Magic mushroom clinical trial stalled by regulations

The world’s first clinical trial designed to explore using a hallucinogen from magic mushrooms to treat people with depression has stalled because of British and European rules on the use of illegal drugs in research.

David Nutt, president of the British Neuroscience Association and professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London, said he had been granted an ethical green light and funding for the trial, but regulations were blocking it.

“We live in a world of insanity in terms of regulating drugs,” he told a neuroscience conference in London yesterday.

He has previously conducted small experiments on healthy volunteers and found that psilocybin, the psychedelic ingredient in magic mushrooms, has the potential to alleviate severe forms of depression in people who don’t respond to other treatments.

Following these promising early results he was awarded a £550,000 (€647,728) grant from Britain’s Medical Research Council to conduct a full clinical trial in patients. But psilocybin is illegal in Britain and, under the UN’s 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, it is classified as a Schedule 1 drug — one that has a high potential for abuse and no recognised medical use.

This, Nutt explained, means scientists need a special licence to use magic mushrooms for trials in Britain, and the manufacture of a synthetic form of psilocybin for use in patients is tightly controlled by European Union regulations.

Together, this has meant he has so far been unable to find a company able to make and supply the drug for his trial, he said.

In previous research, Nutt found that, when healthy volunteers were injected with psilocybin, the drug switched off a part of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex, which is known to be overactive in people with depression.

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