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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
    Deco G, Cruzat J, Cabral J, Knudsen GM, Carhart-Harris RL, Whybrow PC, Logothetis NK, Kringelbach MLet al., 2018,

    Whole-Brain Multimodal Neuroimaging Model Using Serotonin Receptor Maps Explains Non-linear Functional Effects of LSD

    , CURRENT BIOLOGY, Vol: 28, Pages: 3065-+, ISSN: 0960-9822
  • Journal article
    Timmermann C, Timmermann Slater C, Roseman L, Williams L, Erritzoe D, Martial C, Cassol H, Laureys S, Nutt D, Carhart-Harris Ret al., 2018,

    DMT models the near-death experience

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

    Near-death experiences (NDEs) are complex subjective experiences, which have been previously associated with the psychedelic experience and more specifically with the experience induced by the potent serotonergic, N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT). Potential similarities between both subjective states have been noted previously, including the subjective feeling of transcending one’s body and entering an alternative realm, perceiving and communicating with sentient ‘entities’ and themes related to death and dying. In this within-subjects placebo-controled study we aimed to test the similarities between the DMT state and NDEs, by administering DMT and placebo to 13 healthy participants, who then completed a validated and widely used measure of NDEs. Results revealed significant increases in phenomenological features associated with the NDE, following DMT administration compared to placebo. Also, we found significant relationships between the NDE scores and DMT-induced ego-dissolution and mystical-type experiences, as well as a significant association between NDE scores and baseline trait ‘absorption’ and delusional ideation measured at baseline. Furthermore, we found a significant overlap in nearly all of the NDE phenomenological features when comparing DMT-induced NDEs with a matched group of ‘actual’ NDE experiencers. These results reveal a striking similarity between these states that warrants further investigation.

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

    Increased nature relatedness and decreased authoritarian political views after psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression

    , Journal of Psychopharmacology, Vol: 32, Pages: 811-819, ISSN: 1461-7285

    Rationale:Previous research suggests that classical psychedelic compounds can induce lasting changes in personality traits, attitudes and beliefs in both healthy subjects and patient populations.Aim:Here we sought to investigate the effects of psilocybin on nature relatedness and libertarian–authoritarian political perspective in patients with treatment-resistant depression (TRD).Methods:This open-label pilot study with a mixed-model design studied the effects of psilocybin on measures of nature relatedness and libertarian–authoritarian political perspective in patients with moderate to severe TRD (n=7) versus age-matched non-treated healthy control subjects (n=7). Psilocybin was administered in two oral dosing sessions (10 mg and 25 mg) 1 week apart. Main outcome measures were collected 1 week and 7–12 months after the second dosing session. Nature relatedness and libertarian–authoritarian political perspective were assessed using the Nature Relatedness Scale (NR-6) and Political Perspective Questionnaire (PPQ-5), respectively.Results:Nature relatedness significantly increased (t(6)=−4.242, p=0.003) and authoritarianism significantly decreased (t(6)=2.120, p=0.039) for the patients 1 week after the dosing sessions. At 7–12 months post-dosing, nature relatedness remained significantly increased (t(5)=−2.707, p=0.021) and authoritarianism remained decreased at trend level (t(5)=−1.811, p=0.065). No differences were found on either measure for the non-treated healthy control subjects.Conclusions:This pilot study suggests that psilocybin with psychological support might produce lasting changes in attitudes and beliefs. Although it would be premature to infer causality from this small study, the possibility of drug-induced changes in belief systems seems sufficiently intriguing and timely to deserve further investigation.

  • Journal article
    Carhart-Harris RL, Roseman L, Haijen E, Erritzoe D, Watts R, Branchi I, Kaelen Met al., 2018,

    Psychedelics and the essential importance of context

    , JOURNAL OF PSYCHOPHARMACOLOGY, Vol: 32, Pages: 725-731, ISSN: 0269-8811
  • Journal article
    Gabay AS, Carhart-Harris RL, Mazibuko N, Kempton MJ, Morrison PD, Nutt DJ, Mehta MAet al., 2018,

    Psilocybin and MDMA reduce costly punishment in the Ultimatum Game

    , SCIENTIFIC REPORTS, Vol: 8, ISSN: 2045-2322

    Disruptions in social decision-making are becoming evident in many psychiatric conditions. These are studied using paradigms investigating the psychological mechanisms underlying interpersonal interactions, such as the Ultimatum Game (UG). Rejection behaviour in the UG represents altruistic punishment – the costly punishment of norm violators – but the mechanisms underlying it require clarification. To investigate the psychopharmacology of UG behaviour, we carried out two studies with healthy participants, employing serotonergic agonists: psilocybin (open-label, within-participant design, N = 19) and 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA; placebo-controlled, double-blind, crossover design, N = 20). We found that both MDMA and psilocybin reduced rejection of unfair offers (odds ratio: 0.57 and 0.42, respectively). The reduction in rejection rate following MDMA was associated with increased prosociality (R2 = 0.26, p = 0.025). In the MDMA study, we investigated third-party decision-making and proposer behaviour. MDMA did not reduce rejection in the third-party condition, but produced an increase in the amount offered to others (Cohen’s d = 0.82). We argue that these compounds altered participants’ conceptualisation of ‘social reward’, placing more emphasis on the direct relationship with interacting partners. With these compounds showing efficacy in drug-assisted psychotherapy, these studies are an important step in the further characterisation of their psychological effects.

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