Amanda Feilding’s collaboration with Prof David Nutt & Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, Imperial College London, UK

The Beckley / Imperial Research Programme aims to develop a comprehensive account of how substances such as LSD, psilocybin, DMT and MDMA affect the brain to alter consciousness, and how they produce their potentially therapeutic effects. We use the latest developments in brain imaging technology and analysis methods to measure brain blood flow, brain network connectivity, and neural oscillations (rhythmical activity, or ‘brain waves’) during the psychedelic experience. This understanding greatly adds to the evidence base supporting the therapeutic potential of these substances, while teaching us about consciousness itself. Our studies have resulted in over 20 publications in high-impact scientific journals.


Notable studies:

  • The First Brain Imaging Study to Investigate the Effects of LSD. In 2016, we completed the first-ever neuroimaging study with LSD, with results published by PNAS and launched the Royal Society, London, to global acclaim. LSD was shown to decrease connectivity between key regions of the brain’s Default Mode Network (DMN) that are involved in processing various aspects of selfhood – such as autobiographical memories and self-awareness, thinking about the past, and planning the future. This effect correlated strongly with the subjective experience of ‘ego dissolution’, implying the importance of the DMN for maintaining the boundaries of the ego. At the same time, LSD causes a dramatic increase in connectivity between other regions of the brain that are normally highly segregated. This can induce more free-flowing patterns of cognition, allowing users to become more creative and break free from rigid modes of thought and behaviour – such as those underlying psychological disorders like depression and addiction. These results have significant implications for the neurobiology of consciousness, as well as for potential applications of LSD as a valuable tool for psychotherapy.


LSD, compared to placebo, increases connectivity of the visual cortex to other parts of the brain


  • Psilocybin in the Treatment of Depression. As a direct result of our previous studies examining the effects of psilocybin on the brain, the UK Medical Research Council awarded a substantial grant to the Beckley / Imperial Research Programme for a ground-breaking Phase I pilot study examining psilocybin as an aid to psychotherapy in the treatment of depression.  Our feasibility study, published in the spring of 2016, was the first to test whether psilocybin could help people with treatment-resistant depression. This pilot study was published in 2016 in The Lancet Psychiatry, with remarkably positive results: 67% of subjects with treatment-resistant depression were in remission one week after taking psilocybin, and 42% remained depression-free three months later. This is an unprecedented achievement, as participants had suffered from depression for an average of 18 years and had failed to respond to any other treatment.

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Scores on a clinical assessment of depression severity over time – the effects of psilocybin remained significant at each time point


Upcoming research:

  • Investigating the Effects of LSD Microdosing on Creativity, Mood, and Cognitive Function. Many of the advocates of LSD microdosing – especially those working in artistic and technological fields – are most attracted by its positive impact on creativity and insight. But capturing a moment of insight, rather than relying on self-reported judgments, presents a challenge.  This double-blind controlled study will explore the physiological and psychological effects of repeated microdosing. Two groups of 24 participants will receive either twice-weekly microdoses of LSD or a placebo over a one-month period. Changes in brain activity will be measured using EEG, and we will use subjective reports, questionnaires, and tasks – including Go playing – to assess the effects of microdosing on mood, cognitive flexibility, creativity, and both emotional and intellectual insight. This study will generate the first scientific knowledge of this novel approach to taking psychedelics and will pave the way for future research that will explore the diversity of its application – therapeutic, cognition boosting, and creativity enhancing.


  • The First Study to Investigate the Effects of DMT on Brain Function. This upcoming study with Dr. Timmerman will use EEG and fMRI imaging to investigate brain alterations caused by DMT, the main psychoactive component in ayahuasca. The study will follow our previous brain imaging protocols to allow comparison with psilocybin, LSD, and MDMA. It is hoped that the study will give insight into the therapeutic properties of this powerful psychedelic compound and reveal the different mechanisms underlying the effects of LSD and DMT.


  • Effects of LSD on Neuronal and Vascular Functioning. In this pioneering project, we employ the refined techniques of optogenetic electrophysiology to make neurons within the living brain emit light whenever they are activated. In this way, we can zoom into the key cells of the brain that are targeted by LSD – cortical pyramidal cells – and illuminate their distinctive responses to the drug.  This innovative approach will allow us to see the effects of LSD on a microscopic scale. We will investigate the effects on blood vessels and on neuronal functioning and integrate these results with the changes observed at the behavioural level.

Research Team and Institution:

David Nutt, together with Amanda Feilding, is Co-Director of the Programme. Prof. Nutt is currently the Edmond J. Safra Professor of Neuropsychopharmacology and director of the Neuropsychopharmacology Unit in the Division of Brain Sciences at Imperial College London.

Robin Carhart-Harris is the lead investigator of the Beckley / Imperial Research Programme. He has a degree in Psychology, MA in Psychoanalysis, and PhD in the field of Psychopharmacology, and is currently a Research Associate in the Neuropsychopharmacology Unit in the Division of Brain Sciences at Imperial College London.

Mendel Kaelen was a Beckley / Imperial Research Programme Fellow, and a PhD student in the Neuropsychopharmacology Unit in the Division of Brain Sciences at Imperial College London and also a musician. His dissertation project investigates the interaction between LSD and music.

Other Beckley / Imperial research collaborators include Leor Roseman, Chris Timmerman, and Tobias Buchborn. 


History of Collaboration:

This collaboration was formed in 2005, when Amanda convinced David Nutt – then at the University of Bristol – that they should form a collaborative partnership. She also suggested that Robin Carhart-Harris carry out his PhD under Nutt’s supervision. In 2009, David Nutt moved to Imperial College London, and their collaboration became the Beckley / Imperial Research Programme, with Amanda and David as co-directors and Robin as lead investigator. In 2012, the first results of their brain imaging study with psilocybin were published in the prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) and achieved world-wide publicity. Based on this work, the Programme later received a substantial grant from the Medical Research Council to study the effects of psilocybin in the treatment of depression.

Also in 2012, the Beckley / Imperial Research Programme carried out the first brain imaging study of MDMA (‘Ecstasy’), as part of the Channel 4 programme Drugs Live: The Ecstasy Trial. This was the first detailed study to map the neural underpinnings of MDMA’s effects, and to explain why it is so valuable for psychotherapy.

In 2014, the Programme, at last, launched the first-ever brain imaging study with LSD – a study Amanda has longed to do ever since the 1960s. The results have proven to be as ground-breaking as those of the psilocybin studies. To supplement the funding to complete the study, the Beckley Foundation launched a successful crowdfunding campaign with the website Walacea.

Future Beckley / Imperial studies will continue to investigate the effects of psychedelics, MDMA, and cannabinoids, their neurobiological mechanisms, and the potential therapeutic benefit they may have in a variety of conditions.

Amanda Feilding and David Nutt, co-directors of the Beckley/Imperial Research Programme Amanda Feilding and David Nutt, co-directors of the Beckley/Imperial Research Programme

“I am delighted to have been able to work with Amanda and the Beckley Foundation for the past ten years. Together via the Beckley/Imperial collaboration we have overcome decades of censorship and produced many landmark studies of psychedelics and other psychoactive drugs”
Professor David Nutt

One-page summaries of the Beckley/Imperial studies

Scientific publications

Media coverage of the Beckley/Imperial research on LSD

Media coverage of the Beckley/Imperial research on psilocybin for depression

Beckley/Imperial research on psilocybin in the media: Nature News, New Scientist, Huffington Post, the Washington Post.

Media coverage of the Beckley/Imperial research on MDMA: Imperial college press release, the Guardian, BBC news, and watch researchers Dr Robin Carhart-Harris and Dr David Erritzoe discussing this study


Beckley/Imperial Publications

Psilocybin with psychological support improves emotional face recognition in treatment-resistant depression

Psychopharmacology, 2017

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Altered Insula connectivity under MDMA

Neuropsychopharmacology, 2017

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Psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression: fMRI-measured brain mechanisms

2017, Scientific Reports

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Psilocybin with psychological support for treatment-resistant depression: six-month follow-up

Psychopharmacology , 2017

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Connectome-harmonic decomposition of human brain activity reveals dynamical repertoire re-organization under LSD

Scientific Reports, 2017

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Increased amygdala responses to emotional faces after psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression

Neuropsychopharmacology, 2017

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LSD modulates effective connectivity and neural adaptation mechanisms in an auditory oddball paradigm

Neuropharmacology, 2017

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Semantic activation in LSD: evidence from picture naming

Language, Cognition and Neuroscience, 2016

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Psilocybin with psychological support for treatment-resistant depression: an open-label feasibility study

Lancet Psychiatry, 2016

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The paradoxical psychological effects of LSD

Psychological Medicine, 2016

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LSD-induced entropic brain activity predicts subsequent personality change

Human Brain Mapping, 2016

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Decreased mental time travel to the past correlates with default-mode network disintegration under LSD

Journal of Psychopharmacology, 2016

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LSD alters eyes-closed functional connectivity within the early visual cortex in a retinotopic fashion

Human Brain Mapping, 2016

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Neural correlates of the LSD experience revealed by multimodal neuroimaging

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, 2016

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Increased global functional connectivity correlates with LSD-induced ego dissolution

Current Biology, 2016

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LSD modulates music-induced imagery via changes in parahippocampal connectivity – European Neuropsychopharmacology, 2016

European Neuropsychopharmacology, 2016

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A placebo-controlled investigation of synaesthesia-like experiences under LSD

Neuropsychologia, 2016

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The Effects of Acutely Administered 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine on Spontaneous Brain Function in Healthy Volunteers Measured with Arterial Spin Labeling and Blood Oxygen Level-Dependent Resting State Functional Connectivity

Biological Psychiatry, 2014

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Finding the self by losing the self: Neural correlates of ego dissolution under psilocybin

Human Brain Mapping, 2015

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LSD enhances suggestibility in healthy volunteers

Psychopharmacology, 2015

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LSD enhances the emotional response to music

Psychopharmacology, 2015

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Enhanced repertoire of brain dynamical states during the psychedelic experience

Human brain mapping, 2014

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The effects of psilocybin and MDMA on between-network resting state functional connectivity in healthy volunteers

Frontiers in human neuroscience, 2014

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The effect of acutely administered MDMA on subjective and BOLD-fMRI responses to favourite and worst autobiographical memories

 International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, 2014

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A qualitative report on the subjective experience of intravenous psilocybin administered in an FMRI environment

Current Drug Abuse Reviews, 2014

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Homological scaffolds of brain functional networks

Journal of The Royal Society Interface, 2014

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The entropic brain: a theory of conscious states informed by neuroimaging research with psychedelic drugs

Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 2014

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Functional connectivity measures after psilocybin inform a novel hypothesis of early psychosis

Schizophrenia bulletin, 2013

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Broadband cortical desynchronization underlies the human psychedelic state

The Journal of Neuroscience, 2013

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Implications for psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy: functional magnetic resonance imaging study with psilocybin

The British Journal of Psychiatry, 2012

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Neural correlates of the psychedelic state as determined by fMRI studies with psilocybin

 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, 2012

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The administration of psilocybin to healthy, hallucinogen-experienced volunteers in a mock-functional magnetic resonance imaging environment: a preliminary investigation of tolerability

 Journal of Psychopharmacology, 2010

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