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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
    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.

  • 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: 3065-3074.E6, ISSN: 0960-9822

    Understanding the underlying mechanisms of the human brain in health and disease will require models with necessary and sufficient details to explain how function emerges from the underlying anatomy and is shaped by neuromodulation. Here, we provide such a detailed causal explanation using a whole-brain model integrating multimodal imaging in healthy human participants undergoing manipulation of the serotonin system. Specifically, we combined anatomical data from diffusion magnetic resonance imaging (dMRI) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) with neurotransmitter data obtained with positron emission tomography (PET) of the detailed serotonin 2A receptor (5-HT2AR) density map. This allowed us to model the resting state (with and without concurrent music listening) and mechanistically explain the functional effects of 5-HT2AR stimulation with lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) on healthy participants. The whole-brain model used a dynamical mean-field quantitative description of populations of excitatory and inhibitory neurons as well as the associated synaptic dynamics, where the neuronal gain function of the model is modulated by the 5-HT2AR density. The model identified the causative mechanisms for the non-linear interactions between the neuronal and neurotransmitter system, which are uniquely linked to (1) the underlying anatomical connectivity, (2) the modulation by the specific brainwide distribution of neurotransmitter receptor density, and (3) the non-linear interactions between the two. Taking neuromodulatory activity into account when modeling global brain dynamics will lead to novel insights into human brain function in health and disease and opens exciting possibilities for drug discovery and design in neuropsychiatric disorders.

  • 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
    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

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