Ease restrictions on medical psychedelics to aid research, experts say

Potential treatments for severe depression, addiction and other mental health disorders are being held up by excessive restrictions on psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, scientists and politicians have said.

Clinical trials suggest that psilocybin may be a safe and effective medicine for patients with certain psychiatric illnesses who do not respond to talking therapies, antidepressants and other drugs. But researchers say their work is being stymied by the government placing the strictest possible controls on the chemical compound.

In a report published on Monday, the Adam Smith Institute, a free market thinktank, and the Conservative drug policy reform group, urge ministers to order a review of psilocybin and remove the obstacles faced by researchers.

Under Home Office regulations, psilocybin is classified as a schedule 1 drug, along with raw opium, LSD, ecstasy and cannabis, and is not considered a medicinal compound. While clinical trials are allowed under licence, obtaining one takes more time and money than many researchers can afford, the authors say.

The report calls on government to make psilocybin a schedule 2 drug, a move that would dramatically cut the cost and time taken to obtain a licence and remove the stigma surrounding research into the drug.

Jo Neill, a co-author on the report and professor of psychopharmacology at Manchester University, said: “Patients are losing out because it’s taking an awful lot longer and it’s costing a lot more money to get the research evidence we need to have psilocybin approved for use. And there are patients dying in the meantime, there are people killing themselves.

“There are people who would be doing this research who aren’t because they can’t afford it and they know it’s going to take them a year to get the licence. They cannot wait that long. If psilocybin were rescheduled, all the universities would have a programme on this. It’s very frustrating.”

Early trials suggest that one or two doses of psilocybin can lead to an immediate improvement in anxiety and depression, but such trials are often prohibitively expensive. Neill, who is also chair of the medical psychedelics working group for the nonprofit DrugScience, said one trial cost £20,000 because six separate licences at £3,000 each were needed to cover everything from manufacture to dispensing the drug.

“We have a huge unmet medical need in psychiatry,” she said. “There are a lot of good treatments on the NHS, lots of talking therapy, and antidepressants work for some people. But there’s a huge amount of people who are just not being treated. We need to heal people and these drugs are healing.”

David Nutt, professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London, who was not involved in the report, said schedule 1 licenses cost thousands of pounds and took a year or more to get.

“Most universities won’t pay for them so research is stymied,” he said. “Schedule 1 status serves no role in stopping recreational use as there has never been diversion from a research lab to street use. Heroin and fentanyl – two much more sought-after drugs – are schedule 2, so I say let us store our psilocybin alongside them. It will be perfectly safe and much easier as all universities and hospitals are given schedule 2 status free as a right.”

Crispin Blunt, the Tory MP for Reigate and chair of the Conservative drug policy reform group, said the schedule 1 classification had led to a “scientific blackout lasting nigh on 50 years” that “precluded new treatments, and with them, the prospect of a better life for millions”.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We need to strike the right balance between enabling legitimate research to take place in a secure environment while ensuring that harmful drugs are not misused and do not get into the hands of criminals. The current classification of psilocybin under schedule 1 does not prevent research or clinical trials under a Home Office licence.”


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