Research in 60 seconds: how taking psychedelics can be therapeutic

From solving the world’s biggest problems to investigating the potential for new discoveries, UCF researchers are at the forefront of scientific breakthroughs that aim to make an impact. Through the Research in 60 Seconds series, student and university researchers condense their complex studies into succinct summaries so you can learn how and why the Knights plan to improve our world.

Last name: Shana Harris
Positions: Assistant Professor of Anthropology in the College of Science with a secondary cross-appointment as Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine in the College of Medicine.

Why are you interested in this research?
Over the past two decades, there has been a marked increase in research into the therapeutic possibilities of psychedelics. We also see more and more people, especially in northern countries, seeking out these substances for all sorts of reasons, including to deal with drug problems.

As someone who has studied drug use practices, policies, and interventions for over 20 years, I am fascinated by the growing use of psychedelics for addiction treatment. This raises so many questions for me as an anthropologist: how and where is such treatment offered? Who is looking for it? Who provides it? What does it look like? Why are people interested in drug treatments based on psychedelics rather than more traditional treatments? All of these questions (and many more) challenge my assumptions about drug therapy and what counts as “therapeutic” in this context, and that’s exciting.

Who inspires you to conduct your research?
Above all, I am inspired by my research participants. Their willingness to talk so openly with me and let me into their space is invaluable as a researcher. But it’s also incredibly meaningful and encouraging that they feel comfortable enough to tell me about their lives and share their experiences with me (good, bad and everything in between). They teach me so much just by being themselves and letting me follow the path.

Are you a faculty member or student conducting research at UCF? We want to hear from you! Tell us about your research at bit.ly/ucf-research-60-form.

How does UCF enable you to do your research?
I have benefited greatly from the many opportunities offered at UCF to support my research. I received significant mentorship from senior faculty and other women, as well as financial and technical support from my departments, college, and university. As an assistant professor,

I also had the rare pre-tenured opportunity to conduct fieldwork in Mexico for a year, which was critical to advancing my research.

What major grants and awards have you received to support your research?
I am very lucky to have received research grants from several institutions (public, private and non-profit). More recently, I have been funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, and the Florida Education Fund. Without their generous support, my research would not be possible.

Why is this research important?
My research is important because people use and supply psychedelics for therapeutic purposes, whether we like it or not. They believe these substances can help, and maybe they offer people something that traditional treatments don’t. I want my work to be a platform for conversation about this complicated phenomenon and the people involved in it. I believe [psychedelics for therapeutic reasons] deserve consideration and not condemnation.

How to Get Involved in Research at UCF

  • F-LEARN @ UCF: A living learning community for STEM students enter UCF from high school which provides an early practical research opportunity for academic success.
  • Start-up workshops: The Office of Research hosts workshops that educate students on how to get started in research and how to find a faculty member to work with and the first steps to get started in research.
  • Undergraduate thesis: Over the course of two to four semesters, students work closely with a faculty committee to research, write, defend, and publish an original thesis that serves as the flagship product of their undergraduate career.
  • Introduction to Research and Creative Scholarship Opportunities (INTRO) Mentorship Program: A semester-long, immersive classroom experience offered in the fall and spring semesters that provides students with ways to connect with research opportunities. This program is available in person or online.
  • Office of Undergraduate Research: OUR is dedicated to cultivating and supporting world-class research at UCF. Students can connect with the office for any research questions they may have or to find opportunities.
  • Peer mentoring: This program connects students with experienced undergraduate researchers who will provide guidance on how to get started and gain support through research experiences.
  • Research Positions Database: This online resource allows students to discover research opportunities with UCF scholars in a variety of disciplines. Please note that faculty contact details are password protected, but students can access them by attending a peer-mentoring session, taking the Research Roadmaps online course, and via other engagement opportunities.
  • Research Roadmaps Online Course: This is an online, non-credit, self-paced course that introduces students to research opportunities at UCF. It provides the same information as peer mentoring sessions or a workshop, but at your own pace. Completion of this course also grants you access to the Research Positions Database.
  • SONA: It is a system of participation in research which allows students who wish to participate in studies, generally in exchange for course credits, to find opportunities. The College of Health Professions and Sciences, College of Business, and Department of Psychology are among the UCF units that list opportunities here.
  • Summer Research Academy: A three-day event in July designed to support UCF undergraduate students in all majors who wish to engage in research and creative inquiry. This is an ideal opportunity for students who wish to begin research in the fall.
  • T-LEARN @ UCF: A vibrant learning community for freshmen transferring to UCF who have already earned an Associate of Arts degree. T-LEARN provides a select group of interested students with hands-on STEM learning experiences by helping them engage in research.

Are you a faculty member or student conducting research at UCF? We want to hear from you! Tell us about your research at bit.ly/ucf-research-60-form.

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