It's great to be here today, with so many companeros, on this eve of the 16th of April, the day 67 years ago, when Albert Hoffman accidentally experienced his first LSD-trip, which launched the thousand ships on which we now sail.
I set up the Beckley Foundation in 1998 for the purpose of scientifically studying consciousness and its altered states.
Growing up in an isolated but magical garden on the edge of a marsh in England, I enjoyed several childhood mystical experiences, from which I developed a passionate interest in mysticism, the Sufis and Bhuddism. After my first psychedelic experience with LSD in 1965, I became fascinated by the scientific question: what physiological processes underlie the alteration of consciousness brought about by this miraculous substance? In particular, my explorations led me to wonder whether one of LSD's principal actions was to increase the blood supply to the brain capillaries, thereby providing extra glucose and oxygen to the brain cells, accelerating brain metabolism, which may in turn be the cause of those experiences that are shared by both psychedelic and mystical states of consciousness.
There is after all, nothing more important to human beings than our consciousness - it is the core of our being, through which all awareness passes. To enhance its function must be to our gain!
The better understanding of what consciousness is, how it works, and what are the changing factors that underlie its full range of states, is centrally important not only to the individual but also to society.
It was to delve into these questions that I set up the Beckley Foundation, realizing that, as a Foundation, I could be much more effective than as a mere person. I invited a distinguished galaxy of scientists, stretching all the way from Albert Hofmann to Sacha Shulgin, to be on the advisory board, giving the Foundation added depth and opening the doors to the world of academia.
From my own experiences with psychedelics, I realized how amazingly and significantly they can raise ones capacity to perceive and to perform, if used with skill, and in a "responsible" way. With a scientific explanation of how they alter consciousness, one can much more easily use them as valuable tools to expand and explore consciousness.
Between the prohibition of psychedelics in 1970 and the setting up of the Beckley Foundation in 1998, the new technology of brain-imaging had made unbelievable advances. Combined with the catalyst of a psychedelic to alter consciousness, this new technology could now be used to reveal the inner workings of the brain and the mind, at levels not imaginable before - provided, that is, that the state could be persuaded to grant ethical approvals for such research. It is an orchard full of ripe fruit waiting to be picked.
From a combination of my own experiences and many years of studying the science of consciousness, I developed a good idea of what the important questions are that research into the physiology underlying consciousness needs to address and how to set about exploring this subject using psychedelics.
Through the Beckley Foundation I am currently collaborating in over 10 different projects involving psychedelics - particularly LSD, psilocybin and cannabis - at such institutions as, Imperial College London, the Institute of Psychiatry, University College London, Johns Hopkins, Berkeley, Hannover and St. Petersburg.
I would like to give you a very brief overview of a selection of these projects which I hope will be of interest to you:
After years of seeking to open up psychedelic research in the UK, I have at last, with Prof. "Dave" Nutt and Robin Carhart-Harris at Imperial College, started investigating the effects of psilocybin on blood flow and brain activity, using the fMRI techniques of ASL and BOLD. This pioneering study will throw light on the question of if, and how, psilocybin helps in the recall of distant or repressed memories, helping to develop it as an aid in psychotherapy, and also throwing new light on the important and neglected subject of cerebral circulation. We plan that this first Beckley/Imperial study will grow into an ongoing programme of psychedelic research. Robin will be talking about the study in more detail tomorrow.
At Johns Hopkins, I am delighted to be collaborating with Prof. Roland Griffiths and Matt Johnson, in conducting the first study in modern times to harness the profound psychological effects of psilocybin to aid in the treatment of that most intractable addiction, to nicotine in cigarette smoking. Previous research has suggested that the mystical, spiritual experiences that psilocybin can promote might be integral to the efficacy of psychedelic-assisted treatments of addiction. This project has great potential to develop our understanding of psychedelics, their impact on health and well-being, and their therapeutic potential.
In 2005, I suggested to Matt Baggott that we collaborate on an LSD study in California. In April 2007 we received the first full approvals, since prohibition ended all such research over 30 years ago, to use LSD with human participants at Berkeley. This first pilot study, investigates the safety of using LSD in scientific research and, using EEG, explores how changes in consciousness brought about by LSD alter the way in which brain areas communicate with each other, and how LSD may enhance creativity. Most importantly, by obtaining the first approvals it becomes easier for future research to gain such approvals, thereby open up this most important field of research.
In another Beckley Foundation study located in Europe, we are currently applying for approvals to study the effect of LSD on cerebral circulation and brain activity, This study will compliment both the research at Berkeley, and the psilocybin research at Imperial.
Also, working with Profs. Torsten Passie and Matthias Karst at the Hannover Medical School, we are, among other studies, furthering the investigation of the treatment of cluster headaches using a non-psycho-active analogue of LSD, called Bromo-LSD. This study will, we hope, develop our understanding of the underlying causes of cluster headaches, and also refine a treatment-plan, using Bromo-LSD, that would either cure, or reduce the pain and duration of each attack.
We were delighted to be able to make an early contribution to Peter Gasser for the MAPS-sponsored pilot study in Switzerland, which administers LSD, as part of a palliative treatment programme to ease the pain and pre-death anxiety in subjects suffering from terminal illness.
In the field of cannabis research, the Beckley has initiated and is collaborating on a network of projects, including the first investigation, with Prof. Dave Nutt, into what neurophysiological changes underlie the 'high' that people experience as beneficial when smoking cannabis. In this pioneering study, the participants are inhaling vapor from the natural plant. We are making use of fMRI to investigate changes in blood flow, and other brain-imaging techniques to investigate the changes in neuro-transmitters and brain activity. Together, these alterations will be correlated with the changes in subjective perception, thereby increasing our understanding of how cannabis alters consciousness
In other research with the Institute of Psychiatry, we are investigating the different effects of THC as opposed to canabidiol or CBD, and the evidence is ever more convincing that CBD might well prove to be a most valuable medication in the treatment of psychosis, stress and a variety of other disorders. In natural cannabis, the ratio of these two compounds is balanced, but in more recent genetically-engineered strains of cannabis the THC ratio becomes ever higher, and the CBD correspondingly lower. A study we have just completed has shown that pure intravenous THC can produce psychotic-like symptoms even in healthy individuals, but that if the subjects are first given CBD, they are much less likely to have those symptoms.
In collaboration with Professor Val Curran and Celia Morgan at University College London, we are investigating four hundred participants smoking their own cannabis; we are taking measures of the ratio of THC to CBD in their cannabis and also collecting data of the participant's genetic and personality type. With this information we are investigating the propensity of cannabis to stimulate creativity, and also exploring the individual differences which leads to cannabis causing anxiety in some people and pleasure in others. The next stage of this research will use brain imaging technology to investigate the effects of cannabis on creativity.
Another project which is particularly close to my heart, and is a central piece in the jigsaw of understanding the importance of cerebral circulation in regards to cognitive functioning is my work with Professor Yuri Moskalenko at the Sechenov Institute of Evolutionary Physiology in St Petersburg. Together we are investigating the cerebral-circulatory-systems of blood and cerebrospinal fluid, their changing dynamics, and their effects on cognition and the long-term health of the brain. This research, which has already produced many peer-reviewed papers, is casting important new light on many aspects of the ageing process and dementia, and hints at how changes in blood circulation may provide a unifying thread behind many aspects of consciousness.
The research has also developed a new non-invasive technique to investigate the changes in cerebral dynamics, and further developed the concept of cranial compliance.
It is my hope that as the network of Beckley Foundation studies, progress and produce results, slowly a clearer overview will emerge of how the changing states of consciousness can be understood in terms of changes of blood supply, of chemical and electrical activity and the interaction between different areas of the brain.
Psychoactive substances have been used since the dawn of human culture as a means of altering consciousness, and to my mind will always be around, as humans have an innate drive to alter their consciousness. That is why a principal aim of the Beckley Foundation is to open the doors to scientific research into these substances, in order to expand our knowledge of how, at a clinical level, their use can help in the treatment of illness and suffering, and at the neuroscientific level, how they can be used as invaluable tools for unlocking the mysteries of consciousness itself.
Of course, there is another aspect of the psychedelics which also merits scientific investigation, and that is to gain a better understanding of how their use can enhance the life of healthy people, by expanding their awareness, deepening their sense of the spiritual, enhancing creativity, adding laughter and vitality and, finally, helping the individual fulfil the Delphic oracle's message to Know Thyself, which is, by the way, the motto of the Beckley Foundation.
In order for research in psychedelics to fully develop we need to make headway at the political level, of cleansing these substances of their taboos, and at a practical level, of finding the funding to carry out our research programs.
Towards this first aim I would like to briefly mention the Beckley Foundation's wider efforts in the field of international drug policy research, which is dedicated to providing a rigorous, independent review of global drug policy, aiming at reducing the harms associated with both the misuse of drugs and the policies that aim to control them. The intention of the Foundation is to help develop policies that are evidence-based and rational, rather than those that are ineffectual and harmful, due to being rooted in unsubstantiated ideology.
In conclusion, trying to condense 12 years of Beckley work into 15 minutes is a little like catching lightning in a bottle, but I hope I may have caught a spark or two.
Now is such an exciting time for Psychedelic Research as our toe is in the door, and it is finally beginning to reap real rewards, after having been a sleeping beauty for the last 40 years.
I am very grateful for having the opportunity to meet so many like minded people and I much look forward to widening the network of collaboration over the next few days.
April 21, 2010