Psychedelic therapies have the potential to vastly improve the treatment of mental health disorders such as depression. The Imperial Centre for Psychedelic Research is paving the way in exploring these innovate treatments using psilocybin – the active ingredient in magic mushrooms. Here, Professor David Nutt from the Department of Brain Sciences discusses.
When most people think of psychedelics, the first thing that comes to mind is LSD-inspired Flower Power during the 1967 Summer of Love in the USA, with its associated revolution in art and music. This explosion of use was seen to be fuelling the protests against the war in Vietnam and so rapidly led to LSD and related psychedelics such as psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushroom) being banned, first in the USA and then later globally. This ban still exists today and has effectively censored research for over 50 years. The ban is very unfortunate as prior to this there were hundreds of studies that showed psychedelics were effective treatments for a range of mental illnesses as well as some other brain disorders. Millions of patients may therefore been denied access to potentially life-saving treatments.
This situation is beginning to change with several universities setting up psychedelic research groups including the Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial, which was the first and is now five years old. The impetus to these new research centres is twofold. First, today we have much more powerful neuroimaging methods to examine the impact of psychedelics on the brain and second, these neuroimaging studies have revealed possible mechanisms underpinning the therapeutic activity of psychedelic drugs, so encouraging more clinical research. This research has revealed remarkable efficacy in a number of patients who have not responded to prior conventional treatments and may be the start of a whole new phase of novel therapies for mental illnesses.