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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
    Carrillo F, Sigman M, Fernandez Slezak D, Ashton P, Fitzgerald L, Stroud J, Nutt DJ, Carhart-Harris RLet al., 2018,

    Natural speech algorithm applied to baseline interview data can predict which patients will respond to psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression

    , JOURNAL OF AFFECTIVE DISORDERS, Vol: 230, Pages: 84-86, ISSN: 0165-0327
  • Journal article
    Kaelen M, Giribaldi B, Raine J, Evans L, Timmermann C, Rodriguez N, Roseman L, Feilding A, Nutt D, Carhart-Harris Ret al., 2018,

    Correction to: The hidden therapist: evidence for a central role of music in psychedelic therapy.

    , Psychopharmacology, Vol: 235, Pages: 1623-1623, ISSN: 0033-3158

    The article The hidden therapist: evidence for a central role of music in psychedelic therapy, written by Mendel Kaelen, Bruna Giribaldi, Jordan Raine, Lisa Evans, Christopher Timmerman, Natalie Rodriguez, Leor Roseman, Amanda Feilding, David Nutt, Robin Carhart-Harris, was originally published electronically on the publisher's internet portal.

  • Journal article
    Kaelen M, Giribaldi B, Raine J, Evans L, Timmerman C, Rodriguez N, Roseman L, Feilding A, Nutt D, Carhart-Harris Ret al., 2018,

    The hidden therapist: evidence for a central role of music in psychedelic therapy

    , PSYCHOPHARMACOLOGY, Vol: 235, Pages: 505-519, ISSN: 0033-3158

    RationaleRecent studies have supported the safety and efficacy of psychedelic therapy for mood disorders and addiction. Music is considered an important component in the treatment model, but little empirical research has been done to examine the magnitude and nature of its therapeutic role.ObjectivesThe present study assessed the influence of music on the acute experience and clinical outcomes of psychedelic therapy.MethodsSemi-structured interviews inquired about the different ways in which music influenced the experience of 19 patients undergoing psychedelic therapy with psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression. Interpretative phenomenological analysis was applied to the interview data to identify salient themes. In addition, ratings were given for each patient for the extent to which they expressed “liking,” “resonance” (the music being experienced as “harmonious” with the emotional state of the listener), and “openness” (acceptance of the music-evoked experience).ResultsAnalyses of the interviews revealed that the music had both “welcome” and “unwelcome” influences on patients’ subjective experiences. Welcome influences included the evocation of personally meaningful and therapeutically useful emotion and mental imagery, a sense of guidance, openness, and the promotion of calm and a sense of safety. Conversely, unwelcome influences included the evocation of unpleasant emotion and imagery, a sense of being misguided and resistance. Correlation analyses showed that patients’ experience of the music was associated with the occurrence of “mystical experiences” and “insightfulness.” Crucially, the nature of the music experience was significantly predictive of reductions in depression 1 week after psilocybin, whereas general drug intensity was not.ConclusionsThis study indicates that music plays a central therapeutic function in psychedelic therapy.

  • Journal article
    Carhart-Harris RL, Erritzoe D, Haijen E, Kaelen M, Watts Ret al., 2018,

    Psychedelics and connectedness

    , PSYCHOPHARMACOLOGY, Vol: 235, Pages: 547-550, ISSN: 0033-3158
  • Journal article
    Roseman L, Nutt DJ, Carhart-Harris RL, 2018,

    Quality of acute psychedelic experience predicts therapeutic efficacy of psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression

    , Frontiers in Pharmacology, Vol: 8, ISSN: 1663-9812

    Introduction: It is a basic principle of the ‘psychedelic’ treatment model that the quality of the acute experience mediateslong-term improvements in mental health. In the present paper we sought to test this using data from a clinical trial assessingpsilocybin for treatment-resistant depression (TRD). In line with previous reports, we hypothesized that the occurrence andmagnitude of Oceanic Boundlessness (OBN) (sharing features with mystical-type experience) and Dread of Ego Dissolution (DED)(similar to anxiety) would predict long-term positive outcomes, whereas sensory perceptual effects would not.Material and Methods: Twenty patients with treatment resistant depression underwent treatment with psilocybin (two separatesessions: 10mg and 25mg psilocybin). The Altered States of Consciousness (ASC) questionnaire was used to assess the quality ofexperiences in the 25mg psilocybin session. From the ASC, the dimensions OBN and DED were used to measure the mystical-typeand challenging experiences, respectively. The Self-Reported Quick Inventory of Depressive Symptoms (QIDS-SR) at 5 weeks servedas the endpoint clinical outcome measure, as in later time points some of the subjects had gone on to receive new treatments,thus confounding inferences. In a repeated measure ANOVA, Time was the within-subject factor (independent variable), withQIDS-SR as the within-subject dependent variable in baseline, 1-day, 1-week, 5-weeks. OBN and DED were independent variables.OBN-by-time and DED-by-time interactions were the primary outcomes of interest.Results: For the interaction of OBN and DED with Time (QIDS-SR as dependent variable), the main effect and the effects at each timepoint compared to baseline were all significant (p = 0.002 and p = 0.003, respectively, for main effects), confirming our mainhypothesis. Furthermore, Pearson’s correlation of OBN with QIDS-SR (5 weeks) was specific compared to perceptual dimensions ofthe ASC (p < 0.05).Discussion: This repo

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