Research

Modern Spirit works to demonstrate the value of spiritual healing in modern healthcare through research. Part of our budget is dedicated to research grants. We plan to support research that investigates frontiers in healing and medicine. As a smaller nonprofit organization, our grants do not support overhead costs. Our first project, the Modern Spirit Epigenetics Project is now underway.

Modern Spirit Epigenetics Project (MSEP)

Markus Epigenetics Painting

Art by Markus Drassl

What We Know

The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) is now studying whether MDMA-assisted psychotherapy can help heal the psychological and emotional damage caused by sexual assault, war, violent crime, and other traumas; often diagnosed as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a debilitating anxiety disorder characterized by re-experiencing, hyperarousal and avoidance. Existing therapies for PTSD are ineffective for 25-50% of patients in clinical trials.

Preliminary studies have shown that MDMA, in conjunction with psychotherapy, can help people overcome PTSD, and possibly other disorders as well.

MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine) is not the same as "Ecstasy" or "molly." Substances sold on the street under these names may contain MDMA, but frequently also contain unknown and/or dangerous adulterants. In laboratory studies, pure MDMA has been proven sufficiently safe for human consumption when taken a limited number of times in moderate doses. MDMA is known for increasing feelings of trust and compassion towards others, which could make an ideal adjunct to psychotherapy for PTSD. Thus far, their investigation into MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder has demonstrated very positive and unprecedented results, so much so that on August 16, 2017, the FDA granted Breakthrough Therapy Designation to MDMA for the treatment of PTSD.

In MAPS’ completed Phase 2 trials with 107 participants, 61% no longer qualified for PTSD after three sessions of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy two months following treatment. At the 12-month follow-up, 68% no longer had PTSD. All participants had chronic, treatment-resistant PTSD, and had suffered from PTSD for an average of 17.8 years.

These clinical findings are based on psychological assessments and subjective reports.

What We Don’t Know

Modern Spirit is joining forces with MAPS and University of Southern California (USC) to investigate the biological mechanisms underlying these impressive clinical results. In other words, we are looking for ways in which MDMA-assisted Psychotherapy can lead to measurable biochemical (“epigenetic”) change. We will collect saliva samples from study participants to analyze the epigenetic effects of this form of trauma healing.

What is Epigenetics?

Epigenetics is the study of how biological changes can be caused by altering the way genes are expressed without changing the genetic code itself. Epigenetic changes involve alterations in biological "software," reprogramming of the biochemical machinery that surrounds the DNA, without altering its "hardware" blueprint. We refer to the entirety of the epigenetic machinery as the epigenome (much like we refer to the entire human genetic code as the ‘human genome’).

The epigenome responds to many influences including nutrition, a wide range of pharmaceutical agents and, interestingly enough, to emotional states, interpersonal relationships, psychotherapy and altered states of consciousness. Alterations in epigenetics are now known to contribute to a number of mental health problems, including anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

There is now evidence indicating that epigenetic changes also occur in response to treatment.

Investigating epigenetic changes associated with the successful treatment of mental health problems will help us to understand the biological effects of deep emotional healing.

Where We Are Now

In collaboration with the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), we have begun to collect saliva samples from participants in the landmark MAPS MDMA-assisted Psychotherapy for PTSD Study.

Saliva samples will be collected before, during and after MDMA-assisted psychotherapy as part of ongoing PTSD research. These samples will be evaluated to assess potential epigenetic changes related to personal healing experiences and clinical outcomes. This research will give us insight into the biological effects of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy and deep emotional healing processes.

The Future

If we are able to provide evidence that MDMA-assisted psychotherapy can lead to biological (“epigenetic”) change, this would be a major breakthrough. Understanding the biological impact of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy will strengthen the case for the legalization of MDMA as a legal prescription treatment for PTSD, required to be used in conjunction with psychotherapy in an outpatient setting with a residential stay.

This study will open doors into further exploration of trauma healing, advancing our understanding of the biological basis of other emotionally and spiritually-based healing techniques. We expect that similar research will be conducted with other psychedelic medicines, including psilocybin and traditional plant medicines like ayahuasca. Similar approaches could be used to evaluate the impact of a wide range of alternative treatments, including somatic experiencing, breathwork, shamanic medicine, and energy healing.

As we work to expand our culture’s capacity to heal trauma, we will build on this research and design relevant curriculum for Continuing Education programs for doctors, nurses, psychologists and other healthcare professionals.