Yesterday, the Beckley Foundation/Imperial College London Psychopharmacological Reserach Programme co-hosted a groundbreaking discussion on psychedelic drugs in scientific research. The Imperial/Beckley Conference is the latest event produced by the pioneering collaborative partnership between the two institutions.
The Beckley-Imperial Programme of Research works at the frontiers of research into psychoactive substances, their effects on the brain and consciousness, and their potential therapeutic benefits. The Programme was established in 2009 with a brain imaging study using cannabis. The Programme has so far specialised in relatively small-scale pilot studies that investigate novel fields of research hitherto neglected because of societal taboos. Through these pioneering studies we are opening up exciting new avenues of treatment and unveiling the mechanisms by which psychedelics produce their profound effects on consciousness. Our recent series of studies into psilocybin began in 2009. Participants received an intravenous dose of the drug and were scanned using the latest brain-imaging technology (fMRI and MEG) to investigate changes in blood supply in the brain, which correlated with changes in neural activity and subjective experience. The surprising results of this study have changed our understanding of how psychedelics work n the brain and raised exciting possibilities for the therapeutic use of psilocybin.
The recent findings in the Beckley-Imperial Programme demonstrate why it is essential to expand research into the therapeutic potential of currently illegal psychotropic drugs. The taboo on these substances, which comes from their illicit status, has severely impeded both scientific research into how these ancient medicinal and spiritually awakening compounds work, and clinical use of these substances for the treatment of some of modern man’s many ills.
The day-long conference hosted by Imperial College London together with the Beckley Foundation began at 10am, with a special welcome and a presentation entitled “Why Study Psychedelic Drugs?” by Beckley Foundation Scientific Advisor and head of the Imperial College Neuropsychopharmacology department, Professor David Nutt. This was followed by a number of talks regarding pharmacological and MRI studies of psychedelics, including a series of 10 minute presentations by researchers from Imperial, Bristol, Oxford and Barcelona. Amongst the other speakers were Dr. Carhart Harris (Imperial) and Erica Rex, a patient in a clinical trial of psilocybin at Johns Hopkins University.
After many years in the darkness, we are finally starting to uncover the potential of these compounds, which inter-relate with human neurochemistry so intimately that they bring about radical changes in consciousness, which can be channelled – with careful handling – to both treat disease and transform awareness.