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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
    Medina-Mardones AM, Rosas FE, Rodríguez SE, Cofré Ret al., 2021,

    Hyperharmonic analysis for the study of high-order information-theoretic signals

    , Journal of Physics: Complexity, Vol: 2, Pages: 1-16, ISSN: 2632-072X

    Network representations often cannot fully account for the structural richness of complex systems spanning multiple levels of organisation. Recently proposed high-order information-theoretic signals are well-suited to capture synergistic phenomena that transcend pairwise interactions; however, the exponential-growth of their cardinality severely hinders their applicability. In this work, we combine methods from harmonic analysis and combinatorial topology to construct efficient representations of high-order information-theoretic signals. The core of our method is the diagonalisation of a discrete version of the Laplace–de Rham operator, that geometrically encodes structural properties of the system. We capitalise on these ideas by developing a complete workflow for the construction of hyperharmonic representations of high-order signals, which is applicable to a wide range of scenarios.

  • Journal article
    Kettner HS, Rosas F, Timmermann C, Kärtner L, Carhart-Harris RL, Roseman Let al., 2021,

    Psychedelic Communitas: intersubjective experience during psychedelic group sessions predicts enduring changes in psychological wellbeing and social connectedness

    , Frontiers in Pharmacology, Vol: 12, ISSN: 1663-9812

    Background: Recent years have seen a resurgence of research on the potential of psychedelic substances to treat addictive and mood disorders. Historically and contemporarily, psychedelic studies have emphasized the importance of contextual elements ('set and setting') in modulating acute drug effects, and ultimately, influencing long-term outcomes. Nevertheless, current small-scale clinical and laboratory studies have tended to bypass a ubiquitous contextual feature of naturalistic psychedelic use: its social dimension. This study introduces and psychometrically validates an adapted Communitas Scale, assessing acute relational experiences of perceived togetherness and shared humanity, in order to investigate psychosocial mechanisms pertinent to psychedelic ceremonies and retreats.Methods: In this observational, web-based survey study, participants (N = 886) were measured across five successive time-points: 2 weeks before, hours before, and the day after a psychedelic ceremony; as well as the day after, and 4 weeks after leaving the ceremony location. Demographics, psychological traits and state variables were assessed pre-ceremony, in addition to changes in psychological wellbeing and social connectedness from before to after the retreat, as primary outcomes. Using correlational and multiple regression (path) analyses, predictive relationships between psychosocial 'set and setting' variables, communitas, and long-term outcomes were explored.Results: The adapted Communitas Scale demonstrated substantial internal consistency (Cronbach's alpha = 0.92) and construct validity in comparison with validated measures of intra-subjective (visual, mystical, challenging experiences questionnaires) and inter-subjective (perceived emotional synchrony, identity fusion) experiences. Furthermore, communitas during ceremony was significantly correlated with increases in psychological wellbeing (r = 0.22), social connectedness (r = 0.25), and other salient mental health outcomes. Path

  • Journal article
    Szigeti B, Kartner L, Blemings A, Rosas F, Feilding A, Nutt DJ, Carhart-Harris RL, Erritzoe Det al., 2021,

    Self-blinding citizen science to explore psychedelic microdosing

    , eLife, Vol: 10, Pages: 1-26, ISSN: 2050-084X

    Microdosing is the practice of regularly using low doses of psychedelic drugs. Anecdotal reports suggest that microdosing enhances well-being and cognition; however, such accounts are potentially biased by the placebo effect. This study used a ‘self-blinding’ citizen science initiative, where participants were given online instructions on how to incorporate placebo control into their microdosing routine without clinical supervision. The study was completed by 191 participants, making it the largest placebo-controlled trial on psychedelics to-date. All psychological outcomes improved significantly from baseline to after the 4 weeks long dose period for the microdose group; however, the placebo group also improved and no significant between-groups differences were observed. Acute (emotional state, drug intensity, mood, energy, and creativity) and post-acute (anxiety) scales showed small, but significant microdose vs. placebo differences; however, these results can be explained by participants breaking blind. The findings suggest that anecdotal benefits of microdosing can be explained by the placebo effect.

  • Journal article
    Turkheimer FE, Rosas FE, Dipasquale O, Martins D, Fagerholm ED, Expert P, Vasa F, Lord L-D, Leech Ret al., 2021,

    A complex systems perspective on neuroimaging studies of behavior and its disorders

    , The Neuroscientist: reviews at the interface of basic and clinical neurosciences, Pages: 1-18, ISSN: 1073-8584

    The study of complex systems deals with emergent behavior that arises as a result of nonlinear spatiotemporal interactions between a large number of components both within the system, as well as between the system and its environment. There is a strong case to be made that neural systems as well as their emergent behavior and disorders can be studied within the framework of complexity science. In particular, the field of neuroimaging has begun to apply both theoretical and experimental procedures originating in complexity science—usually in parallel with traditional methodologies. Here, we illustrate the basic properties that characterize complex systems and evaluate how they relate to what we have learned about brain structure and function from neuroimaging experiments. We then argue in favor of adopting a complex systems-based methodology in the study of neuroimaging, alongside appropriate experimental paradigms, and with minimal influences from noncomplex system approaches. Our exposition includes a review of the fundamental mathematical concepts, combined with practical examples and a compilation of results from the literature.

  • Journal article
    Rosas FE, Mediano PAM, Jensen HJ, Seth AK, Barrett AB, Carhart-Harris RL, Bor Det al., 2020,

    Reconciling emergences: An information-theoretic approach to identify causal emergence in multivariate data

    , PLOS COMPUTATIONAL BIOLOGY, Vol: 16, ISSN: 1553-734X

This data is extracted from the Web of Science and reproduced under a licence from Thomson Reuters. You may not copy or re-distribute this data in whole or in part without the written consent of the Science business of Thomson Reuters.

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