiring neuroscientist find the life-altering research they seek?
Ironically, the answer might just lie in reality-altering substances. From neuroscience to public policy, psychedelics is a budding topic across many different fields of research. While Princeton itself is yet to enter the field, the Princeton Science of Psychedelics Club (PSPC) serves as the hub for all students interested in this emerging field. I sat down with PSPC and senior Neuroscience Major President Camilla Strauss to talk about how students interested in psychedelics research could learn more.
Amaya Dressler (A): So, what is PSPC?
Camilla Strauss (C): The club started about two years back …I’m really trying hard to make it [the club] more active this year with consistent meetings and active membership.
Camilla was not actually the original founder of the club, but since taking it over last year, she’s been working hard to expand the club’s reach.
C: What they’re treating with psychedelics is expanding everyday. It started with mental disorders like PTSD, addiction, depression, but now we’re testing it for physical conditions like cluster headaches. A range of potential applications requires a range of disciplines.
Princeton’s Science of Psychedelics Council (PSPC) could be the key to any student’s next research opportunity. Being a “small” club, PSPC hosts many members who are either currently connected with research at Princeton Neuroscience Institute or active members of the Princeton Neuroscience Network, providing many potential gateways for new members looking to get involved in neuroscience research on or off campus.
Some members of PSPC have had the opportunity to work with labs conducting groundbreaking psychedelic research. At the University of Alabama at Birmingham, for example, Camilla helped facilitate ongoing research on psilocybin and its effects on addiction.
C: They’re still studying how psilocybin (which is the active ingredient in magic mushrooms) paired with therapy, affects people with cocaine-use disorder … Nothing’s published yet, but it’s really exciting. It’s just so incredible to be there because you could just see after talking with a few participants … and the raw data … It is hopeful.
A: How can other students get involved in psychedelic research?
C: So the first thing and the only thing that I did when I was interested in pursuing psychedelic research was go to clinicaltrials.gov and type in a keyword like psilocybin or LSD or psychedelic. That will show you all the ongoing clinical trials that are using psychedelics.
This was certainly an exciting start, but how does one actually secure a research position? The answer was deceptively simple.
C: You just cold email them. I think I emailed 50 professors … and all of them said no except one. But that was the one I ended up working with, and it was an amazing experience.
Like most research jobs, securing a position in psychedelics requires a little bravery and perseverance.
A: What might you say to those who are hesitant about this type of research?
C: It’s definitely fair because, as with any drug, there are risks and there are side effects. Especially with psychedelics which are so influenced by one’s mindset, and one’s environmental settings … it’s important to implement proper protocols with rigorous scientific validity…But you can’t just ignore the scientific data.
Her research experience at University of Alabama Birmingham gave her reason to be optimistic.
C: A lot of the participants were so grateful to the lab and to have that kind of experience where they could receive life changing treatment.
A: Why should students care about psychedelic research?
Camilla didn’t hesitate.
C: I think that it’s important for everybody. Everybody can be affected by physical or mental illness and even if you’re not, you probably have a loved one who is … Psychedelics have the potential to make a huge difference.
While psychedelics may not be the first thought that comes to mind when one pictures research, it is clear that the field has taken off. The field is growing fast, but through resources like PSPC and the Princeton Neuroscience Network, there are dozens of students ready to help you get involved. Whether you’re in Neuro or Anthro or COS BSE, psychedelics might just be the right research for you.
– Amaya Dressler, Social Sciences Correspondent