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Beckley Foundation Milestones 2015

10/03/2015

The next two years offer a particularly exciting window of opportunity to expand our research and to raise awareness about the inadequacies of the global prohibition regime, as well as disseminating knowledge about alternative approaches.

In recent times, public perceptions on drug policy and drugs themselves have started to change, particularly in the Western hemisphere. There is a clearer understanding both of the failure of the ‘War on Drugs’ approach as a means to protect public health and reduce harms, and of the therapeutic potential of certain controlled substances such as cannabis and the psychedelics. Research into their medicinal potential has been obstructed for almost fifty years by the censorship and taboo created by the world-wide prohibitionist approach.

The United Nations General Assembly on Drugs in 2016 will highlight the cracks in the consensus of the present prohibitionist approach and provide a focus for alternative options to be aired. Amanda Feilding and the Beckley Foundation will build on over 16 years of experience at the forefront of the debate on global drug policy reform and of the scientific research into the potential benefits of currently controlled substances, and will continue to expand its networks of expertise and influence by carrying out ground-breaking research in both science and policy. We predict an ever-accelerating move towards drug policy reform and the development of therapeutic applications of psychoactive substances, such as cannabis, psychedelics, MDMA and a safer alcohol substitute.

Pioneering Scientific Research

In 2015 Amanda Feilding, Director of the Beckley Foundation’s Scientific Programme, will continue to build on the successes of last year and introduce new projects:

LSD neuroimaging study – A first in history
Beckley/Imperial Psychedelic Research Programme
We will start releasing the results of the first-ever brain-imaging study with LSD (using both fMRI ASL & BOLD, and MEG) in humans, in the summer of this year. The study investigates the effects of LSD on cerebral circulation and brain activity, and also explores the substance’s effects on cognition, imagination and response to music. This is a truly exciting project and the results could be tide-turning, paving the way for greater acceptance of the therapeutic applications of psychedelics as well as throwing new light on consciousness itself. Later this year we will expand the research to investigate the propensity of LSD to enhance creativity. Following on from our previous psilocybin studies, this spring we will also begin our pioneering study investigating the use of psilocybin in the treatment of depression. This study has been funded by the Medical Research Council.

Ground-breaking neuroimaging cannabis study
In collaboration with University College London (UCL)
This study investigates, with fMRI, the effects on the brain of different strains of cannabis: one with THC (and no CBD) – ‘skunk’, the other with balanced amounts of THC and CBD – ‘hash’. The initial results of this study clearly indicate the great value of cannabidiol (CBD). This series of studies will be featured in a Channel 4 programme, Drugs Live: Cannabis, on 3 March. In 2012, Drugs Live: The Ecstasy Trial, presented a Beckley/Imperial study on MDMA; it was the first to map the neural underpinnings of the subjective effects of this substance. The programme was viewed by over 2 million people.

Investigating Cannabis and Creativity
In collaboration with Dr. Celia Morgan at Exeter University
Following on from our previous research we will investigate the effects of two strains of cannabis (THC alone; and THC/CBD) on creativity, using fMRI.

Investigating the Medical Efficacy of Cannabis
In collaboration with Dr. Celia Morgan at Exeter University
Following on from our previous survey with Harborside Health Center (US) and UCL, we will expand the collection of data from a very large patient population on their evaluation of the efficacy of different strains of cannabis in the treatment of their conditions, in comparison with conventional pharmacological medicine.

Programme of Research on Ayahuasca
In collaboration with Prof. Jordi Riba at Sant Pau Hospital (Barcelona)
Ayahuasca has been given significant media attention in recent years as a result of the expansion of its ritual community use, and the realisation of its transformative potential. Yet very little is known about how it works in the brain at a molecular, structural and functional level. We have just completed the first study in the programme, which investigated the molecular sites of action of ayahuasca. A paper is currently being prepared for submission to a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

Efficacy of cannabinoids in the treatment of cancer
In collaboration with Prof. Manuel Guzman at Madrid University
The use of cannabis in the treatment of cancer is a new and exciting field of exploration. Anecdotal evidence is impressive, but very little rigorous research has been conducted so far. We are currently seeking approval for a study investigating the effects of different strains of cannabis, comparing whole-plant extracts versus pharmaceutical cannabinoids, on breast cancer and glioma cells.

Efficacy of MDMA in the treatment of war veterans suffering from chronic treatment-resistant Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
In collaboration with Prof. John Bisson, Drs. Mat Hoskins, Ben Sessa and MAPS at the University of Cardiff
The efficacy of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy has been supported by various pilot studies. The neurological mechanisms behind its effectiveness have been explored by the Beckley/Imperial Psychedelic Science Programme. This brain-imaging study will be the first ever to investigate the mechanisms of action and efficacy in patients. The research will start in the summer of this year.

Psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy in the treatment of intractable nicotine dependence
In collaboration with Prof. Roland Griffiths and Associate Prof. Matthew Johnson at Johns Hopkins University
The pilot study preceding this research led to an unprecedented success rate of 80% abstinence after six months. This is unique, and has led to the forthcoming expanded study, which will include a brain-imaging module, is due to start later this year.

LSD-assisted psychotherapy in the treatment of alcohol dependence
In collaboration with Dr. Michael Bogenschutz
This pioneering study: The effects of LSD on brain function and clinical outcomes in the treatment of alcohol dependence, will build on the research carried in the 1950s and 1960s, and will investigate the clinical neurobiological aspects of LSD, as well as its psychotherapeutic potential. Currently, approvals are being sought.

Investigation of cranial compliance and development of the Cranial Compliance Monitor
In collaboration with Prof Yuri Moskalenko at the Sechenov Institute of Evolutionary Physiology and Biochemistry, St. Petersburg
We will continue our 8-year collaboration with Prof. Moskalenko investigating the changes in cerebral circulation and cognition, related to the ageing process. Our research so far has demonstrated how insufficient cerebral circulation is linked with age-related cognitive decline and plays a role in major illnesses such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. We are developing a non-invasive Cranial Compliance Monitor (CCM), which will allow further exploration into the causal mechanisms of decline, paving the way to develop improved diagnostic techniques and preventative therapies.

A longitudinal survey to explore ayahuasca: motivations, potential for dependence and effects on well-being
In collaboration with ICEERS and The Temple of the Way of Light (Peru)
This study will focus on measurements of personal development, spiritual growth and mental health of participants in the Temple of the Way of Light (TOTWOL) programme throughout the course of a year, before and after having taken ayahuasca. The study will be the largest of its kind, with almost 600 individuals being surveyed per year.

Pioneering Policy Research: Two Major Academic Reports

Amanda Feilding and the Beckley Foundation are currently developing two reports to investigate the complex issues surrounding strict legal regulation of currently controlled substances from an academic point of view. Informed by the most up-to-date evidence base and written by a multidisciplinary international group of over 20 leading experts, the two reports will offer politicians, academics and informed laymen insights into how different countries could reform and enact legislation to better manage the harms currently related to 5 prevalent substance-types.

Roadmaps to Regulation: Coca, Cocaine & Derivatives
This report will be the first to address the taboo, but essential topic of how governments might approach the complex issues of regulating the different stages of the coca/cocaine market from production, through transit, to consumption. The aim is to open up the debate, in a similar way as the Beckley Foundation’s report Cannabis Policy: Moving beyond Stalemate did for cannabis in 2008. In this report we are working with the world’s leading experts to analyse the history and context of the illicit market, offer insights into each step of the supply chain and propose alternatives to the current legislation, focusing on the careful regulation of these substances with the purpose of lowering harms.

Roadmaps to Regulation: Cannabis, Psychedelics, MDMA & NPS
This Report will assess the harms related to four substance-types (cannabis, psychedelics, MDMA and new psychoactive substances). It will formulate models of strict regulation based on the developing evidence-base, and propose methodological tools for assessing the benefits and harms of the different regulatory models, which could be adapted to different national realities.

Both Reports will be important tools for the global drug policy debate, as the issue of regulation has barely been addressed by academics in so comprehensive and rigorous a fashion, and indeed the possibility of regulating the coca/cocaine market has  never been addressed before. The launch of these reports and their dissemination will add to the evidence-base in the build-up to UNGASS 2016.

The launch of the Reports is estimated to take place in Summer/Autumn 2015.

Far-Reaching and Engaging Public Campaigns

UNGASS 2016 opens a window of opportunity to engage with non-specialised audiences and promote reform. We will be tapping into this potential by launching two important campaigns, which will be spearheaded by Nobel Prize-winners, scientists and other notable experts, and will be directed towards politicians, the general public and the media.

Legalise the Truth – Reschedule Cannabis
This campaign, organised by the Beckley Foundation and headed by Amanda Feilding and Professor David Nutt, seeks to raise awareness, stimulate debate and gather support for the rescheduling of cannabis – from Schedule 1 to Schedule 2 – as a reasonable and compassionate undertaking. This change in schedule would enable doctors to prescribe cannabis for patients who would benefit from its therapeutic properties, and would also remove the current obstacles to the scientific research into its underlying mechanisms and therapeutic potential, currently is seriously obstructed by its Schedule 1 classification.

Scientists for Change
This campaign, also headed by Amanda Feilding and Professor David Nutt, will convene the support of Nobel Laureates, prominent scientists and health professionals worldwide, to call for changes in the current global prohibition regime. These changes will open up research into currently controlled substances and also, most importantly, ensure access to essential medicines. Currently, over 80% of the world’s population has little, or no access to essential medicines, in particular to opiate-based analgesics.

Both campaigns are currently under development.

Advocacy to inform and influence the political process in preparation for UNGASS 2016

We will extend and strengthen our extensive global networks of expertise and influence, boosting our dialogue with political leaders. In particular, we will maintain and develop our ties with members of the governments of the United Kingdom, Guatemala, Colombia, Jamaica and Uruguay, as well as supranational and multilateral bodies such as the European Parliament and the Organization of American States.

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