Nutt was sacked as chair of the drug abuse advisory committee in October 2009 for his opinion that ecstasy and LSD are less dangerous than alcohol.
He said the potential benefits of psychedelics – first suggested by research in the 1950s and 1960s – had not been properly explored due to draconian regulations imposed for political reasons.
While heroin and psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms) are both Class A drugs, only the latter is a Schedule 1 controlled drug – a class of drugs deemed to have no value. medical.
“The implication is that if you want to use [psychedelics] you have to do something nasty, even if it’s research, “said Nutt.
He said the result was that finding drugs such as psilocybin involved an expensive and time-consuming bureaucratic process to obtain licenses, and that it was also difficult to obtain ethical approval.
“You have to get permits, several permits from the Home Office, and they include inspections,” he told the Guardian, adding that transporting these drugs requires special couriers and full documentation, and higher security levels were required than for other drugs which are more harmful.
“A lot of research is not done because people simply cannot be forced to go through the rigors of obtaining the license,” he added.
Despite the strict restrictions, new research is underway, notably by Nutt and his team who have performed brain scans on people who stumble on LSD.
Writing in the journal Cell, Nutt and colleagues present evidence suggesting that psilocybin may be a powerful form of therapy for conditions ranging from depression to anorexia.
“Depression and smoking tests have shown that in some people psilocybin can produce clinical remission, in some cases persisting for years,” the team wrote, adding that they are currently working on a trial comparing psilocybin antidepressant escitalopram for major depression. disorder.
Nutt and colleagues say psychedelics would produce such results by disrupting the brain activity involved in thinking and behavioral patterns, possibly by interacting with a receptor primarily found in the cerebral cortex of the brain called 5-HT2A.
They say that the disruption can not only help individuals better understand their conditions during the trip, but also provide a window of opportunity in the days that follow, while the participant experiences “afterglow” and thinks differently, so that they engage better in psychotherapy. .
However, the team notes that many questions remain, including the length of a trip for the benefits to be visible, if what is called “microdosing” with the drugs – where the levels are so low that there is no travel – could be beneficial, and why some patients relapse after psychedelic treatment.
In the meantime, with legal psychedelics in some parts of the world, the team hopes to collect data on people’s experiences through an online survey.
Nutt cautioned against using psychedelics for self-medication, noting that trial participants were prepared for the trip and that psychedelics were administered in the presence of therapists.
“Our depressed patients almost always have a very difficult trip and we don’t think they would be sure to have a trip like this in the middle of a field or in their own room without professional care,” he said. he said, adding psychotherapy afterwards. was also important for obtaining benefits.
Ultimately, said Nutt, the Schedule 1 restrictions on psychedelics need to change. “We have been saying for years that there should be an exemption for research,” he said. “That magic mushrooms may be next to cocaine crack in [class A] is nonsense, but even worse is to put it in appendix 1 so you can’t use [psychedelics] for research. “