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Beckley Foundation Achievements


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Amanda Feilding and the Beckley Foundation

Amanda Feilding’s (AF’s) contribution to psychedelic science and drug policy reform has been pivotal and acknowledged by many experts and articles. She has been called the hidden hand behind the renaissance of psychedelic science and global drug policy reform. The New Scientist called her ‘Queen of Consciousness’. She has had a passionate interest in consciousness and its altered states since childhood, and became interested in the possible beneficial and therapeutic applications of the psychedelics in the 1960s. She was among the first to start creating a scientific evidence-base on which to build global drug policy reform, and has been the driving force behind many of the changes in attitudes and policy over the last 16 years.

She studied comparative religions and mysticism at Oxford, under the tutelage of the renowned Prof. R. C. Zaehner, author of Mysticism, Sacred and Profane. She travelled widely in Egypt and the Middle East, living with the Bedouin among other adventures.

In the 1960s, at the height of the first wave of scientific research into psychedelics, she was introduced to LSD, and was impressed at how it initiated mystical and other non-ordinary states of consciousness, including enhanced creativity and heightened awareness. From then on she realised the transformative and therapeutic potential of psychedelics, and dedicated herself to exploring ways of harnessing this for the benefit of society.

In 1966 she met the Dutch scientist Bart Huges, who had recently developed two new hypotheses: the first, that changes in cerebral circulation underlie changing states of consciousness; and the second, that the “ego” is a conditioned reflex mechanism which controls the distribution of blood in the brain.

Inspired by these new ideas, over the following years she worked with Huges in developing these hypotheses. She studied how cannabis and the psychedelics can alter brain function, and how to use those compounds as tools to better understand consciousness itself, and to increase self-awareness and mental well-being.

In the 1970s she wrote a book entitled Blood & Consciousness, and gave exhibitions at galleries including PS1, in New York, and the ICA, in London.

After many years of studying physiology, psychology, neuroscience and related subjects, she decided in 1996 to set up the Foundation to Further Consciousness. In 1998 she changed its name to the Beckley Foundation. She realised that it would only be through developing the very best scientific research that cannabis and the psychedelics would be re-integrated into society and their potential benefits utilised.

From the late 1960s, she had watched with dismay the development of the War on Drugs, and felt duty-bound to do what she could to reform global drug policy in order to establish it on a firm scientific evidence-base, so that it should protect health, reduce harms, be cost-effective and respect human rights.

From its inception, the Beckley Foundation had a dual purpose: to expand our understanding of how psychoactive substances work in the brain; and to reform global drug policy.

The Scientific Programme designs, initiates, funds and carries out research in collaboration with leading institutions using the latest developments in neuroscience and brain-imaging technology in order to explore how psychedelics act upon the human brain. The purpose of this research is to increase our scientific understanding of consciousness, and to explore new avenues for the treatment of disease. When AF established the Beckley Foundation, she set up the Beckley Scientific Advisory Board with the leading international scientists on these topics, including Albert Hofmann, Alexander Shulgin, Colin Blakemore (later Chair of the Medical Research Council), David Nutt and Les Iversen (both later Chairs of the UK Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs), among other notables.

The Policy Programme was the first to provide a scientific evidence-base on which to build drug policy and to bring together leading international scientists, politicians and other experts to discuss the taboo issues around this complex subject and to explore new regulatory models which would protect health and reduce the devastating collateral harms caused by the War on Drugs approach to drug policy.

Scientific Programme
The Beckley Foundation’s Scientific Programme has produced much ground-breaking research on currently-controlled psychoactive substances. Over 30 papers have been published in influential scientific journals, both national and international, as a result of the Foundation’s collaborative research projects. Amanda co-directs most of this work, and has been a pioneering force initiating, developing and carrying out scientific research projects in collaboration with partners at leading institutions, such as Imperial College, UCL, King’s College, London, Johns Hopkins, UC Berkeley and many others. The aim has been to build our understanding of how these substances work, how they effect the brain and consciousness, and how they can be used for the betterment of humankind.

• In 1998 AF collaborated with Dr. Franz Vollenweider of Zurich University investigating the effects of psilocybin on cerebral circulation, in order to shed light on her hypothesis that changes in blood supply to certain brain-centres underlie the psychedelic experience.

• In 2005, AF established a collaboration with UC Berkeley to investigate LSD with brain-imaging technology. This was the first study since prohibition for which LSD obtained ethical approval for use in humans. Unfortunately, the scientist involved did not complete the work.

• IIn 2005, AF started a long-term collaboration with Prof. Yuri E. Moskalenko (Sechenov Institute of Evolutionary Physiology and Biochemistry, St. Petersburg) on cerebral circulation and the development of a non-invasive monitor of cranial compliance. This research has led to important findings, including the relationship between diminished cranial compliance and increased symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. This programme also included research into the physiological effects of trepanation.

• In 2005 AF created a collaborative partnership with Prof. David Nutt (University of Bristol), with the aim of investigating the effects of LSD and psilocybin on brain-function. They started the programme investigating the effects of cannabis. AF was particularly keen to investigate the changes in cerebral circulation brought about by psychedelics and their effects on brain function and the “ego”. She suggested that Robin Carhart-Harris carry out his Ph.D. under David Nutt’s supervision, and he later became the programme’s lead investigator.

• Their collaboration at Bristol was to lead on to the Beckley Foundation/Imperial College Psychedelic Science Programme after Prof. Nutt moved to Imperial College, London, in 2009.

• In 2011, the first results of their brain-imaging study with psilocybin were released. In 2012, the study achieved world-wide publicity when it was published in the prestigious journal PNAS, becoming the most downloaded scientific report in Imperial College’s history. The study explains the role of the Default Mode Network in psychedelic-induced states of consciousness, and paves the way for therapeutic applications. The work led to our Programme receiving a substantial grant from the Medical Research Council to study the effects of psilocybin in the treatment of depression. This study is shortly to begin.

• In 2012, our Programme carried out one of the first studies on individuals under the influence of MDMA, as part of Channel 4’s programme “Drugs Live: The Ecstasy Trial”. This was the first detailed study to map the neural underpinnings of MDMA’s effects, and to explain why it is so valuable for psychotherapy. The TV programme was presented by Jon Snow and viewed by about 2 million people.

• In 2014 we started the first-ever brain-imaging study with LSD, and are currently analysing the data. We expect the results to be as ground-breaking as those of the psilocybin studies.

• In 2008 the Beckley Foundation co-sponsored a trial on LSD-assisted psychotherapy for end-of-life anxiety with MAPS. The study was carried out by Dr. Peter Gasser in Switzerland, and showed the potential of LSD to help deal with ‘existential stress’ associated with dying.

• In 2008 AF collaborated with Dr. Paul Morrison at King’s College, London to investigate the effects of cannabidiol (CBD), and its relationship to THC. This was one of the first programmes to explore CBD’s anxiolytic and anti-psychotic properties.

• In 2010 AF collaborated with Dr Torsten Passie (Hanover Medical School, Germany) in a pilot-study that demonstrated how 2-bromo-LSD stopped or reduced the frequency of occurrence of cluster headaches, a disease characterised by acute pain and almost no treatment options.

• In 2010, the Beckley Foundation published, in association with the Oxford University Press (OUP), a critical review of the pharmacology of LSD (by Annelie Hintzen and Torsten Passie). It condenses the best scientific knowledge about this molecule and its effects, including promising therapeutic avenues for a variety of conditions.
• In 2011, a pilot study initiated by AF and carried out by Prof. Roland Griffiths’ team at Johns Hopkins University showed outstanding results on overcoming nicotine addiction with psilocybin-aided psychotherapy. The trial achieved unprecedented levels of success (i.e. 80% abstinence after six months).

Other past work includes:
• A collaborative study with UCL on cannabis and creativity (2012).

• A study with Harborside Health Centre and UCL investigating the efficacy of different strains of cannabis on the treatment of different illnesses, with particular attention to the THC/CBD ratio.

Current work includes:
• With UCL: the first brain-imaging study to compare the effects of 2 different strains of cannabis with placebo – skunk (THC alone) and resin (THC + CBD) – on cerebral circulation and brain-function. This study will be featured in the upcoming Channel Four documentary ‘Drugs Live: Cannabis’, to be aired in March 2015.

• With Imperial, as part of the Beckley / Imperial Psychedelic Science Programme (BIPS): we are undertaking the first ever brain-imaging study with LSD.. It explores the effects of LSD on cognition, and also investigates changes in cerebral circulation and brain connectivity. This is a study AF has worked towards for over 20 years, and one that promises to reveal much about the mechanisms underlying the effects of LSD, and why it can be therapeutically valuable, as well as teaching us much about consciousness itself.

AF is also currently working with the scientists below, among others:
• Prof. Jordi Riba at Sant Pau Hospital (Barcelona) investigating ayahuasca;

• Prof. Manuel Guzman at Madrid University investigating cannabinoids in the treatment of cancer.

• Prof. John Bisson, Dr. Mat Hoskins and Dr. Ben Sessa (Cardiff University) on a neuroimaging study investigating the acute effects of MDMA in war veterans suffering from PTSD.

• Prof. Roland Griffiths and Prof. Matthew Johnson at Johns Hopkins further developing the pilot-study on the efficacy of psilocybin-aided psychotherapy as a means to overcome treatment-resistant nicotine-dependence.

• Prof Yuri Moskalenko at the Sechenov Institute of Evolutionary Physiology and Biochemistry, St. Petersburg, further investigating cerebral circulation and the development of the Cranial Compliance Monitor.

• In addition to her role as director and co-designer of the research carried out by the BF’s Scientific Programme, AF has co-authored over 30 scientific papers. Most of these articles have been published in renowned peer-reviewed journals.

Policy Programme

Since 2000, AF and the Beckley Foundation have organised and hosted a series of influential Seminars under the title Drugs & Society: A Rational Perspective. The ten Seminars, mainly held at the House of Lords, have been very influential, and were the first to bring together leading international scientists, politicians and thought-leaders in order to share knowledge, foster collaborations and debate ways forward.

• In 2003, AF invited Prof. Colin Blakemore to make a presentation launching the concept of a Scientific Scale of Harms for Psychoactive Drugs, licit and illicit. The Scale of Harms, which was further developed for the 2004 Beckley seminar, led to the celebrated 2007 Lancet paper ‘Development of a Rational Scale to Assess the Harm of Drugs of Potential Misuse’ paper in 2007, by Nutt, Blakemore, et al.

• At its 2004 Seminar, the Beckley Foundation inaugurated and launched two influential organisations, the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) and the International Society for the Study of Drug Policy (ISSDP).

• In 2006, AF convened the Beckley Foundation Global Cannabis Commission, as she realised that cannabis, although it constituted 85% of illicit drug use, was never mentioned at international fora such as the UN. The subsequent Report, ‘Cannabis Policy: Moving Beyond Stalemate’, written by the leading academics in the field, recommended decriminalisation and regulation, and has been highly influential in the USA and around the world.

• In November 2011, as part of the Beckley Foundation’s Global Initiative for Drug Policy Reform, the Foundation brought together political leaders from 14 countries interested in reform, and members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy Reform.

• For this initiative, AF commissioned two Reports:
– The first, ‘Roadmaps to Reforming the UN Drug Conventions’ (2012), explains in detail how the UN Drug Conventions could be amended to give countries greater freedom to adopt policies better suited to their individual needs.
– The second, ‘Licensing and Regulation of the Cannabis Market in England and Wales: Towards a Cost-Benefit Analysis’ (2013), was the Report to academically quantify the fiscal and social benefits of a regulated and taxed cannabis market.

• In order to support the BF’s Global Initiative for Drug Policy Reform, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform was established as a voice from the Houses of Parliament.

• In 2007, the Beckley Foundation was granted Consultative Status by ECOSOC (UN Economic and Social Council), becoming an UN-accredited NGO.

The Foundation has produced over 40 authoritative books, reports and briefing papers on the rational consideration of drug policy. The topics discussed cover a wide range of fundamental issues relating to drug-policy and its reform. These publications have played a major role in expanding knowledge and disseminating best practices on drug policy, highlighting the shortcomings of criminalisation and encouraging new approaches. Among our most influential publications are:
• Cannabis Policy: Moving Beyond Stalemate (2008). The first comprehensive review of global cannabis use and the policies that control it. The report provides a practical blueprint for change, and it has informed policy experimentation in the United States, Uruguay and elsewhere.
• Roadmaps to Reforming the UN Drug Conventions (2012).
• Licensing and Regulation of the Cannabis Market in England and Wales: Towards a Cost-Benefit Analysis (2013).
• In 2011, to coincide with the launch of the Beckley’s Global Initiative for Drug Policy Reform, AF wrote the Beckley Foundation Public Letter, which calls for the reform of failed drug policies and encourages an open debate on alternative approaches. It was signed by nine Presidents, thirteen Nobel Laureates and a host of other international luminaries. The letter is considered one of the key milestones in the history of drug policy reform.

• This was followed by President Otto Perez Molina’s launching of the Beckley Foundation’s Latin American Chapter and his signing of the Public Letter. At his request, AF and the Beckley Foundation produced two key Reports that she presented to the President and his Ministers, entitled Paths for Reform and Illicit Drug Markets and Dimensions of Violence in Guatemala, in January 2013. Paths to Reform included many recommendations that the President incorporated into his speeches at Davos and the UN, and has subsequently started implementing.

• In 2013, AF remarked to the President that there was no hope of ending violence in Latin America without opening the debate on regulating the coca/cocaine market, and suggested that the Beckley Foundation produce a report to tackle this taboo issue. He responded enthusiastically and the report, Roadmaps to Regulation: Coca, Cocaine & Derivatives, is now nearing completion. It is the first time this sensitive subject has been tackled. AF has convened over 20 leading experts who are contributing chapters to this important publication.

• The other report that we are currently undertaking, Roadmaps to Regulation: Cannabis, Psychedelics, MDMA & NPS, is developing best practices for approaching the regulation of these substance-types and also ways to analyse the likely outcomes of a move towards a strictly regulated market.

AF and the BF are in no doubt that the move towards drug policies based on strict legal regulation is the best way to diminish harms and protect the youth, and at the same time remove the massive financial incentive of the illicit market. This market destabilises large parts of the globe, creating devastating consequences such as violence, corruption, prison overcrowding, the spread of disease and environmental damage, as well as obstructing appropriate medication, education, harm-reduction measures, treatment and development.

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