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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
    Schartner MM, Carhart-Harris RL, Barrett AB, Seth AK, Muthukumaraswamy SDet al., 2017,

    Increased spontaneous MEG signal diversity for psychoactive doses of ketamine, LSD and psilocybin

    , Scientific Reports, Vol: 7, ISSN: 2045-2322

    What is the level of consciousness of the psychedelic state? Empirically, measures of neural signal diversity such as entropy and Lempel-Ziv (LZ) complexity score higher for wakeful rest than for states with lower conscious level like propofol-induced anesthesia. Here we compute these measures for spontaneous magnetoencephalographic (MEG) signals from humans during altered states of consciousness induced by three psychedelic substances: psilocybin, ketamine and LSD. For all three, we find reliably higher spontaneous signal diversity, even when controlling for spectral changes. This increase is most pronounced for the single-channel LZ complexity measure, and hence for temporal, as opposed to spatial, signal diversity. We also uncover selective correlations between changes in signal diversity and phenomenological reports of the intensity of psychedelic experience. This is the first time that these measures have been applied to the psychedelic state and, crucially, that they have yielded values exceeding those of normal waking consciousness. These findings suggest that the sustained occurrence of psychedelic phenomenology constitutes an elevated level of consciousness - as measured by neural signal diversity.

  • Journal article
    Walpola IC, Nest T, Roseman L, Erritzoe D, Feilding A, Nutt DJ, Carhart-Harris RLet al., 2017,

    Altered Insula Connectivity under MDMA

    , Neuropsychopharmacology, Vol: 42, Pages: 2152-2162, ISSN: 0893-133X

    Recent work with noninvasive human brain imaging has started to investigate the effects of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) on large-scale patterns of brain activity. MDMA, a potent monoamine-releaser with particularly pronounced serotonin- releasing properties, has unique subjective effects that include: marked positive mood, pleasant/unusual bodily sensations and pro-social, empathic feelings. However, the neurobiological basis for these effects is not properly understood, and the present analysis sought to address this knowledge gap. To do this, we administered MDMA-HCl (100 mg p.o.) and, separately, placebo (ascorbic acid) in a randomized, double-blind, repeated-measures design with twenty-five healthy volunteers undergoing fMRI scanning. We then employed a measure of global resting-state functional brain connectivity and follow-up seed-to-voxel analysis to the fMRI data we acquired. Results revealed decreased right insula/salience network functional connectivity under MDMA. Furthermore, these decreases in right insula/salience network connectivity correlated with baseline trait anxiety and acute experiences of altered bodily sensations under MDMA. The present findings highlight insular disintegration (ie, compromised salience network membership) as a neurobiological signature of the MDMA experience, and relate this brain effect to trait anxiety and acutely altered bodily sensations–both of which are known to be associated with insular functioning.

  • Journal article
    Nour MM, Carhart-Harris RL, 2017,

    Psychedelics and the science of self-experience

    , BRITISH JOURNAL OF PSYCHIATRY, Vol: 210, Pages: 177-179, ISSN: 0007-1250
  • Conference paper
    Nutt D, Carhart-Harris RL, Curran H, 2016,

    Recent insights into the psychopharmacology of MDMA

    , 29th Congress of the European-College-of-Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP), Publisher: ELSEVIER SCIENCE BV, Pages: S145-S145, ISSN: 0924-977X
  • Conference paper
    Kaelen M, Roseman L, Lorenz R, Simmonds A, Santos-Ribeiro A, Nutt D, Carhart-Harris Ret al., 2016,

    Effects of LSD and music on brain activity

    , 29th Congress of the European-College-of-Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP), Publisher: ELSEVIER SCIENCE BV, Pages: S130-S130, ISSN: 0924-977X

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