The past few months at the Beckley Foundation have been about sowing the seeds of several great new projects and collaborations that will widen and deepen the scope of our research. In addition to leading our much-awaited microdosing study within the Beckley/Imperial Psychedelic Research Programme, our director Amanda Feilding has expanded the Beckley LSD Programme by setting up two new collaborative projects with research centres in Brazil and the Netherlands. Full details of our recent, current, and future research across the world can be found in our updated 2018 Scientific Brochure.
Meanwhile, our policy work continues apace, with Amanda recently addressing the European Parliament, as well as meeting with the Prime Minister of Jamaica in London. We are also nearing completion of three seminal reports exploring the potential benefits of creating regulated market regimes for cannabis, MDMA and coca/cocaine.
Finally, with new EU data regulations coming into force, we are updating our mailing lists. If you would like to receive newsletters and updates by email, please click here to re-subscribe.
In April, we were delighted to announce the launch of Beckley Canopy Therapeutics, a collaborative joint venture with Canadian cannabis pioneers Canopy Health Innovations and Canopy Growth. Following our many years of research into the benefits of psychoactive compounds, including cannabis, for the treatment of illnesses, it is now time to make sure that cannabis-derived medicines are made safe and available for the many patients who currently have no access to them, but are in great need.
By developing pharmaceutical products with medical and market authorisation, we plan to legitimise cannabis-based medicines as part of mainstream medical practice. The first provisional patents have been filed – using cannabinoid formulations to treat cancer pain, and secondly to reduce opioid use in chronic pain conditions, and thirdly to reduce addiction to nicotine. The project will undertake Phase I, II & III studies to investigate these medicines and bring them to licensed regulation. A proportion of all commercial profits will be used to support the not-for-profit scientific research and policy work of the Beckley Foundation.
Capitalising on our success in undertaking the world’s first fMRI study to investigate the effects of LSD in 2016, this year will see a significant expansion of our collaborations under the multi-arm, international Beckley LSD Research Programme. As well as breaking new ground with the first placebo-controlled, double-blind investigation of microdosing within the Beckley/Imperial Psychedelic Research Programme, Amanda has developed collaborations in the Netherlands and Brazil. The Beckley/Maastricht Psychedelic Programme will investigate the effects of various microdoses of LSD on cognitive performance, wellbeing, and resilience to pain and stress, while establishing the safety profile of the compound and assessing markers of neuronal growth.
With the Beckley/Brazil Psychedelic Programme, we will be undertaking a series of experiments designed to characterise the effects of LSD at the molecular and cellular levels, with a particular focus on its action on key mechanisms such as neuroplasticity, inflammation and neurogenesis. In another study, we will use fMRI to investigate the effects of varying micro- and macro-doses of LSD – from 0 to 250 micrograms – on brain function, with a special focus on investigating changes in cerebral blood circulation, functional connectivity, and the way these changes relate to subjective effects.
Amanda has also recently set up a new exciting collaboration with Dr Tobias Buchborn and Prof Thomas Knopfel at Imperial College London. This research will shed light on the neuronal and vascular changes underlying the effects of psychedelics by using optogenetics, a cutting-edge technique that has begun a revolution in neuroscience over the past few years. By programming neurones to emit light when they become activated by LSD, we can ‘zoom in’ to the molecular level of psychedelic drug action, and will for the first time visualize the effects of LSD in the brain at a unique temporal and spatial resolution.
Further work from the Beckley/Imperial Psychedelic Research Programme has led to the publication of more fascinating results from our study on psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression. Studies continue to confirm the basic principle of the ‘psychedelic’ treatment model – that the quality of the psychedelic experience predicts long-term improvements in mental health. Positive long-lasting changes in attitudes and beliefs were also observed, with participants expressing increased nature-relatedness and decreased authoritarian views.
In addition, our study highlighted the essential role of music in the therapeutic process, indicating that it is not merely the drug effect in isolation, but an interaction between the drug and the music on subjective experience that promotes positive therapeutic outcomes. You can watch our video on the study below.
Further ground-breaking work into the mechanisms of action of psilocybin identified fundamental differences between the way psilocybin-assisted therapy and SSRIs exert their therapeutic effects. Psilocybin was found to amplify activity in the amygdala (the part of the brain responsible for the fight-or-flight response), allowing patients to reconnect and engage with their emotions – whereas SSRIs seem to work by blunting them.
Finally, machine-learning algorithms have contributed a significant step towards the mainstream adoption of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy. Patterns in patients’ choice of words in pre-treatment interviews correlated with outcomes from the therapy sessions: using natural language processing, transcripts of patients’ speech could be analysed to predict, with an impressive 85% accuracy, the success of the treatment.
A new article, co-authored by our collaborator Jordi Riba and Amanda, among others, demonstrates how a small number of ayahuasca sessions can be as effective as months of ‘mindfulness’ training in improving ‘acceptance’ capacities. This is not only relevant in understanding the therapeutic potential of ayahuasca, but may also help elucidate the neurobiological correlates of different states of mind.
Four Weekly Ayahuasca Sessions Lead to Increases in “Acceptance” Capacities: A Comparison Study With a Standard 8-Week Mindfulness Training Program. Soler, J., Elices, M., Dominguez-Clavé, E., Pascual, J. C., Feilding, A., Navarro-Gil, M., … & Riba, J.
Natural Speech Algorithm Applied to Baseline Interview Data Can Predict Which Patients Will Respond to Psilocybin for Treatment-resistant Depression. Carrillo, F., Sigman, M., Slezak, D. F., Ashton, P., Fitzgerald, L., Stroud, J., … & Carhart-Harris, R. L.
The Hidden Therapist: Evidence for a Central Role of Music in Psychedelic Therapy. Kaelen, M., Giribaldi, B., Raine, J., Evans, L., Timmerman, C., Rodriguez, N., Feilding, A., Nutt,D. & Carhart-Harris, R.
Increased Nature Relatedness and Decreased Authoritarian Political Views After Psilocybin for Treatment-resistant Depression. Lyons, T., & Carhart-Harris, R. L.
Quality of Acute Psychedelic Experience Predicts Therapeutic Efficacy of Psilocybin for Treatment-Resistant Depression. Roseman, L., Demetriou, L., Wall, M. B., Nutt, D. J., & Carhart-Harris, R. L.
Increased Amygdala Responses to Emotional Faces After Psilocybin for Treatment-resistant Depression. Roseman, L., Demetriou, L., Wall, M. B., Nutt, D. J., & Carhart-Harris, R. L.
So far, our 2018 calendar has proven to be extremely busy with a host of conferences in the UK and abroad. In April, Amanda was invited to speak at the European Parliament for the 5th Session of the World Congress for Freedom of Scientific Research. Her talk, ‘Why Science Needs Psychedelics: A Paradigm Shift for Psychiatry’ outlined recent evidence for the wide psychotherapeutic potential of psychedelics from the Beckley Research Programme. It also explained how current drug policy is holding back mental health research and treatment. You can watch Amanda’s message here.
The 75th anniversary of the world’s first LSD trip by Albert Hofmann in 1943 was recently celebrated in Basel, home to the Sandoz laboratory where the compound was first synthesised. The celebrations included a four-day symposium of art, music, a cycle-through of Hofmann’s infamous bicycle ride, as well as talks from renowned speakers.
Amanda reflected on her own memories of Albert, as well as her journey with LSD and her recent and future research with the compound. Click here to watch her talk on the Beckley Foundation website. To commemorate the anniversary of LSD, we also produced a short video about its discovery and history.
Later this month in Hay-on-Wye, Amanda will join Prof Davit Nutt – with whom she co-directs the Beckley/Imperial Psychedelic Research Programme – on stage at HowTheLightGetsIn, the world’s biggest philosophy and music festival. Amanda and Dave will be discussing the benefits of LSD and other psychedelics in ‘A Long Strange Trip’.
The media continues to take great interest in the work of the Beckley Foundation. Forbes covered our upcoming microdosing study and a fascinating profile of Amanda’s life and career featuring in WIRED.
Amanda features in the second season premiere of National Geographic’s critically acclaimed series Breakthrough, recently released in the UK following it’s airing in the US last year. The episode explores how cutting-edge innovations of the world’s leading scientists are set to change lives in the immediate future and beyond. The episode ‘Addiction: A Psychedelic Cure?’ contains interviews with Amanda as well as Beckley/Imperial scientists David Nutt, Robin Carhart-Harris and Leor Roseman about our ground-breaking research, and is now available with Amazon.
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With Very Best Wishes,
Amanda Feilding and the Beckley Foundation Team
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Psilocybin for Depression
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