Our latest series looks at the heritage of the Beckley Foundation’s groundbreaking research programmes and the potential for Beckley Psytech, which leverages the Foundation’s knowledge and research capabilities through a close strategic partnership.
Psilocybin and the Beckley/Imperial Research Programme
The programme has since carried out pioneering brain imaging studies with LSD, psilocybin, DMT and MDMA. These have greatly expanded our understanding of how psychedelics work in the brain, and have provided invaluable insights into the nature of different states of consciousness and how they can aid the treatment of mental illnesses.
Psilocybin for the treatment of mental disorders
In 2012, the findings of the first Beckley/Imperial psilocybin study using the latest brain imaging technology were published to international acclaim in the prestigious scientific journal PNAS. This groundbreaking study generated over half a dozen articles, each furthering our understanding of the way psychedelics alter consciousness and may constitute invaluable therapeutic tools, and led to the Medical Research Council awarding a grant to study the efficacy of psilocybin for the treatment of depression.
The study’s now famous images illustrate how psilocybin promotes strong, long-range, functional connections between brain regions that do not communicate significantly in normal consciousness. The psychedelic state is associated with less constrained neural networks, revealing the potential to enhance creativity and treat mental illnesses.
Psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression
The Beckley/Imperial programme’s first pilot study on treatment-resistant depression (TRD) was published in 2016 in The Lancet Psychiatry, with remarkably positive results: 67% of subjects with TRD were in remission one week after taking psilocybin, and 42% remained depression-free three months later. It was an unprecedented achievement, as participants had suffered from depression for an average of 18 years and had failed to respond to any other treatment.
The study was extended to bring the total number of participants to 20 and to observe the longer-term effects of the psilocybin treatment. Results supported the earlier findings and helped further elucidate the ways in which psilocybin brings about a beneficial therapeutic outcome.
Following the success of study, Dr Carhart-Harris, who is also a scientific advisor to Beckley Psytech, is now leading a larger phase II double-blind randomized controlled clinical trial, comparing changes in depression and imaging outcomes after a single dose of psilocybin versus six weeks of an SSRI treatment for major depressive disorder.
Beckley Psytech and SUNHA
The early pioneering work of the Beckley Foundation on psilocybin is, in part, the inspiration for Beckley Psytech’s own groundbreaking work on the compound. The company has just received Clinical Trial Authorisation from the UK Medicine and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to explore the effects of psilocybin for treating short-lasting unilateral neuralgiform headache attacks (SUNHA), a rare and debilitating headache condition.