Beckley/Imperial Psychopharmacological Research Programme

07/11/2012

The Beckley-Imperial Psychopharmacological Research Programme is a collaborative endeavour between the Beckley Foundation and scientists from Imperial College London. The Programme works at the frontiers of research into the effects of psychoactive substances on the brain. By utilising the latest neuroimaging technology we unveil the neural mechanisms by which psychedelics produce their profound effects on consciousness, and open up new avenues of treatment for physical and mental conditions.

The collaborative research started in 2007 when Amanda Feilding, director of the Beckley Foundation, and Prof. David Nutt who was then professor at Bristol University started a series of brain imaging studies using inhaled cannabis. Since then the programme has developed and specialises in relatively small-scale pilot studies that investigate novel fields of research hitherto neglected because of societal taboos on controlled substances. The Beckley/Imperial Research Programme has now been formally launched with a three year grant from the Beckley Foundation to study the brain mechanisms of LSD and cannabis.

Recent studies carried out through the collaboration with Prof. Nutt have yielded ground-breaking insights in the mechanisms of action of psychedelic drugs (e.g. psilocybin and MDMA) using a variety of neuro-imaging techniques, including functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and magnetoencephalogram (MEG). This research has received widespread media coverage and raised the profile of psychedelics as potentially valuable therapeutic compounds. Current studies that are being carried out include neuroimaging studies and analyses with MDMA and psilocybin. The Beckley-Imperial Psychopharmacological Research Programme is now starting with a breakthrough series of brain-imaging studies utilising LSD.

Neural correlates of the psychedelic state as determined by fMRI studies with psilocybin. - Carhart-Harris R.L. et al (PNAS, Jan. 2012)

This study measured the neural correlates of the psychedelic state using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and Arterial Spin Labelling (ASL). Healthy participants received intravenous psilocybin while under condition of rest. Psilocybin causes decreases in cerebral blood flow and BOLD signal in cortical and subcortical regions of the default mode network (DMN), as well as significant decreases in the functional connectivity between the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and posterior cingulate cortex (PCC). These findings show for the first time that psychedelics cause their subjective effects by decreasing activity and connectivity in important connector hubs of the brain (the DMN). Click here to find out more.

Implications for psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy: a functional magnetic resonance imaging study with psilocybin - Carhart-Harris R. L. et al. (British Journal of Psychiatry, Jan 2012)

This study tested the hypothesis that psilocybin facilitates access to personal memories and emotions. Healthy participants recollected positive memories while under the influence of psilocybin. Correlating neural activity was measured by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The memories were rated as more vivid and visual under psilocybin, and correlated with increased brain activity in higher order visual cortex and other sensory cortical regions. This study indicated that psilocybin may be useful in psychotherapy. Click here find out more.

Functional connectivity measures after psilocybin: a novel drug model of early psychosis?  - Carhart-Harris R.L. et al (Schizophrenia Bulletin Oct. 2012)

Here we measured the effects of psilocybin on functional connectivity between the default mode network (DMN) and the task positive network (TPN) and on functional connectivity between thalamus and the cortex. The DMN and the TPN show anti-correlated behaviour in healthy individuals. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used to measure the correlating neural activity. Psilocybin decreased anti-correlation between the DMN and TPN in a manner that correlated with the drug’s subjective effects. Under psilocybin, thalamic-DMN functional conectivity was preserved, and thalamic-TPN FC was increased. Decreased orthogonality between the DMN-TPN has also been found in psychosis and meditatory states, which share phenomenological similarities with the psychedelic state. Click here to find out more.

fMRI and MEG studies with LSD

This project entails a series of studies that examine the effects of the classic psychedelic drug lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) on the brain. It utilises functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and magnetoencephalogram (MEG) to measure the effects of LSD on brain activity and connectivity during resting state, perception and meta-cognitive functions (e.g. autobiographical memory recollection and self-reflection).

fMRI and MEG studies with cannabis

The planned study will use functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and magnetoencephalography (MEG) to investigate how pure inhaled cannabis alters brain activity and connectivity to produce its subjective effects. We will measure the effects of cannabis on resting state brain activity, on perception, on creativity and meta-cognitive functions (e.g. autobiographical memory recollection and self-reflection).

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