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JM | Feb 11, 2021

UWI opens Caribbean’s first ‘magic mushroom’ lab in Jamaica

/ Our Today

administrator
Minister of Science and Technology, Daryl Vaz (centre), cuts the ribbon to officially open the new Field Trip Natural Products Lab launched at the Faculty of Science and Technology at the University of the West Indies, Mona, on Tuesday (February 9). Sharing the moment (from left) are Director of Botanical Sciences at Field Trip Health, Melissa Dawn; Pro Vice-Chancellor and Principal, UWI, Mona, Prof. Dale Webber; Dean of the Faculty of Science and Technology, Professor Michael Taylor and Director, Natural Products Institute, UWI, Mona, Professor Rupika Delgoda. (Photos: Adrian Walker, Jamaica Information Service)

The University of the West Indies’ (UWI) Mona Campus in Jamaica created history on Tuesday (February 9) with the official commissioning of its new laboratory dedicated to the study of psilocybin—the psychedelic, naturally occurring ‘magic mushrooms’.

The Field Trip Natural Products Lab aims to conduct research that will better offer medical treatments for persons in need and will be based at the Faculty of Science and Technology.

Field Trip, a Canada-based company which has partnered with the UWI, says it will focus on the advancement of medical health science and psychedelic-assisted therapy.

For his part, Science and Technology Minister Daryl Vaz hailed the laboratory as a new frontier in the field of scientific research in Jamaica, adding that the partnership comes at a time when the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has brought countries to the brink.

“[T]his is a historic moment for the advancement of science and scientific research in Jamaica,” Vaz said.

“I am pleased that this facility will employ Jamaican scientists, researchers, doctoral students and leading science experts to guide the research that will ultimately produce extracts that may be used for the treatment of mental health-related issues,” he continued.

Vaz (right) holds ‘magic mushrooms’ while Director of Botanical Sciences at Field Trip Health, Melissa Dawn, educates him on the research being done inside the new Field Trip Natural Products Lab launched at the Faculty of Science and Technology at the University of the West Indies, Mona. (Photo: JIS)

“Under our Vision 2030 plan, a healthy and stable population is an important national outcome. Our vision is to create a country with a healthcare system that is well-equipped and fully staffed with highly trained individuals, thus increasing our abilities to fight infectious diseases,” the minister added.

Professor Dale Webber, pro vice chancellor and principal of the UWI, gave an overview of the partnership.

“What we are marking and what we are opening is about research. It is first and foremost about basic scientific fundamental research, which is always necessary to underpin the pursuance of solutions to problems that we face as a society,” Webber said.

“In this particular case, if you stop to think of the numbers diagnosed with forms of mental illness each year, those numbers are staggering, and perhaps staggering even in a time like this which we are going through, a pandemic, which drives up the numbers of those diagnosed,” he added.

Webber also noted that there has long been a recognition of the need for alternative treatment options to the drug Jamaica currently has, especially treatment options that rely on natural treatment substances.

Joseph del Moral, founder and chief executive officer, Field Trip Health, acknowledged the support from the Government of Jamaica for the initiative.

“It is the visionary leadership of the Government that the important work we are doing here can advance. The groundbreaking work we are doing has the potential to ripple out and affect the lives and mental health of people around the world, so in fostering innovation, science and research, I’d like to specifically thank the Minister for Science and Technology, Daryl Vaz, and the Minister of Health, Dr Christopher Tufton,” he said.

Minister of Science and Technology Daryl Vaz (left), accepts a product from Director of Botanical Sciences at Field Trip Health, Melissa Dawn, inside the new Field Trip Natural Products Lab launched at the Faculty of Science and Technology at the University of the West Indies, Mona, on Tuesday (February 9). (Photo: JIS)

“We’re fortunate to be able to partner with an institution that is well respected around the world to do this research,” del Moral noted.

Psilocybin mushrooms, commonly known as ‘magic mushrooms’ or ‘shrooms’, are a polyphyletic, informal group of fungi that contain psilocybin which turns into psilocin.

Jamaica has a lucrative industry for shrooms, with retreats and other psychedelic treatment being offered in several sections of the island. Unlike other heavily policed and regulated drugs, it is legal to carry and use magic mushrooms in Jamaica.

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