top of page

Law on psychedelic drugs blocks vital medical research

A mushroom growing in a forest

Professor David Nutt’s recent comment in ‘The Times‘ addresses how the ‘Law on psychedelic drugs blocks vital medical research‘.

In the 1950s, psychedelics­ — LSD and psilocybin (magic mushrooms) in particular — were seen as the great breakthrough in psychiatry, offering effective treatments for hitherto untreatable disorders. For 15 years, while they were the subject of research funded mostly by the US government, these hopes were realised. Psilocybin was even a licensed medicine in some countries.

But then LSD came to be used in the anti-Vietnam war movement and was seen as fuelling anti-government protests. At the same time, Richard Nixon was facing re-election defeat and so came up with a new strategy, the war on drugs. Psychedelics were thrust into the front line, vilified with manufactured scare stories and banned.

For the following 40 years, there was virtually no research, until a few groups began a fightback some ten years ago. This was driven by several factors: the relative failure of innovation in conventional modern psychiatry medicine, the persistence of underground therapists who continued to use these medicines and the expanding knowledge of how these drugs worked in the brain.

Human imaging studies revealed that psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, profoundly disrupted the brain circuits that are overactive in depression and this led to the first controlled trial, with remarkable results. A single dose of psilocybin produced massive improvements in people who had been depressed for years and who had failed to respond to many other antidepressant treatments.

Since then, studies have been conducted on various psychiatric disorders by groups in several countries and both the US Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency have given psilocybin fast-track status for treatment-resistant depression, with the key trial due late next year.

So it is not surprising that investors in medical science research are becoming very interested in psychedelics. The problem is that they are still illegal; all are classified as Schedule 1 drugs under the UK Misuse of Drugs Act and UN conventions. This is the most severely restricted category and is supposedly reserved for drugs that are especially dangerous (which psychedelics certainly aren’t) and that have no special medical utility (which they do).

Given the historic use and proven safety of these drugs, it would greatly accelerate research if this level of control could be revoked. Psilocybin should be moved to Schedule 2, just as last year medical cannabis was similarly rescheduled to facilitate treatment and research.

You can read Professor Nutt’s full article in the Times here

Keep up with developments in drug science

Reading, engaging with, and sharing our publications, papers and commentary gives evidence-based science and policy the audience it needs and deserves.

bottom of page