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Center for the Neuroscience of Psychedelics

The Center seeks to understand how psychedelics enhance the brain’s capacity for change, to optimize current treatments and create new treatments for mental illness, and to make the term “treatment resistant” obsolete.
Image of a brain
Image of a brain

Learn More About This Center

Overview

Mental illness is the leading cause of disability in developed countries. Fifty percent of Americans experience mental illness in their lifetime and $350 billion is spent annually on treating depression in the U.S. and Europe alone.

Nearly half of that total represents the cost of treatment-resistant patients: those who do not improve despite multiple treatments.

One of the biggest clinical challenges in mental health is treatment resistant patients: those who seek help, but do not improve despite multiple medication and treatment intervention trials.

Treatment resistance reflects both the limitations of our currently available treatments, as well as the likelihood that these patients’ brains are less capable of change in ways that improve mental health.

Neuroplasticity and Healing

Our treatments work by bringing about changes in the brain—it is the brain’s neuroplasticity, or capacity for change, that makes healing possible. 

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Neuroplasticity is seen at the cellular level, at the level of neurons, all the way up to changes in networks of brain regions underlying behavior.

Some of the factors that help make the brain more receptive to change are in lesser supply in patients suffering from depression and suicidal ideation. This reduces their brain’s capacity to change and adapt to the environment. For our patients with treatment resistance, this problem is magnified.

The key to solving the biggest challenge in mental healthcare is to increase the brain’s capacity for change, to promote healing and eventually wellness.

The Promise of Psychedelic Medicines

Psychedelic compounds—in particular psilocybin, 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) and N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT)—have emerged as promising treatments that may increase the brain’s capacity for change.

Studies suggest that psychedelics may facilitate neuroplasticity at the cellular and network levels allowing the brain to form and reorganize connection.

This creates a unique opportunity to change patterns in brain activity, and in turn, improve symptoms, behavior and functioning, to ultimately eliminate suffering.

There is much to learn about how these psychedelic compounds work in the brain to promote neural plasticity. Initial clinical studies suggest immediate, sustained relief of symptoms after a single administration of a psychedelic compound in a therapeutic setting.

Our Research

Remarkable advances in brain imaging—many pioneered and developed at Mass General—allow scientists the unique opportunity to leverage the world’s most advanced neuroimaging tools and methods to see the neuroplastic effects of psychedelic drugs from neurons to networks.

Seeing and understanding these changes in the brain offers an unprecedented possibility to rapidly transform mental health research and treatment.

The knowledge of how psychedelics promote this sort of change, or neuroplasticity, can be harnessed to complement and even enhance current treatments and alleviate the suffering of those patients in the greatest need of help—and hope.

Comprehensive Interdisciplinary Approach

The Center brings together leaders in psychiatry, chemical neurobiology, and neuroimaging.

Our team of clinicians, clinician scientists, neuroscientists and medical physicists collaborate to investigate the effects of psychedelics at the molecular, cellular and systems levels across different patient populations. Our ultimate goal is to promote healing and alleviate patient suffering.

The Center will leverage Mass General's tradition of excellence, which attracts a global array of stakeholders from academia, industry, and the non-profit world to promote and accelerate collaboration and increase the impact of psychedelic research. The center operates in an extraordinary biomedical and biotech ecosystem that includes Mass General, Harvard Medical School, Harvard University and the Broad Institute along with dozens of biotechnology and biopharmaceutical companies.

  • Department of Psychiatry
    • Mass General's Department of Psychiatry is consistently rated one of the top Psychiatry Departments in the United States per US News and World Report.
    • It is home to more than 60 specialty clinics and research programs and has the largest clinical research program at Mass General, with studies at the forefront of neuroscience, molecular biology, and genetics.
  • Chemical Neurobiology Laboratory
    • At the cellular and molecular level, Stephen J. Haggarty, PhD, leads efforts in the chemical neurobiology laboratory.
    • Dr. Haggarty’s group applies precision medicine approaches to understand the molecular and cellular mechanisms of brain plasticity that underlie the beneficial effects of therapeutic psychedelics.
Read more about the Chemical Neurobiology Lab

Using patient-specific stem cell-derived organoids, his group explores the effects of psychedelic compounds to help identify cellular and molecular markers of treatment response to advance the discovery of next generation therapeutics targeting brain plasticity and health.

Chemical Neurobiology Laboratory graphic

Read more about the Martinos Center

Led by Bruce Rosen, MD, PhD, a pioneer in the development and application of functional MRI techniques, the imaging capabilities and scientific team at the Martinos Center is unmatched anywhere else in the world.

A scan of brain activity

A scan of brain activity
We have 7T MRI systems and protocols in place to examine changes in regional activity with four-fold the resolution of the standard 3T system allowing us to see changes in the brain with unprecedented resolution.
A scan of brain activity
Neuroreceptors and Brain Functioning: We also have the capacity to do simultaneous PET/fRMI that will allow us to look at the relationship between neuroreceptors and brain functioning.
A scan of brain activity
Cognitive Processes:MEG enables us to obtain good spatial and temporal information, allowing us to explore specific cognitive processes with greater precision than previously possible.
A scan of brain activity
Scanning Brain Circuitry: Changes in the brain manifest in the wiring of the brain and in the way signals are directed between regions. We can examine those changes with the Human Connectome scanner.






























At the level of brain regions, circuitry and networks, Drs. Ghaznavi and Rosen will work in close concert to bring together the latest in cognitive neuroscience and neuroimaging to study how changes in the brain brought about by psychedelics relate to changes in the way people think, feel and function.

Current Research

Our foundational research studies aim to understand how psychedelics facilitate changes in brain structure and function, with an initial focus on psilocybin for patients with treatment-resistant depression, and MDMA for patients with treatment-resistant PTSD. 

For all studies, we will collect a wide array of neuroimaging data to fully understand the neural correlates of change with psilocybin and MDMA.

  • The Center's first studies explore psilocybin's effect on rumination, a process which contributes to depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses, and the effects of MDMA assisted mindful self-compassion on loneliness in treatment-resistant PTSD, in partnership with Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS)

Watch the webinar

Future Research

Future studies will explore:

  • The effect of psilocybin on cognitive and emotional processing, specifically salience processing and cognitive reappraisal, in patients with treatment resistant depression
  • Psilocybin for personality trait factors that predispose to mental illness

Schultes Legacy Project

Toward Next-Generation Neurotherapeutics Targeting Neuroplasticity

While psychedelics have been used by humans for millennia, the field of modern therapeutic psychedelics has its origins due to the pioneering work of ethnobotanists and natural product chemists. Central among these early investigators is the late Harvard Professor Richard Evans Schultes, PhD. Widely considered the founding father of the field of ethnobotany, Schultes was director of the Harvard University Herbaria & Botanical Museum. The Center will investigate the therapeutic potential of the hundreds of documented plant samples in the Herbaria which hold promise for a wide range of range of indications.

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As a professor of botany at Harvard, he inspired and trained a generation of scientists to document and protect indigenous cultures, as well as champion the preservation of environmentally sensitive places like the Amazon Rainforest where much of his fieldwork was completed. Schultes’s innumerable ethnobotanical discoveries, starting in the late 1930s and throughout his career, helped lay the foundation for the field of psychedelic research. He curated observations of the human uses and properties of approximately 100 psychoactive plants and fungi, many of which have been poorly or not studied at all.

We envision the knowledge generated from pursuing research of these natural products will benefit researchers, clinicians, patients and policymakers, and the molecules discovered may give rise to new therapeutic psychedelics with potential for fast-tracking based on evidence from previous human use. The molecular and cellular targets of these identified molecules may also support the development of synthetic drugs with improved properties through traditional pharmaceutical development routes.

Our Team

Jerrold RosenbaumJerrold F. Rosenbaum, MD
Director
Psychiatrist-in-Chief Emeritus
Director, Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders
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Jerrold F. Rosenbaum, MD, is director of the Center for the Neuroscience of Psychedelics, director of the Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders at Mass General, and the Stanley Cobb Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He is also chief emeritus of the Department of Psychiatry at Mass General, which has been ranked number one by U.S. and World Report for 20 of the last 25 years. Dr. Rosenbaum directed the work of 600 clinicians, 150 trainees and 60 specialty clinical and research programs that garnered more than $70 million in annual research spending annually. At Mass General, he served as chair of the Executive Committee on Research, overseeing in part the nation’s largest hospital-based research program with more than $1 billion in annual research funding.

A recipient of numerous prestigious awards and accolades, Dr. Rosenbaum was the 2007 recipient of the C. Charles Burlingame Award for lifetime achievement in psychiatric research and education; the 2016 recipient of the Joseph B. Martin Dean’s Leadership Award for the Advancement of Women Faculty for Harvard Medical School; and in 2018 was an Ellis Island Medal of Honor awardee. His leadership positions in the field of psychiatry include emeritus fellow of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, past president and board chair of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, and president and board member of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. He also served as a trustee of Mass General and Mass General Brigham. Currently, Dr. Rosenbaum is co-chair for philanthropy at Mass General.

An author of more than 400 original articles and reviews, and 20 books, Dr. Rosenbaum led longitudinal studies of children at risk for anxiety disorders and depression, which examined behavioral differences, risk factors, longitudinal outcomes, treatment, genetics and brain structure and function of children of parents with mood and anxiety disorders. He is currently building the Center for the Neuroscience of Psychedelics to use the knowledge of how psychedelics promote neuroplasticity to unlock the capacity for change and increase the efficacy of our current treatments with the aim to make the term “treatment resistant” obsolete. Dr. Rosenbaum is a co-founder of Psy Therapeutics to advance the discovery of novel drugs and diagnostics for psychiatric disorders.

Dr. Rosenbaum received his undergraduate degree from Yale College and his medical degree from Yale School of Medicine. He completed his residency and fellowship in psychiatry at Mass General.

Sharmin Ghaznavi, MD, PhDSharmin Ghaznavi, MD, PhD
Associate Director & Director of Cognitive Neuroscience
Instructor in Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School

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Sharmin Ghaznavi, MD, PhD, is associate director of the Center for the Neuroscience of Psychedelics and the Center’s director of cognitive neuroscience. Dr. Ghaznavi also serves as a psychiatrist at the Dauten Family Center for Bipolar Treatment Innovation and an instructor at Harvard Medical School. Her research interests include the neural correlates of rumination, self-related processing and other cognitive processes underlying mental illness. She has also been leading an initiative within the Department of Psychiatry to research rumination as a transdiagnostic phenomenon.

Dr. Ghaznavi has been the recipient of the Dupont-Warren and Livingston psychiatric research fellowships from Harvard Medical School, as well a 2012 NARSAD Young Investigator Award and a competitive loan repayment award from the National Institutes of Health. Her work has been published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, Biological Psychiatry and Biology of Mood & Anxiety Disorders

Dr. Ghaznavi received her undergraduate degrees in biology, brain and cognitive sciences, and philosophy from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She obtained her medical degree and PhD in neuroscience from Yale University and completed a residency in adult psychiatry at the Mass General/McLean Psychiatry Residency Program. As a resident, Dr. Ghaznavi received the Thomas P. Hackett award for academic and research excellence and the Joyce Tedlow Award from the mood and anxiety disorders board for efforts to integrate psychotherapy, psychopharmacology and research.

Bruce Rosen, MD, PhDBruce Rosen, MD, PhD
Scientific Director, Neuroimaging
Director, Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging Professor of Radiology, Harvard Medical School
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Bruce R. Rosen, MD, PhD, is director of the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Mass General and the Laurence Lamson Robbins Professor of Radiology at Harvard Medical School. He is also the vice chair of research in the Department of Radiology at Mass General.

Dr. Rosen has received numerous awards in recognition of his contributions to biomedical imaging, including the Outstanding Researcher award from the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) and the Rigshospitalet’s International KFJ Prize from the University of Copenhagen/Rigshospitalet. He is a fellow of the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine (ISMRM); a Gold Medal winner from ISMRM for his contributions to the field of functional neuroimaging; a fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering and a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the National Academy of Inventors.

Among his many achievements in the biomedical sciences, Dr. Rosen is a pioneer in the field of functional neuroimaging. In the early 1990s, he oversaw development of the technique functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which measures the hemodynamic and metabolic changes associated with brain activity in both health and disease. More recently, his work has focused on the integration of fMRI data with information from other imaging modalities, including positron emission tomography (PET), magnetoencephalography (MEG) and noninvasive optical imaging. Many of the tools he has introduced are now used by research centers and hospitals around the world to study and evaluate patients with stroke, brain tumors, dementia and neurologic and psychological disorders.

Dr. Rosen received his MD degree from Hahnemann Medical College in Philadelphia, his PhD degree from MIT in 1984 and subsequently completed an internship and residency at Mass General and research fellowships at Mass General and the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology (HST).

Stephen J. Haggarty, PhDStephen J. Haggarty, PhD
Scientific Director, Chemical Neurobiology
Director, Mass General Chemical Neurobiology Laboratory in the Center for Genomic Medicine
Stuart and Suzanne Steele Research Scholar and Associate Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School
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Stephen J. Haggarty, PhD is Scientific Director, Chemical Neurobiology at the Center for the Neuroscience of Psychedelics and Director of the Chemical Neurobiology Laboratory within the Center for Genomic Medicine at Mass General. Dr. Haggarty is also Associate Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School and has appointments at the Broad Institute and the Harvard Stem Cell Institute. In 2017, Dr. Haggarty was named the Stuart & Suzanne Steele Research Scholar within the Mass General Research Institute.

Dr. Haggarty’s research program operates at the interface of chemical biology and molecular therapeutics with a focus on dissecting the role of neuroplasticity in health and disease. A major emphasis of his work is the use of reprogramming technology to create patient- specific, induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) as powerful new models for the study of neuroplasticity; understanding the neurobiology of human disease; and addressing the challenge of discovering novel targets and next-generation, disease-modifying therapies for brain health using the principles of precision medicine. Dr. Haggarty completed his PhD in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard University and post-doctoral training at the Broad Institute.

Jacob Hooker, PhDJacob Hooker, PhD
Director, Translational Biomarkers
Professor of Radiology at Harvard Medical School
Phyllis and Jerome Lyle Rappaport MGH Research Scholar at Mass General
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Dr. Hooker is currently Professor of Radiology at Harvard Medical School and Phyllis and Jerome Lyle Rappaport MGH Research Scholar. He received his PhD in Chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley in 2007. Dr. Hooker then completed two fellowships—a Goldhaber Distinguished Fellowship and a Ruth Kirschstein Fellowship—at Brookhaven National Laboratory, where he maintained an appointment as an Associate Scientist through 2013.

In 2009, Dr. Hooker moved to Boston to join the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital. There he co-founded a first-in-class imaging facility that merges functional MRI and positron emission tomography for neurochemical study of the human brain. Dr. Hooker holds associate or affiliate appointments at the Broad Institute, Dana Farber Cancer Institute and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He is an active consultant and advisor to the pharmaceutical industry in neurotherapeutics; he currently serves as a scientific advisory board member for, among others, Psy Therapeutics, Delix Therapeutics, and Fuzionaire Diagnostics. In 2017, he co-founded Eikonizo Therapeutics which leverages molecular imaging to de-risk drug discovery in the pursuit of disease-modifying therapeutics for neurodegenerative diseases. Dr. Hooker serves as Editor-in-Chief of the journal ACS Chemical Neuroscience.

Dr. Hooker’s research program focuses on advancing our understanding of the brain through the development and application of molecular imaging agents. His lab has provided insights into biochemical dysregulation of neurodegenerative diseases and neurodevelopmental and psychiatric disorders in the areas of neuroinflammation, epigenetics and neurochemical dynamics. The program has wide a scope including fundamental radiochemistry methodology, medicinal chemistry, radiotracer development, and preclinical and human magnetic resonance and positron emission tomography imaging. Additional information on Dr. Hooker and his research can be found on the Martinos Center Chemical Neuroscience Program website.

Franklin King, MDFranklin King, MD
Director of Education and Therapist Training
Instructor in Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School

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Franklin King IV, MD, is the director of training and education at the Mass General Center for the Neuroscience of Psychedelics and a clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School. His primary clinical and research interest is in the utilization of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy to treat a variety of chronic psychiatric conditions, including depression and anxiety disorders, and in strategies to optimize these interventions for different patient populations. In addition, Dr. King teaches and supervises residents and fellows at Mass General, and practices clinically as a staff psychiatrist at the Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders as well as on the Acute Psychiatry Service in the Emergency Department.

Dr. King received his MD from the University of Massachusetts and completed a residency in psychiatry at Mass General and McLean Hospitals, serving as the chief resident on the Consultation-Liaison Service. Following graduation, he completed a fellowship in Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry as well as a research fellowship with the Mass General Cardiac Psychiatry Research Program.

Advisors

Michael PollanMichael Pollan
Best-selling Author, How to Change Your Mind




Rick Doblin, PhDRick Doblin, PhD
Founder, Executive Director, MAPS




Ekaterina MalievskaiaEkaterina Malievskaia, MD, MScPH
Chief Innovation Officer, Co-founder, Compass Pathways




Robin Carhart-HarrisRobin Carhart-Harris, PhD
Director, Centre for Psychedelic Research, Imperial College





Anne St. Goar, MD
MAPS Phase III Therapist, CIIS/CPTR

Jamie Heywood
Biomedical Entrepreneur

Keren Soussan
Arielle Soussan Memorial Fund

Lorne Gertner
Chairman, CannaGlobal Wellness

Ronald Mis
Managing Director, QS Private Lending Fund

Shoshana Blank
Arielle Soussan Memorial Fund

Wayne S. Blank
Arielle Soussan Memorial Fund

Dick Simon
Advisory Council Chair, Mass General Center for the Neuroscience of Psychedelics

In the News


Videos

The Center regularly holds informational salons to shed light on various projects and areas of focus.

The Center for the Neuroscience of Psychedelics: Conversation with Michael Pollan

The Center celebrated their official launch on Tuesday, March 9 with a conversation with Michael Pollan who writes about the places where nature and culture intersect: on our plates, in our farms and gardens and in the built environment. You can download a transcript of the event here

Watch the video >

Psychedelics and Mental Health: Harnessing the Potential for Change to End Suffering

Leaders of the Mass General Center for the Neuroscience of Psychedelics discuss the potential of psychedelics to enhance the brain’s capacity for change and ultimately, transform the care of individuals who suffer from psychiatric illness.

Watch the video >

Psychedelics and Mental Health: Neuroimaging the Mind Brain Connection

The Center for the Neuroscience of Psychedelics presents Bruce Rosen, MD, PhD, director of the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Mass General and members of his lab, for a deep dive into the power of neuroimaging. Together they describe how cutting-edge tools like PET imaging, Hyperscanning and fMRI will help us understand the ways that psychedelic compounds facilitate lasting changes in mental health and well-being, and how that knowledge will be translated into new therapies and alleviate human suffering.

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Psychedelics and Mental Health: Discovering the Therapeutic Potential of Psychoactive Plants

Please join Steve Haggarty, PhD, scientific director of Neurobiology at the Center for the Neuroscience of Psychedelics for a deep dive into the botanical richness and medicinal power of the Amazon rainforest and beyond. In this webinar, Dr. Haggarty describes the planned research of a library of approximately 100 psychoactive plants and fungi, curated by the late Richard Evans Schultes, PhD, Harvard Professor and a founding father of the field of ethnobotany. Dr. Haggarty demonstrates how the knowledge from this research will have the potential to give rise to new therapeutic psychedelics, and how patient-derived and other cellular models can be used innovatively for the discovery of precision medicines targeting neuroplasticity.

Watch the video >

Psychedelics and Mental Health: Neuroscience of the Self, Other and Human Connection

Please join Sharmin Ghaznavi, MD, PhD, associate director and director of Cognitive Neuroscience for the Center for the Neuroscience of Psychedelics for a unique look into how psychedelics might be used to facilitate positive, lasting changes in the brain that improve how we understand ourselves and relate to others. Individuals with mood and anxiety disorders tend to see themselves and others in a negative light, resulting in loneliness and poor relationships. By incorporating and leveraging knowledge about which brain regions are implicated in self and other related processing, and how psychedelics facilitate neuroplasticity in these regions, there is immense potential to transform care and reduce, or even, eradicate suffering.

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Support Our Work

The Center for the Neuroscience of Psychedelics has been brought to life by generous donations from our partners. Want to help? Email Alex Dippold, Senior Director of Development, or use the Mass General donation portal and specify that you’d like to designate your gift toward our center.