Schedule 1 Barriers to Research in the UK: An In-depth Qualitative Analysis

Schedule 1 barriers to research in the UK: An in-depth qualitative analysis


Annie Howard, Joanna C Neill, Anne Katrin Schlag, Charlotte Lennox


October 25, 2021

Prior to the 1970s, psychedelics such as LSD were used and researched extensively. However, with the introduction of the UN convention Misuse of Drugs Regulations in 2001, all drugs were placed into one of five categories or ‘schedules’ based on their perceived use in medicine and their potential harm. Drugs which were considered to have no medical use and a high liability for harm were placed into Schedule 1. Schedule 1 drugs include LSD, psilocybin (the main psychedelic ingredient found in the Psilocybe genus of several species of mushrooms), cannabis and MDMA. As a result of this scheduling, restrictions were placed on the extent to which these drugs can be possessed and supplied. This thus hinders potential research with Schedule 1 drugs.

Despite these regulations, there is increasing evidence that psychedelics and other Schedule 1 drugs can have therapeutic benefits for a range of psychiatric conditions. For example, in small trials, psilocybin when administered in a clinically controlled environment has been found to be safe and effective in reducing symptoms of severe and treatment-resistant depression (Carhart-Harris et al., 2016; Carhart-Harris et al., 2017, see Gonda et al. 2021, for review), obsessive-compulsive disorder-OCD (Moreno et al., 2006), and most recent evidence is emerging for efficacy in post-traumatic stress disorder (Krediet et al. 2020). However, due to several practical, financial, and bureaucratic hurdles, there is currently a lack of methodologically sound research into the benefits and safety of Schedule 1 drugs. More in-depth research is needed to gain a greater understanding of the barriers and facilitators associated with S1 research, in order to enable the government to move these drugs out of Schedule 1.

This article explores these factors by comparing the experiences of researchers who conduct Schedule 1 research with researchers who conduct less restricted controlled drug research, for example, those in Schedule 2-5. Positioning theory (Harré & van Langenhove, 1999) was used as a theoretical framework to advance this understanding. Semi-structured interviews were conducted, where researchers were asked questions about their experiences with controlled drug research, the impact of drug scheduling on these experiences, and how their experiences might be different to researchers in the other group.

Using discourse analysis, four themes were identified. Three themes differentiated the two groups of researchers and their positions (differential burden of duties, the importance of privileges, and motivations and one theme suggested solidarity between the groups (solidarity of researchers against others).

The differential burden of duties suggested that Schedule 1 researchers engaged in significantly more duties than other controlled drug researchers, especially in relation to requirements around obtaining and maintaining a Home Office license. These duties were particularly burdensome and acted as a barrier to non-Schedule 1 researchers, who may have otherwise been involved in Schedule 1 research.

Schedule 1 researchers were better able to deal with this burden due to higher levels of motivations and more privileges (the importance of privileges). For example, Schedule 1 researchers were generally more motivated to take part in Schedule 1 research and more proactive. Additionally, Schedule 1 researchers had more privileges, such as status in the scientific community, prior experience with Schedule 1 research, the appropriate facilities and infrastructure, and financial and social support. Both of these factors helped to facilitate Schedule 1 research.

The last theme (solidarity of researchers against others) suggested that other groups of individuals sometimes acted as barriers to Schedule 1 research. For example, government officials often prevented changed to drug legislation and those lacking scientific understanding were often discriminatory, which caused difficulties getting Schedule 1 projects started.

Findings highlight the challenges that Schedule 1 researchers are currently facing and suggest that the government should take steps to make the Schedule 1 research process smoother and more accessible. For example, creating an exemption for Schedule 1 drugs might eliminate some of the perceived burden.

This research was published in the Drug Science, Policy and Law Journal the definitive source of evidence-based information and comment for academics, scientists, policymakers, frontline workers and the general public on drugs and related issues

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