On May 24, 1995, the Heffter Research Institute (HRI) officially opened
public access to their home page on the World Wide Web. For those of you
with the capability to browse the Web, the HRI home page can be found at
http://www.heffter.org/. The home page presently lists basic information
about the Institute: its mission, the founders, the scientific advisory
board, etc., and also has links to related Web sites, including MAPS. In
addition, it contains an interesting biography of Arthur Heffter, who was
quite a remarkable individual, as well as molecular graphics of several
psychedelic substances. It is anticipated that in the future the HRI home
page will be expanded to include research reports, announcements of
scientific conferences and meetings, and other public service information
appropriate to the mission of the Heffter Institute, which is to foster
legitimate scientific research utilizing psychedelic agents.
The Heffter Research Institute is an IRS 501(c)(3) tax exempt
not-for-profit organization incorporated in the state of New Mexico in 1993.
Dr. David E. Nichols
Co-Founder, Director of Preclinical Research.
Dr. Dennis J. McKenna
Co-founder, Director of Ethnopharmacology.
Dr. Mark A. Geyer
Co-Founder, Director of Behavioral Pharmacology.
Dr. Charles S. Grob
Co-Founder, Director of Clinical Research.
Dr. Philip E Wolfson
Co-Founder, Senior Clinical Research Associate.
Dr. George R. Greer, MD
Co-Founder, Senior Clinical Research Associate.
Secretary / Treasurer.
Mission of the Heffter Research Institute:
Curiously, among the various tools available for furthering the
understanding of the mind, some of the most promising are also some of
the most ancient. They also happen to be some of the most neglected,
and some of the most feared and controversial. These tools belong to a
class of substances known popularly as psychedelics, or "mind
manifesting" drugs. These substances, in the form of hallucinogenic
plants, have provided an avenue for the investigation of the human mind
since at least the late Paleolithic epoch. Many cultures have
incorporated the use of psychedelic plants into their medical,
religious, and cultural practices. The Mayans and Aztecs are examples
of civilizations in which the ritual use of psychedelic drugs was well
developed. The Soma of ancient India, and the special potion drunk
prior to the secret religious ceremony practiced at the village of
Eleusis in ancient Greece testify to the use of these substances in
Today, psychedelic plants play an important role in the shamanism and
ethnomedicine of many traditional non-Western societies. Other cultures
however, including our own, have rejected the use of psychedelics and
have attempted to eradicate the plants or substances themselves.
Neither opponents nor advocates of psychedelic drugs have distinguished
themselves by demonstrating an excess of either reason or common sense;
both the virtues and dangers have been greatly exaggerated. Neither
position is accurate, and neither contributes to a productive dialog.
In the proper hands, and under the right conditions, psychedelics are
invaluable research tools for exploring the infrastructures of the mind.
Indeed, it is our thesis that these drugs represent an essential
technology for this work. Most other classes of psychoactive drugs that
have found medical applications (and which also possess potential for
abuse) such as narcotic-analgesics, sedatives, anxiolytics, stimulants,
antidepressants, and antipsychotics, exert their effects via mechanisms
and neural pathways that are relatively well understood. Moreover, most
of these agents do not directly affect what are usually considered to be
the "higher" brain functions, although they may do so indirectly. In
contrast, the psychedelic agents exert their most profound influence on
the very functions that we consider uniquely human: our cognitive and
symbolic capacities; our emotional, intuitive, and aesthetic
sensibilities; our interpretative, linguistic, and imaginative
abilities; and our capacity for religious experience. In short,
psychedelic drugs work most directly on the kinds of brain functions
that weave together the fabric of what we experience as mind.
Although they have been investigated for more than 40 years, it is only
within the last ten years that we have begun to understand the nature of
the effects of psychedelics on the brain. Perhaps not coincidentally,
the brain/mind functions most influenced by psychedelics (such as
creativity, religious experience, or transient 'psychotic' reactions)
are those that leave most neuroscientists uncomfortable, precisely
because they are not easily amenable to the kinds of investigations that
are accepted within the scientific community as valid. Perhaps this is
one reason why, in the two volumes of abstracts, each the size of a
telephone directory, published for the 1992 convention of the Society
for Neuroscience, the word psychedelic did not appear at all, and
"hallucinogen" occurred in the index only twice; two references out of
more than ten thousand reports! This is a peculiar and troubling
reflection of current neuroscience research.
How can such a potentially fruitful area of research be virtually
ignored by almost the entire neuroscience community? Clearly, when the
class of psychopharmacological agents that is least understood and
perhaps most germane to the investigation of the brain/mind relationship
can be reduced to such an extent in the pre-eminent scientific society
dedicated to the study of the brain, and in the "Decade of the Brain",
something is amiss. Something of great, perhaps even critical,
importance to the efforts of science to understand the neural substrates
of mind is being overlooked. Clearly, it is time to have a second look,
and to approach the problem from a new direction.
The Heffter Research Institute was conceived as one possible approach to
this problem. It is based on the belief that the multidisciplinary,
legitimate, and scientifically sound investigation of psychedelic agents
holds great potential for producing genuine breakthroughs in the
understanding of the human mind. The current political and intellectual
climate is offering new opportunities to reopen avenues of research that
have been extremely difficult, if not impossible, to pursue in previous
years within conventional frameworks. To be sure, government agencies
will provide support to legitimate researchers of psychedelic agents, as
the Institute founders can testify from a long period of research
funding. Nevertheless, when it comes to extending the investigations
from animal models to human subjects, or to testing hypotheses that the
effects of psychedelics may in certain circumstances be beneficial,
rather than entirely detrimental, the government's role as a supporter
of research has so far not been sufficient.
For these reasons, in order for truly uncompromised and creative
research in the field of psychedelic neuropsychopharmacology to have any
hope of fulfilling its promise, it must be pursued from within the
context of an independent research Institute, whose operations and
on-going research programs are not dependent on government funding.
Such an Institute will operate entirely legitimately and in compliance
with all Federal and State regulations. The research conducted under
its auspices will be of the highest quality possible, will be carried
out under the direction of world-class scientists, and will be published
in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Although the Institute's research
program will qualify for and receive government funding, it will not
depend on such funds to maintain its operations, and hence will not be
under any obligation to support or defend any particular agenda.
The Heffter Research Institute will neither condemn psychedelic drugs
nor advocate their uncontrolled use. The sole position of the Institute
in this regard will be that psychedelic agents, utilized in thoughtfully
designed and carefully conducted scientific experiments, can be used to
further the understanding of the mind. The focus of the Institute will
be on research, and will not duplicate the efforts of other institutes
and foundations that have been established whose ends are primarily
informational. The Institute will clearly and uncompromisingly have a
scientific orientation, and will house thoroughly trained scientists who
will bring to bear modern scientific tools and methods to the question
of the nature of the mind/brain relationship. This will not be a
short-lived enterprise, but, if fundraising is successful it will be an
enduring Institution in the service of society.
To that end, the Institute will provide facilities, support, and
opportunities to conduct research on psychedelic drugs with humans. In
addition, appropriate animal models and biochemical studies will be used
to investigate the mechanisms whereby psychedelic agents bring about
changes in brain functioning.
Using psychedelics in the treatment of patients with clinical disorders
(medical or psychiatric problems) brings considerably more controversy
to the discussion of the value of human work with these substances. The
Institute, as described above, will seek to characterize the effects of
hallucinogens using a systematic approach incorporating modern
psychopharmacological research tools. It will also investigate ways to
utilize the potential of these agents to alleviate human suffering.
The clinical area in which some of the most dramatic results were seen
using hallucinogens was in helping terminally ill cancer patients come
to terms with their impending death. Several studies performed before
research was abandoned demonstrated profound effects on several
objective measures of pain, suffering, and family/personal distress in
this group of patients. Need for narcotic analgesics was often reduced,
allowing patients a less sedated and confused state of mind with which
to approach their death. As a result of psychedelic-assisted
psychotherapy with terminal cancer patients, depression and anxiety
decreased, while several measures of family function and personal
fulfillment increased. Indeed, the National Institute of Mental Health
had recognized this as an effective therapeutic use for psychedelic
The current epidemic of the acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS)
among a much younger generation of people, in addition to the unabated
onslaught of cancer, provides an even greater urgency for applying the
results of studies in the 1960s to this group of suffering individuals
in the 1990s. Although no Institute founder has specific expertise in
development and execution of psychotherapy research protocols, their
familiarity with previous studies and clinical experience administering
psychedelics will provide ample opportunity to put together simple but
scientifically valid studies that could form the basis for more
comprehensive psychotherapy protocols. Generating data from preliminary
studies that will attract established investigators with additional
skills for collaborative studies is a basic tenet of the founders.
Clearly, since this application has the potential for providing
immediate relief of suffering, it will be one of the earliest areas of
clinical research emphasis for the Institute. That is, the Institute
early on will promote and support well designed studies which employ
psychedelics for the treatment of pain and depression in the terminally
(HRI is not affiliated with CMU)