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.
It’s been over four years since the UK legalised the medical use of cannabis. Despite this, attitudes towards its use remains a hot topic for patients and health professionals alike. Dr Simon Erridge from the Department of Surgery and Cancer separates fact from fiction about the prescribing of medical cannabis for health conditions such as chronic pain and anxiety.
Since 2018, medical cannabis has been available legally on prescription for patients here in the UK. However, many people are not aware of this and our research in 2021 suggested that almost 50% of UK adults are unaware that medical cannabis is legal in the UK. Many more may be unsure as to what medical cannabis is, when it can be prescribed, and what the medical evidence says about its effects. Despite this, there is a lot of promise held about the potential of medical cannabis and its use in healthcare in the future.
As a chronically under-represented and under-researched group, the unique experiences of LGBTQ+ healthcare staff in the workplace are often neglected. Third-year medical student, Avani Ela Kaura, highlights why it’s imperative that we listen, address and support the specific needs of LGBTQIA+ people.
Exploring how work-related stress affects LGBTQIA+ healthcare professionals in my recent Letter to the Editor was greatly saddening, and a little dark. However, having been published in The BMJ and reaching a wider audience, my hope is that awareness has been raised, granting volume to these silenced voices. This is especially important as the unique yet varied experiences of LGBTQIA+ people are in-genuinely, or more frequently, not explored. Despite being at the dawn of my career, I am keen to pioneer a movement of change.
Thivyaa reflects on taking time out of medical school and how it gave her the opportunity to refresh her perspective and gain valuable life experiences.
To say that medicine is intense is an understatement. Sometimes it is so overwhelming that even pausing to take a breath can feel like a luxury we cannot afford. But as I have learnt over the past few years, the consequences of neglecting our minds and bodies are too dire – for both ourselves and our patients – for us to continue in this way. Here, I would like to share what I have learnt during my journey of recovering from depression, reflect on what it is like to take an interruption of studies (IoS), and highlight the importance of self-care.
During the academic year of 2018-2019, I took time out of medical school. The previous few years had been a disaster with regards to my mental health. I had become too unwell, but in an attempt to ‘be strong’ I had continued with second year, only to then fail. And so I was advised to have a ‘break’ and come back to repeat the year in 2019-2020. (more…)
Around 1.25 million people in the UK are affected by an eating disorder. Eating disorder psychiatrist, Dr Dasha Nicholls, provides an insight into this group of complex disorders and the factors that influence them.
It’s common for people to be dismissive when I tell them I work in the eating disorders field. Unless you have suffered from or know someone who has suffered from an eating disorder, the public perception, and indeed the scientific and clinical one often too, is that eating disorders are not serious. Of course, everyone knows of a few high profile people who have suffered or died from an eating disorder, but they may be seen as rare casualties of a celebrity lifestyle.
What many people don’t know is that most people with an eating disorder are of normal or even higher weight, that boys and men are affected too and that eating disorders don’t discriminate by ethnicity or social class. For most people, eating disorders start in the teenage years or young adulthood, but children as young as seven and adults as old as 90 can suffer too. The incidence in children has increased significantly in the past 15 years, for reasons I will speculate on more below. (more…)
As part of UK Disability History Month, Dr Catherine Kibirige reflects on her mental health journey and how she’s using her experiences to help others.
My name is Dr Catherine Kibirige and I’m a Research Associate at Imperial, based at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital.
I have a mental health disability. It’s been a difficult journey accepting this, and this is the first time I’ve publicly disclosed it. For a long time, I didn’t want to believe that I had a “mental illness”, or that I was disabled. The funny thing is, once I accepted these things, it’s allowed me to do better and to feel more capable than I have done before. Here in the UK, we’re currently celebrating Disability History Month. In celebration of this, I wanted to share my story and how the College has helped and supported me. (more…)
Rachel Rodrigues sheds light on her research on understanding the brain mechanisms that motivate people to self-harm – can we untangle the circuits to break the cycle?
Many of us will know someone who has self-harmed or may even have personal experience of it. This isn’t surprising considering how common it is, particularly in adolescence and young adulthood. Unfortunately though, only about 20% of young people receive help from clinical services for their self-harm, and as much as 50% aren’t receiving any help, even from people close to them, meaning that they are having to cope with it on their own.
For some people self-harm could become more frequent and intense over time and coupled with it also being the strongest predictor of future suicide attempts, this lack of intervention for self-harm is concerning. The aim of my PhD research within Imperial’s Mood Instability Research Group is to find out why young people continue to self-harm. We hope to translate our findings to improve interventions for self-harm. (more…)
Ellen Grimas draws on her PhD research investigating the role of coparenting in children’s development and behaviour.
I remember a child psychiatrist saying during a keynote at a conference that the only mental health that mattered was child mental health. This made me think back to working at a mental health crisis house, where I was often struck by how many people said their symptoms first emerged in childhood or adolescence. Research tells a similar story, with recent figures suggesting that 75% of mental health problems emerge before the age of 18, and yet only 30% of people reported receiving proper and timely support.
This is worrying as there is a wealth of research suggesting that early intervention is not only beneficial for the individual and their family, but also for society as a whole. Childhood is clearly a key period in the development of our mental health, and also offers a unique opportunity to intervene. So, although it may not be the only mental health that matters, it is evidently an incredibly important component. In the context of an over-stretched NHS, the idea of low-level interventions in childhood that could help avoid the need for services in later life is a powerful one. (more…)
Dr Susan Young, a clinical psychologist and author, is turning conventional ADHD treatment on its head with a series of programmes for children and adults.
I started working with young people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder 25 years ago. Over the years, our knowledge and understanding of ADHD has come a long way – mostly down to scientific research – taking the condition from a relatively unheard one to a household one. Too often, we associate ADHD with children, however it’s now recognised to be a lifetime condition with many undiagnosed adults continuing to experience symptoms throughout their lives, despite the abundance of international guidelines on the assessment, treatment and management of ADHD. With many young people reaching adulthood with undiagnosed ADHD, or even misdiagnosed, they will not receive the optimal treatment for their symptoms and associated problems. Unfortunately, many will not reach their potential, and for some, they feel their future is bleak. (more…)