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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
    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

  • Journal article
    Carhart-Harris RL, 2018,

    The entropic brain - revisited

    , NEUROPHARMACOLOGY, Vol: 142, Pages: 167-178, ISSN: 0028-3908
  • Journal article
    Roseman L, Demetriou L, Wall M, Nutt D, Carhart-Harris RLet al., 2018,

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

    , Neuropharmacology, Vol: 142, Pages: 263-269, ISSN: 0028-3908

    Recent evidence indicates that psilocybin with psychological support may be effective for treating depression. Some studies have found that patients with depression show heightened amygdala responses to fearful faces and there is reliable evidence that treatment with SSRIs attenuates amygdala responses (Ma, 2015). We hypothesised that amygdala responses to emotional faces would be altered post-treatment with psilocybin. In this open-label study, 20 individuals diagnosed with moderate to severe, treatment-resistant depression, underwent two separate dosing sessions with psilocybin. Psychological support was provided before, during and after these sessions and 19 completed fMRI scans one week prior to the first session and one day after the second and last. Neutral, fearful and happy faces were presented in the scanner and analyses focused on the amygdala. Group results revealed rapid and enduring improvements in depressive symptoms post psilocybin. Increased responses to fearful and happy faces were observed in the right amygdala post-treatment, and right amygdala increases to fearful versus neutral faces were predictive of clinical improvements at 1-week. Psilocybin with psychological support was associated with increased amygdala responses to emotional stimuli, an opposite effect to previous findings with SSRIs. This suggests fundamental differences in these treatments’ therapeutic actions, with SSRIs mitigating negative emotions and psilocybin allowing patients to confront and work through them. Based on the present results, we propose that psilocybin with psychological support is a treatment approach that potentially revives emotional responsiveness in depression, enabling patients to reconnect with their emotions.

  • Journal article
    Erritzoe D, Roseman L, Nour MM, MacLean K, Kaelen M, Nutt DJ, Carhart-Harris RLet al., 2018,

    Effects of psilocybin therapy on personality structure

    , Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, Vol: 138, Pages: 368-378, ISSN: 1600-0447

    ObjectiveTo explore whether psilocybin with psychological support modulates personality parameters in patients suffering from treatment‐resistant depression (TRD).MethodTwenty patients with moderate or severe, unipolar, TRD received oral psilocybin (10 and 25 mg, one week apart) in a supportive setting. Personality was assessed at baseline and at 3‐month follow‐up using the Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO‐PI‐R), the subjective psilocybin experience with Altered State of Consciousness (ASC) scale, and depressive symptoms with QIDS‐SR16.ResultsNeuroticism scores significantly decreased while Extraversion increased following psilocybin therapy. These changes were in the direction of the normative NEO‐PI‐R data and were both predicted, in an exploratory analysis, by the degree of insightfulness experienced during the psilocybin session. Openness scores also significantly increased following psilocybin, whereas Conscientiousness showed trend‐level increases, and Agreeableness did not change.ConclusionOur observation of changes in personality measures after psilocybin therapy was mostly consistent with reports of personality change in relation to conventional antidepressant treatment, although the pronounced increases in Extraversion and Openness might constitute an effect more specific to psychedelic therapy. This needs further exploration in future controlled studies, as do the brain mechanisms of postpsychedelic personality change.

  • Journal article
    Lyons T, Carhart-Harris RL, 2018,

    More realistic forecasting of future life events after psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression

    , Frontiers in Psychology, Vol: 9, ISSN: 1664-1078

    Background: Evidence suggests that classical psychedelics can promote enduring changes in personality, attitudes and optimism, as well as improvements in mental health outcomes.Aim: To investigate the effects of a composite intervention, involving psilocybin, on pessimism biases in patients with treatment-resistant depression (TRD).Methods: Patients with TRD (n = 15) and matched, untreated non-depressed controls (n = 15) performed the Prediction Of Future Life Events (POFLE) task. The POFLE task requires participants to predict the likelihood of certain life events occurring within a 30-day period, after which the actual rate of event occurrence is reported; this gives an index of potential pessimism versus optimism bias. Psilocybin was administered in two oral dosing sessions (10 and 25 mg) one week apart. Main outcome measures were collected at baseline and one week after the second dosing session.Results: Patients showed a significant pessimism bias at baseline [t(14) = -3.260, p = 0.006; 95% CI (-0.16, -0.03), g = 1.1] which was related to the severity of their depressive symptoms (rs = -0.55, p = 0.017). One week after psilocybin treatment, this bias was significantly decreased [t(14) = -2.714, p = 0.017; 95% CI (-0.21, -0.02), g = 0.7] and depressive symptoms were greatly improved [t(14) = 7.900, p < 0.001; 95% CI (16.17, 28.23), g = 1.9]; moreover, the magnitude of change in both variables was significantly correlated (r = -0.57, p = 0.014). Importantly, post treatment, patients became significantly more accurate at predicting the occurrence of future life events [t(14) = 1.857, p = 0.042; 95% CI (-0.01, 0.12), g = 0.6] whereas no such change was observed in the control subjects.Conclusion: These findings suggest that psilocybin with psychological support might correct pessimism biases in TRD, enabling a more positive and accurate outlook.

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