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Professor David Nutt: Psychedelics and the 1960s mind

Professor David Nutt from Imperial College gives LSBU a glimpse of the therapeutic effect of psychoactive drugs on the workings of the human brain
22 January 2018

In a popular talk given at London South Bank University (LSBU) in December, Professor David Nutt from Imperial College London, treated us to a glimpse of the positive, therapeutic effect of psychoactive drugs on the workings of the human brain. The talk was hosted by LSBU's Centre for Addictive Behaviours Research in the School of Applied Sciences.

In his presentation, Professor Nutt guided the audience through the key findings of his latest applied research trials - looking at how human brainwave patterns are altered after taking drugs such as LSD and Ketamin under controlled conditions.

Professor Nutt explained how trials of these drugs revealed that patterns of brain activity would either cease or be dramatically curtailed by taking the drug – leading to an absence of hyperactivity in the brain, with the potential to prevent depression and anxiety disorders. This is because psychedelics have the effect of switching off the ‘depression control centre’ or the sensory and cognitive lobes of the brain.

The research findings are impressive and would confound most sceptics as they turn on its head the common perception that psychoactive substances are damaging to mental health and should be automatically banned outright, as they were by the drug control movement in the 1960s.

David Nutt is clearly an authority on the influence of pharmacology on human psychology and as a world renowned expert in this unusual field of research, his CV is impressive. He has over 450 published research papers to his name, eight government reports on drugs and 31 published books, plus numerous TV appearances on BBC and Channel Four programmes. He was previously the Chair of the UK’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs but stood down from this role in 2009.

In addition to pioneering research into the after effects of LSD on the mind, Professor Nutt has previously overseen research trials looking at the positive effects of Psilocybin- a substance extracted from magic mushrooms- on patients suffering severe and long-term depression. The effect of the drug was to lift depression for each of the dozen volunteers who took part.

Prof David Nutt said: “It is important that academic research groups try to develop possible new treatments for depression as the pharmaceutical industry is pulling out of this field‎. Our study has shown Psilocybin is safe and fast acting so may, if administered carefully, have value for these patients.”

Professor Nutt added: “Whereas common anti-depressants such as SSRIs ‘buffer you against the stresses of life, they don’t eradicate the depression, whereas psychedelics allow you to adapt and overcome the depression.”

This enlightening presentation offered a tantalising glimmer of hope that maybe one day in the future, those who suffer from these types of debilitating mental health conditions may have a way forward.

Find out more about Prof Nutt's research into Neuropsychopharmacology.