The Medical Psychedelics Working Group has now been launched in the UK to campaign for the rescheduling of all psychedelic drugs for research and medical purposes.
Launched by the non-profit, independent scientific body Drug Science, the Medical Psychedelics Working Group will be composed of academics, researchers, and policymakers, aiming to reschedule psychedelics to allow for research examining their therapeutic benefits.
The Medical Psychedelics Working Group is building on the success of Drug Science’s Medical Cannabis Working Group, and team members include Professor David Nutt, Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, Professor Joanna Neill, Dr Dennis McKenna, as well as MPs Crispin Blunt and Jeff Smith, and many more leaders in psychiatry research and policy reform.
Professor David Nutt, who has been spearheading research into psychedelics and cannabis in the UK, said: “It has been argued by one of the pioneers of psychedelic research, Stan Grof, that ‘psychedelics used responsibly and with proper caution could be for psychiatry what the microscope is for science and medicine, and what the telescope is for astronomy.’
“We had a resurgence in psychedelic research in the 50s and 60s, then LSD was banned, largely because of the Nixon ‘War on Drugs’ and the fact that the US government believed it was fuelling an anti-war movement in part championed by Timothy Leary. Psychedelics were banned on the basis of lies about their harms. I would argue this is the worst censorship of research in the history of the world – certainly in relation to anything to do with biomedical science.
“Now a number of research groups are breaking through this barrier and finding powerful therapeutic effects that are inducing health care companies into the field. The future looks promising, especially if we can move these drugs out of Schedule 1 to loosen the barriers to access for researchers.”
Reforming drug policy in the UK
After fifty years of prohibition, reforming drug policy is vital if scientists are to be able to research these substances.
Speaking at the launch, MP Jeff Smith, of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform and the Labour Campaign for Drug Policy Reform, said: “I am very pleased to be supporting the essential work of Drug Science. I have learned a lot about how drug policy fails everybody – not just drug users, law enforcers, and wider society – but the consequences that our prohibitionist culture has on research and science, it is hampered by the law. The only way to solve many of the problems caused by our drug policy is political change, and many politicians have been very nervous about this issue.
“Talking to experts in the field there is clear emerging evidence of the efficacy of psychedelics for mental health that we need to understand and build on. It is vital we allow research to go ahead unhindered. That is where politicians come in as it is clear that, at the moment, we are the barrier. It is not possible under current regulations to explore the full potential of these medicines.”
MP Crispin Blunt, of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform and the Conservative Drug Policy Reform Group, which aims to open up evidenced-based debate on the centre right about drugs policy, praised the work of Heroic Hearts – an organisation which works to help veterans gain access to psychedelic medicines abroad, where access is legal.
Blunt said: “There is so much of our drugs policy that is in a very poor place, where you are actually trying to reduce public harm as a consequence of your policy. There are awful consequences of not having an evidence-based drugs policy.
“The Conservative Drug Policy Reform Group has been working to enable the medicinal use of psilocybin and tackling head on the central problem as to what the obstacles are for veterans who have PTSD, which is beyond the reach of conventional therapy, following recent military service.
“The debt we owe those people is limitless as a country, whatever we think of the merits of the military operations they did. Our servicemen signed a blank check on their lives and their mental and physical health when they signed up. So, the moral case for engaging in the research into psilocybin and other psychedelics is a blinding glimpse of the obvious. And we are not just talking about veterans, but the millions of people suffering with depression – the potential here is absolutely enormous. We have given ourselves a 50-year handicap in relation to research, and we need to address that.”
Barriers to psychedelic research
Due to our drug policy, there are many barriers to psychedelic medicines research. Gaining a licence for research can be costly. Despite this, there is research taking place at institutions such as Imperial College London and King’s College London, where a number of clinical trials are looking at the efficacy of psychedelics for treating different conditions, such as treatment-resistant depression.
Speaking to Health Europa editor, Stephanie Price, Medical Psychedelics Working Group Chair and psychopharmacologist, Professor Joanna Neill from the University of Manchester, said: “One of the group’s key aims is the re-scheduling of these drugs – they are illegal and they are Schedule 1 of the Misuse of Drugs Regulations, which means it is extremely difficult, expensive and time consuming to get a license for animal model research, and there is a large amount of bureaucracy.
“For human trials, it can cost up to £20,000 as you need a licence every stage of the way. There is also a stigma for the staff because of the laws around having a Schedule 1 drug. Schedule 2 drugs have research exemptions – we are allowed to research substances like morphine, ketamine, and cocaine without any of this expense, delay, and bureaucracy. None of us can understand this as those drugs can cause more harm. This is something we want to work on with the government now that there is a lot of evidence on the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics.
“Also, the stigma in the general population against psychedelics is awful – there has been so much misinformation about them. I think the word ‘psychedelic’ makes people think in a different way than they should, so that is something we want to do – break down the stigma. This medicine is fast-acting and could offer the potential to save people’s lives, done in the right way, and taken in the right set and setting.
“We clearly need better medicines and better availability. It’s about making sure the right people get the right access, and if people are denied this, they are going to do it anyway. That is not safe – think about the prohibition of alcohol in the 30s for example, it made people’s use of alcohol far more dangerous, and this is the situation we have in this country now with drugs.”
Spearheading psychedelic research in the UK
The team want to reignite psychedelic research to help combat the mental health problems in society and find beneficial therapies for difficult to treat conditions such as treatment resistant depression, PTSD, OCD, and anorexia.
Professor Neill said: “These are plant medicines that have been around since records began and are used safely and routinely by indigenous populations. Because of the brick wall we have hit with psychiatry, we are not developing new and better medicines quickly enough for people – there are disorders these medicines can help. My particular interest is people who have been healed by psychedelics such as combat veterans.
“We are now doing a qualitative study on combat veterans exploring how psychedelics have come to heal them when nothing else was working. It seems that, in the military, stress is managed with alcohol which can develop into problematic drinking in some veterans in an attempt to manage their trauma–With psychedelic medicine, we know there is something that can actually heal those veterans whose PTSD does not respond to the usual treatment options
“It is such an amazing medical model, unlike anything we’ve got now – you can have one or two doses, or for some people, you will only need it once and never need to take it again. For somebody who has disturbed brain and behaviour, the psyche has got to be very important and these drugs seem to work on that level, and on the level of neurobiology.”
To find out more about the Drug Science Medical Psychedelic Working Group please visit: https://drugscience.org.uk/drug-science-psychedelics/