David Nutt, president of the British Neuroscience Association claimed to have been given the green light in funding his trial, but European regulations have now intercepted it.
“We live in a world of insanity in terms of regulating drugs,” he told a neuroscience conference in London on Sunday.
Having previously carried out smaller experiments on healthy volunteers, Nutt found that psilocybin – the psychedelic ingredient in magic mushrooms – could potentially ease severe forms of depression, particularly in those who don’t respond to other treatments.
In response to his promising early results, the professor was awarded a 550,000 pound ($844,000) grant from the UK’s Medical Research Council to undertake a full clinical trial on patients. But, considering psilocybin is still considered an illegal substance in Britain, and under the United Nations 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances it is deemed a ‘Schedule 1 drug’ (meaning it has a high abuse rate with no recognised medical benefit), the trials have been stalled because Nutt has thus far been unsuccessful in finding a company willing to challenge officials and manufacture the drug.
Nutt said regulatory authorities have a “primitive, old-fashioned attitude that Schedule 1 drugs could never have therapeutic potential”, despite his research potentially helping patients with psychiatric disorders.
Psilocybin – or “magic” – mushrooms grow naturally around the world and have been popular since ancient times for both recreational and religious rite use.
“What we are trying to do is to tap into the reservoir of under-researched illegal drugs to see if we can find new and beneficial uses for them in people whose lives are often severely affected by illnesses such as depression,” said Nutt.
If his proposed trial goes ahead, it would be conducted on 60 patients with depression who have failed two previous treatments.
During Nutt’s trials, volunteers were injected with psilocybin – the drug switching off a part of their brain called the anterior cingulate cortex, which is known to be overactive in people with depression.