Psychedelic drugs can unlock mysteries of brain - David Nutt



Scientists should have access to illegal psychedelic drugs such as LSD and psilocybin to aid them in brain research, according to the government's former drug adviser Professor David Nutt. He said that research into the deepest mysteries of the brain, including consciousness and mental illness, had been curtailed by the prohibition of the drugs.

Prof Nutt said that scientists might find treatments for conditions such as schizophrenia by using modern techniques to study the effects of psychedelic drugs on the brain.

"Neuroscience should be trying to understand how the brain works," said Nutt, who is professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London. "Psychedelics change the brain in, perhaps, the most profound way of any drug, at least in terms of understanding consciousness and connectivity. Therefore we should be doing a lot more of this research.

"It's extraordinary that 40 years of advances in brain imaging technology and there's never been a study about this before. I think it's a scandal, I think it's outrageous the fact these studies have not been done. And they've not been done simply because the drugs were illegal."

Speaking to the Guardian ahead of a lecture he will give at a University College London neuroscience symposium on Friday, Nutt said that a volunteer for a recent experiment pulled out of the study because he was worried that "being in a study with a so-called illegal drug could mean he couldn't travel to some countries, such as America. To inhibit research to that extent is an outrage."

Nutt's views will challenge governments around the world which, largely, classify psychedelic drugs as harmful and illegal. The professor is used to being a thorn in the side of the authorities. In 2009, the UK's then health secretary, Alan Johnson, sacked him from his post as chair of the government's Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs for publicly stating that alcohol and tobacco were more harmful than LSD, ecstasy and cannabis.

Hundreds of clinical trials of psychedelic drugs such as LSD were carried out in the 1950s and 1960s, and successful treatments, including one for alcohol addiction, came out of the work. Since LSD was banned around the world, however, the number of scientific studies has dropped to virtually zero, and there have been no studies using modern imaging techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to look at what parts of the brain are affected by it.

Nutt recently published research, with colleagues at Cardiff University, on the effects of psilocybin – the active ingredient in magic mushrooms – on the brain. His team had assumed the drug might increase activity in certain parts of the brain, to explain the experience that users get when they eat magic mushrooms. Instead, MRI scans of 30 healthy volunteers showed that psilocybin seemed to decrease activity in the regions of the brain which link up different areas. The study was published in January in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"This is a hugely important way of perturbing the brain to understand the nature of consciousness," said Nutt. At his lecture on Friday, he will examine whether psilocybin's effects on the brain can be used as a model for psychosis. Some of the brain alterations seen as a result of taking psilocybin, he said, are similar to those seen in the brains of people with prodromal schizophrenia.

Psilocybin seems to suppress the actions of a brain system called the "default mode network" which is active whenever a person is, for example, reflecting about the world rather than engaged in a specific activity. The "task-positive network" is engaged when a person focuses on a specific job and it operates out of phase with the default mode network. But in schizophrenia, the networks are much more in phase and, under psilocybin, they are completely in phase.

"So, we're thinking [psilocybin] might be an interesting model for early stages for schizophrenia, it might allow us to test new drugs," said Nutt. "When people start to become psychotic, their ego boundaries break down, the relationship between them and the world gets disrupted and the relationship between their different inner experiences gets mixed up. Eventually they start hearing their own thoughts as someone else's voice.

"That breakdown of connectivity in the brain is very classic in schizophrenia. If we can produce this in a laboratory in a normal volunteer, we can then look for new treatments and it is much more efficient to do that in normal volunteers than try to find young people who are starting to develop their illness and it's ethically more acceptable too."

Nutt and his colleagues are also studying potential uses for ecstasy, also known as MDMA. "The therapeutic value of MDMA for psychotherapy has been widely known until it was banned and has hardly been studied since. There have only been a couple of MDMA imaging studies, but none of them using cutting-edge technologies, so we're doing that at present."

In collaboration with Robin Carhart-Harris at Imperial College London, Nutt also wants to further his research into more psychedelic drugs such as LSD and ibogaine, a derivative of African root bark, which is used to treat addiction in Thailand and Cambodia.

Carrying out such work is usually difficult for researchers, however, because they have to make such lengthy applications for licences to use illegal drugs. And even if the research went ahead and showed benefits from the drugs, it is unlikely doctors would be allowed to prescribe them. Nutt recently called for the UK's classification system of drugs to be rewritten to reflect more accurately their relative harms, and called for a regulated approach to making drugs such as MDMA and cannabis available for medical and research purposes.

"Regulations, which are arbitrary, actually make it virtually impossible to research these drugs," said Nutt last month. "The effect these laws have had on research is greater than the effects that [George] Bush stopping stem cell research has had, because it's been going on since the 1960s."

Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2012/jun/28/psychedelic-drugs-mysteries-brain-government-adviser
 

Comments

I like how people have to treat his opinions with respect. If anyone else had said this they would get laughed out the building and labelled a druggie.
 
He ranks alongside Shulgin, in my opinion. Two good people, wanting to allow freedom of ingesting substances, and wanting to help people in general. Both are regarded very highly.
 
Treacle;10709427 said:
He ranks alongside Shulgin, in my opinion.
With all the due respect to Dr Nutt, the sheer number of substances synthetized and experimented with puts Shulgin on a totally different level
 
I mean they both want the same thing. I know that Alex is an amazing chemist. Then again, so are the people coming up with these amazing RCs. ;)
 
Albion;10707910 said:
I like how people have to treat his opinions with respect. If anyone else had said this they would get laughed out the building and labelled a druggie.
Anyone else isn't a professor in neuropsychopharmacology ;)
 
Not sure about Nutts idea that taking psychedelics "mimics schizophrenia" - wasn't that idea demolished in the 50's? On a psychedelic you know you've taken a drug, when you have schizophrenia you think it's real. That's a pretty fundamental difference isn't it.

And I can't quite work out why he's changed to decriminalisation when he was such a fervent prohibitionist over GBL, he said something like "I have made a strong recomendation GBL is banned and I am very optimistic it will be within months. GBL is unquestionably as dangerous as GHB". He was an absolutely full-on, raging drug-warrior. If you'd breathed "How about we keep GBL legal mate?" he would have thundered abuse at you about the danger it posed to "the children".

Wonder when he had his road to Damascus moment? Or is he now just thinking he's burned his boats and legalisation is the only road that he can make any money and keep his name in the papers.
 
Ismene;10709795 said:
Not sure about Nutts idea that taking psychedelics "mimics schizophrenia" - wasn't that idea demolished in the 50's? On a psychedelic you know you've taken a drug, when you have schizophrenia you think it's real. That's a pretty fundamental difference isn't it.

.
I think you're able to observe yourself tripping if its recreational. Psychosis, perhaps, would be more about being pulled into an altered state and loosing your identity in it or having it fragment or split
 
Dissociative drugs can sometimes mimic schizophrenic symptoms quite faithfully, tis an interesting effect.
 
I was actually quite surprised to learn just how much research went into this in the 60s and 70s already, especially in Canada. They really allowed them to push the envelope with psychoactive drugs. One assylum for the criminally insane was allowed to keep their patients on lsd for 11 days straight while the psycologists did constant therapy. There is a lot to be said for 'recreational' hallucinogenics helping non-mentally ill people get over things like depression, PTSD, and addiction, but I don't think they are that good for people who have things like schizophrenia. They would definitely help with brain mapping, but i'm also pretty sure that David Nutt has already done quite a lot of research into that. I know i've seen him inject someone with psilosybin and put them in an MRI before.
 
Ismene;10709795 said:
Or is he now just thinking he's burned his boats and legalisation is the only road that he can make any money and keep his name in the papers.
This.

I'm gonna get slaughtered for saying something bad against the almighty one but to me he seems like he's never going to get anything done. The government have shown that they will pay no attention to him. He just pops up every now & gives an "Ecstacy is less dangerous than horse riding" style comment which gets his wee coupon in the paper.
 
parttime crackhead;10710059 said:
This.

I'm gonna get slaughtered for saying something bad against the almighty one but to me he seems like he's never going to get anything done. The government have shown that they will pay no attention to him. He just pops up every now & gives an "Ecstacy is less dangerous than horse riding" style comment which gets his wee coupon in the paper.
Yeah he has become rather addicted to the attention and adoration.
 
Totally. I don't ever really disagree with the guy but he's becoming a pure media whore. Some might say that that's a good thing because he's getting publicity to these issues etc but he's jumping about from one Daily Mail enraging statement to the next without ever actually following anything through or sticking with it to the point of something happening beyond the initial "Oooo, David Nutt says..." headline.

As soon as he's nailed that then he's on to the next one.
 
^Would it be better for him to just shut up and disappear into the sunset instead spreading knowledge for the cause?
 
I don't think he's really spreading knowledge to people that don't already have it, or aren't already inclined to think that way. I don't think he's changing many people's minds. To anyone that was already against drugs he'll just be written off as that guy that was sacked by the government.
 
he said something strange rhe other week in the guardian. he was on about how slcohol could be altered to replace the alcohol with a less harmful benzodiazapine. that made me very confused. it was about 3 weeks ago in the guardian . dunno the link coz it was in the real paper.

and what was that? a neuropsychpharma whT?
 
pinkpapaver;10710226 said:
he said something strange rhe other week in the guardian. he was on about how slcohol could be altered to replace the alcohol with a less harmful benzodiazapine. that made me very confused. it was about 3 weeks ago in the guardian . dunno the link coz it was in the real paper.

and what was that? a neuropsychpharma whT?
He's been touting that idea for ages. It's a benzo that replicates alcohol completely, doesn't harm you, has a really high LD50, and can instantly be reversed by an injection given by A&E. It also makes people friendlier instead of causing some of the problems we see in this country with alcohol.
 
Ismene;10709795 said:
Not sure about Nutts idea that taking psychedelics "mimics schizophrenia" - wasn't that idea demolished in the 50's? On a psychedelic you know you've taken a drug, when you have schizophrenia you think it's real. That's a pretty fundamental difference isn't it.

And I can't quite work out why he's changed to decriminalisation when he was such a fervent prohibitionist over GBL, he said something like "I have made a strong recomendation GBL is banned and I am very optimistic it will be within months. GBL is unquestionably as dangerous as GHB". He was an absolutely full-on, raging drug-warrior. If you'd breathed "How about we keep GBL legal mate?" he would have thundered abuse at you about the danger it posed to "the children".

Wonder when he had his road to Damascus moment? Or is he now just thinking he's burned his boats and legalisation is the only road that he can make any money and keep his name in the papers.
When in the middle of a trip I have frequently forgotten what I have taken and whether I have had actually taken anything at all. Same for ketamine.
 
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