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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
    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
    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.

  • 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.

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