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Beckley / Imperial Research Programme

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, 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, and have led to the recent completion of a breakthrough clinical trial, funded by the Medical Research Council, to investigate psilocybin in the treatment of depression.

Current studies include:

  • The First Brain Imaging Study to Investigate the Effects of LSD. Following on the heels of our studies with psilocybin, we recently completed the first-ever brain-imaging study to investigate how LSD elicits its effects. We plan to extend this research to investigate whether LSD increases creativity and problem-solving, using the ancient game GO as a measure.

brains

LSD, compared to placebo, increases the connectivity of the visual areas

  • 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. The study was recently completed, and the extremely positive results are forthcoming.

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  • The First Study to Investigate the Effects of DMT on Brain Function. This study is currently in the planning stage, and will use state of the art brain imaging to investigate the actions of DMT, the main psychoactive compound in ayahuasca brew. The study will follow our previous brain imaging protocols to allow comparison with psilocybin, LSD, and MDMA. This development will greatly enhance our understanding of not just the actions of this psychedelic and its relation to others, but also its potential for therapeutic benefit.

 

Research Team and Institution

David Nutt, together with Amanda Feilding, is Co-Director of the Programme. David 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.

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 investigate the relationship between LSD and creativity, using the ancient Chinese game ‘Go’. Studies comparing the effects of DMT (the main psychoactive ingredient of ayahuasca) to those of psilocybin and LSD are also being planned in order to examine their similarities and differences, and to further understand phenomena of altered consciousness such as ‘seeing with eyes shut’ and the experience of ‘entities.’

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

Beckley/Imperial Publications

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

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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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