SOURCE: The Times, Science
by Oliver Moody, Science Correspondent
Six years ago, David Nutt was a senior science adviser to the government. Today, he is
appealing to the public to help him bypass what he claims is the worst piece of “scientific censorship” since the trial of Galileo.
Professor Nutt and his colleagues at Imperial College, London, have taken the world’s first brain scans of people on LSD-25, a potent psychedelic drug that scientists believe could combat depression, alcoholism, nicotine addiction and crippling headaches.
In the first experiment involving LSD and humans in almost 50 years, the researchers administered 75mg of the drug to 20 volunteers. The psychoactive compound is expected to trigger the same explosions of electrical activity in the brain as psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms.
In 2012 Professor Nutt’s team found that the mushroom compound had an extraordinary effect on the “connector hubs”, which began to carry sparks between neurons from opposite ends of the brain. Robin Carhart-Harris, the leading investigator, said: “You could think of these regions as being like major train stations, like the King’s Cross and Victoria of the brain.”
One of the phenomena that interests the neuroscientists most is “ego disintegration”, where some users temporarily lose their sense of self.
The LSD study has proved even trickier to carry out than the magic mushroom research. LSD has been illegal in Britain since 1966, but some companies still produce small quantities for use on rats. Professor Nutt has found that some are “very uncomfortable” about supplying it for use on people. The government has also been reluctant to fund the research after years of opposing the academic over his crusade for a liberalisation of the drug laws.
“I think the censorship of research into these drugs is the worst example in the history of censorship in science,” he said. “The only comparable example is when the Catholic church banned the telescope. But in terms of the amount of wasted opportunity, it’s way bigger than the banning of the telescope.”
He turned to the Beckley Foundation, a research charity, to fund the LSD experiment. Now the scientists have, in Professor Nutt’s words, “run out of money” before they could finish analysing the data. They are trying to raise £25,000 from the public using Walacea, a crowdfunding forum for science.
“The neuroscience that’s been uncovered by these drugs is revolutionary,” he said. “All research has risks.”