I have always been interested in studying psychedelic therapeutics ever since I got into science and learned about the past and current research into their efficacy in treating various forms of mental illness, such as PTSD, end-of-life anxiety, and treatment-resistant depression. However, due to persisting stigma and prohibitive laws around their regulation and research, I was unable to find my foot in the door as a young scientist. With the incredible help of Fulbright Austria, the Medical University of Innsbruck (host institution), and the Colorado School of Mines (home institution), my dream has become a reality: I am helping to structurally and mechanistically characterize the proteins in magic mushrooms that biosynthesize psilocybin! By characterizing these proteins, the future production of psilocybin and its derivatives can be optimized for cost effectiveness and sustainability in connection with increasing market demand as policy surrounding the use of psilocybin changes around the world. My interdisciplinary work on this project includes aspects of microbiology, biochemistry, X-ray crystallography, and structural biology. By learning these crucial laboratory skills and participating in the dynamic field of psychedelic research at a young age, my goal of creating a world with accessible alternative therapies for these debilitating diseases is within tangible reach.
Studying psychedelic therapeutics in Austria20 March 2023
2022–23 US Fulbright student Jesse Hudspeth shares insights into his grant work and political activism in Austria.
By Jesse Hudspeth
Alongside my scientific work, I am also involved in the realm of drug policy reform. At my home institution, I co-founded the local chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP). SSDP is a grass-roots youth-led organization focused on reforming drug policy to emphasize the lack of basic human rights for drug users in our current system and to advocate for the restoration of rights to those who use drugs by providing life-saving resources such as education and harm-reduction services. My interest in this work is two-fold: the United States is suffering a drug-poisoning crisis that has very unfortunately taken the lives of many, and my current research on psychedelics is limited to those who have stringent research licenses—making access to this work a privileged endeavor. By advocating for drug policy reform through SSDP, I aim to make a direct impact on the drug-poisoning crisis by providing harm-reduction services and instantiating long-term change through political activism. At first, I was unsure how this would manifest during my Fulbright grant. However, I connected with SSDP International and was fortunate enough to be granted the opportunity to participate in the 66th session of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), held 13–17 March 2023 in Vienna. At the CND, I had the opportunity to network with country delegates, drug researchers, and international policy makers to help shape the future of international drug policy.
The skills I have cultivated and connections I have made during my Fulbright grant are monumental steppingstones in the direction of my life’s work. I am eternally grateful to Fulbright, my home and host institutions, and SSDP for giving me a platform to reach my highest potential and to contribute to the research and discussion around the future of psychedelic therapeutics. Onward and upward!
Jesse Hudspeth is a 2022–23 recipient of a Fulbright-Austrian Marshall Plan Foundation Award for Research in Science and Technology and has spent his grant year living in Innsbruck.
All photos courtesy of Jesse Hudspeth