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Pioneering research

In the last decade, a number of research groups in Europe and the Americas have conducted studies into the safety and effectiveness of psychedelics for conditions such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but the Imperial Centre for Psychedelic Research is the first to gain this level of stature within a major academic institution.

When delivered safely and professionally, psychedelic therapy holds a great deal of promise for treating some very serious mental health conditions.

Dr Robin Carhart-Harris

Head of the Centre for Psychedelic Research

Ours was the first Centre in the world to investigate the brain effects of LSD using modern brain imaging and the first to study psilocybin – the active compound in magic mushrooms – for treating severe depression. These studies have laid the groundwork for larger trials that are now taking place around the world. Other pioneering work from the group includes breakthrough neuroimaging research with psilocybin, MDMA and DMT (the psychoactive compounds found in ecstasy and ayahuasca respectively).

Earlier this year the group began a new trial directly comparing psilocybin therapy with a conventional antidepressant drug in patients with depression – a study for which they are still recruiting volunteers. Building on this, they also plan to begin another new trial next year to explore the safety and feasibility of psilocybin for treating patients with anorexia.

Dr Carhart-Harris adds: “It may take a few years for psychedelic therapy to be available for patients, but research so far has been very encouraging. Early stage clinical research has shown that when delivered safely and professionally, psychedelic therapy holds a great deal of promise for treating some very serious mental health conditions and may one day offer new hope to vulnerable people with limited treatment options.”


If you are a student interested in conducting research with our Centre, please see the page join our research team.

Research publications

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  • Journal article
    Rajpal H, Rosas De Andraca FE, Jensen HJ, 2019,

    Tangled worldview model of opinion dynamics

    , Frontiers in Physics, Vol: 7, ISSN: 2296-424X

    We study the joint evolution of worldviews by proposing a model of opinion dynamics, which is inspired in notions fromevolutionary ecology. Agents update their opinion on a specific issue based on their propensity to change – asserted by thesocial neighbours – weighted by their mutual similarity on other issues. Agents are, therefore, more influenced by neighbourswith similar worldviews (set of opinions on various issues), resulting in a complex co-evolution of each opinion. Simulationsshow that the worldview evolution exhibits events of intermittent polarization when the social network is scale-free. This, in turn,triggers extreme crashes and surges in the popularity of various opinions. Using the proposed model, we highlight the role ofnetwork structure, bounded rationality of agents, and the role of key influential agents in causing polarization and intermittentreformation of worldviews on scale-free networks.

  • Journal article
    Cofré R, Videla L, Rosas F, 2019,

    An introduction to the non-equilibrium steady states of maximum entropy spike trains

    , Entropy, Vol: 21, Pages: 1-28, ISSN: 1099-4300

    Although most biological processes are characterized by a strong temporal asymmetry, several popular mathematical models neglect this issue. Maximum entropy methods provide a principled way of addressing time irreversibility, which leverages powerful results and ideas from the literature of non-equilibrium statistical mechanics. This tutorial provides a comprehensive overview of these issues, with a focus in the case of spike train statistics. We provide a detailed account of the mathematical foundations and work out examples to illustrate the key concepts and results from non-equilibrium statistical mechanics.

  • Journal article
    Scott G, Carhart-Harris R, 2019,

    Psychedelics as a treatment for disorders of consciousness

    , Neuroscience of Consciousness, Vol: 2019, Pages: 1-8, ISSN: 2057-2107

    Based on its ability to increase brain complexity, a seemingly reliable index of conscious level, we proposetesting the capacity ofthe classic psychedelic, psilocybin,to increase conscious awarenessin patients with disorders of consciousness.We alsoconfrontthe considerable ethical and practical challengesthis proposal must address, if this hypothesis is to be directly assessed.

  • Journal article
    Erritzoe D, Smith J, Fisher PM, Carhart-Harris R, Frokjaer VG, Knudsen GMet al., 2019,

    Recreational use of psychedelics is associated with elevated personality trait openness: Exploration of associations with brain serotonin markers.

    , J Psychopharmacol, Pages: 269881119827891-269881119827891

    BACKGROUND:: Recent studies have suggested therapeutic benefits of psychedelics for a variety of mental health conditions. The understanding of how single psychedelic administrations can induce long-lasting effects are, in large, still lacking. However, recent studies in both healthy and clinical populations suggest a role for personality changes. AIM:: To test support for some of these plausible mechanisms we evaluated (cross-sectional) associations between recreational use of psychedelics and 3,4-methylene-dioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) and (a) personality measures and (b) key markers of cerebral serotonergic signalling (serotonin transporter and serotonin-2A-receptor binding). METHODS:: In 10 psychedelic-preferring recreational users, 14 MDMA-preferring users and 21 non-using controls, personality was assessed using the 'big five' instrument Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R). Frontal serotonin transporter and serotonin-2A-receptor binding potentials were quantified using [11C]DASB and [18F]altanserin positron emission tomography, respectively. RESULTS:: Of the five NEO-PI-R traits, only openness to experience scores differed between the three groups; psychedelic-preferring recreational users showing higher openness to experience scores when compared with both MDMA-preferring users and controls. Openness to experience scores were positively associated with lifetime number of psychedelic exposures, and among all MDMA-preferring user/psychedelic-preferring recreational user individuals, frontal serotonin transporter binding - but not frontal serotonin-2A-receptor binding - was positively associated with openness to experience. CONCLUSION:: Our findings from this cross-sectional study support increasing evidence of a positive association between psychedelic experiences and openness to experience, and (a) expands this to the context of 'recreational' psychedelics use, and (b) links serotonergic neurotransmission to openness to experience. A modulation of perso

  • Journal article
    Haijen ECHM, Kaelen M, Roseman L, Timmermann C, Russ S, Nutt D, Daws R, Hampshire A, Lorenz R, Carhart-Harris Ret al., 2018,

    Predicting responses to psychedelics: a prospective study

    , Frontiers in Pharmacology, Vol: 9, ISSN: 1663-9812

    Responses to psychedelics are notoriously difficult to predict, yet significant work is currently underway to assess their therapeutic potential and the level of interest in psychedelics among the general public appears to be increasing. We aimed to collect prospective data in order to improve our ability to predict acute- and longer-term responses to psychedelics. Individuals who planned to take a psychedelic through their own initiative participated in an online survey (www.psychedelicsurvey.com). Traits and variables relating to set, setting and the acute psychedelic experience were measured at five different time points before and after the experience. Principle component and regression methods were used to analyse the data. Sample sizes for the five time points included N= 654, N= 535, N= 379, N= 315, and N= 212 respectively. Psychological well-being was increased two weeks after a psychedelic experience and remained at this level after four weeks. This increase was larger for individuals who scored higher for a ‘mystical-type experience’, and smaller for those who scored higher for ‘challenging experience’. Having ‘clear intentions’ for the experience was conducive to mystical-type experiences. Having a positive ‘set’, as well as having the experience with intentions related to ‘recreation’, were both found to decrease the likelihood of having a challenging experience. The trait ‘absorption’ and higher drug doses promoted both mystical-type and challenging experiences. When comparing different types of variables, traits variables seemed to explain most variance in the change in well-being after a psychedelic experience. These results confirm the importance of extra-pharmacological factors in determining responses to a psychedelic. We view this study as an early step towards the development of empirical guidelines that can evolve and improve iteratively with the ultimate purpose of guiding

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