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  1. hookedonhelping
    Nice find Alfa!

    Drug bans hamper brain research, says neuroscientist

    (Reuters) - Bans on drugs like ecstasy, magic mushrooms and LSD have hampered scientific research on the brain and stalled the progress of medicine as much as George Bush's ban on stem cell research did, a leading British drug expert said on Thursday.

    David Nutt, a professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London and a former chief adviser on drugs to the British government, said the international prohibition of psychedelics and other mind-altering drugs over the past half century has had damaging and "perverse" consequences.

    "When a drug becomes illegal, conducting experimental research on it becomes almost impossible," Nutt told reporters at a briefing in London ahead of the publication of his new book "Drugs - without the hot air".

    He compared the situation with that in stem cell research under former U.S. President George W. Bush, who banned any new embryonic stem cell studies from 2001 to 2009 - a move many scientists consider held the field back for years.

    Nutt said the problem with the current approach to drugs policy globally, which is centered on the banning of substances thought to be most harmful, "is that we lose sight of the fact that these drugs may well give us insights into areas of science which need to be explored and they also may give us new opportunities for treatment."

    "Almost all the drugs which are of interest in terms of brain phenomena like consciousness, perception, mood, psychosis - drugs like psychedelics, ketamine, cannabis, magic mushrooms, MDMA - are currently illegal. So there's almost no (scientific)work in this field," Nutt said.

    Nutt last year conducted a small human trial to study the effects of psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, on the brain.

    Contrary to scientists' expectations, the study found psilocybin doesn't increase but rather suppresses activity in areas of the brain linked to depression, suggesting the drug might be a useful treatment for the debilitating condition.

    Nutt said he was forced to "jump through hundreds of hoops" to be able to conduct the study, having to comply with a level of complex, expensive and time-consuming security and regulation that would put most scientists off.


    The professor, who was sacked in 2009 in a high-profile row with the British government after he compared the risks of smoking cannabis with those of riding a horse, said he was driven to write the book in the hope of improving understanding of drugs - both legal and illegal, medicinal and recreational.

    "There is almost no one in society who doesn't take drugs of some sort. The choices you make in your drug-taking are driven by a complex mixture of fashion, habit, availability and advertising," he said.

    "If we understand drugs more, and have a more rational approach to them, we will actually end up knowing more about how to deal with drug harms."

    Published on Thursday, the book seeks to explore the science of what a drug is and how it works.

    It discusses whether the "war on drugs" did more harm than good - Nutt thinks it did.

    And it explores why Britain's Queen Victoria took cannabis - apparently her physician J.R. Reynolds wrote a paper in the Lancet medical journal saying that "when pure and administered carefully, it (cannabis) is one of the most valuable medicines we possess". He prescribed it to the monarch to help her with period pains and after childbirth.

    The book also has chapters on why people take drugs now, how harmful they are, where and whether the danger lines should be drawn between legal drugs like tobacco and alcohol, and illegal ones like cannabis and magic mushrooms.

    Nutt doesn't dispute that drugs are harmful, but he takes issue with what he says are un-scientific decisions to ban one, like cannabis, while allowing another, like alcohol, to be freely and cheaply available on supermarket shelves.

    "Drugs are drugs. They may differ in terms of their brain effects, but fundamentally they are all psychotropic agents," he said. "And it's arbitrary whether we choose to keep alcohol legal and ban cannabis, or make tobacco legal and ban ecstasy. Those are not scientific decisions they are political, moral and maybe even religious decisions."
    (Reporting by Kate Kelland, editing by Paul Casciato)



  1. source
    Psychedelic drugs can unlock mysteries of brain – former government adviser

    David Nutt says research into mental illness is hampered by the prohibition of drugs such as psilocybin and LSD

    Scientists should have access to illegal psychedelic drugs such as LSD and psilocybin to aid them in brain research, according to the government's former drug adviser Professor David Nutt. He said that research into the deepest mysteries of the brain, including consciousness and mental illness, had been curtailed by the prohibition of the drugs.
    Prof Nutt said that scientists might find treatments for conditions such as schizophrenia by using modern techniques to study the effects of psychedelic drugs on the brain.
    "Neuroscience should be trying to understand how the brain works," said Nutt, who is professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London. "Psychedelics change the brain in, perhaps, the most profound way of any drug, at least in terms of understanding consciousness and connectivity. Therefore we should be doing a lot more of this research.
    "It's extraordinary that 40 years of advances in brain imaging technology and there's never been a study about this before. I think it's a scandal, I think it's outrageous the fact these studies have not been done. And they've not been done simply because the drugs were illegal."
    Speaking to the Guardian ahead of a lecture he will give at a University College London neuroscience symposium on Friday, Nutt said that a volunteer for a recent experiment pulled out of the study because he was worried that "being in a study with a so-called illegal drug could mean he couldn't travel to some countries, such as America. To inhibit research to that extent is an outrage."
    Nutt's views will challenge governments around the world which, largely, classify psychedelic drugs as harmful and illegal. The professor is used to being a thorn in the side of the authorities. In 2009, the UK's then health secretary, Alan Johnson, sacked him from his post as chair of the government's Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs for publicly stating that alcohol and tobacco were more harmful than LSD, ecstasy and cannabis.
    Hundreds of clinical trials of psychedelic drugs such as LSD were carried out in the 1950s and 1960s, and successful treatments, including one for alcohol addiction, came out of the work. Since LSD was banned around the world, however, the number of scientific studies has dropped to virtually zero, and there have been no studies using modern imaging techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to look at what parts of the brain are affected by it.
    Nutt recently published research, with colleagues at Cardiff University, on the effects of psilocybin – the active ingredient in magic mushrooms – on the brain. His team had assumed the drug might increase activity in certain parts of the brain, to explain the experience that users get when they eat magic mushrooms. Instead, MRI scans of 30 healthy volunteers showed that psilocybin seemed to decrease activity in the regions of the brain which link up different areas. The study was published in January in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
    "This is a hugely important way of perturbing the brain to understand the nature of consciousness," said Nutt. At his lecture on Friday, he will examine whether psilocybin's effects on the brain can be used as a model for psychosis. Some of the brain alterations seen as a result of taking psilocybin, he said, are similar to those seen in the brains of people with prodromal schizophrenia.
    Psilocybin seems to suppress the actions of a brain system called the "default mode network" which is active whenever a person is, for example, reflecting about the world rather than engaged in a specific activity. The "task-positive network" is engaged when a person focuses on a specific job and it operates out of phase with the default mode network. But in schizophrenia, the networks are much more in phase and, under psilocybin, they are completely in phase.
    "So, we're thinking [psilocybin] might be an interesting model for early stages for schizophrenia, it might allow us to test new drugs," said Nutt. "When people start to become psychotic, their ego boundaries break down, the relationship between them and the world gets disrupted and the relationship between their different inner experiences gets mixed up. Eventually they start hearing their own thoughts as someone else's voice.
    "That breakdown of connectivity in the brain is very classic in schizophrenia. If we can produce this in a laboratory in a normal volunteer, we can then look for new treatments and it is much more efficient to do that in normal volunteers than try to find young people who are starting to develop their illness and it's ethically more acceptable too."
    Nutt and his colleagues are also studying potential uses for ecstasy, also known as MDMA. "The therapeutic value of MDMA for psychotherapy has been widely known until it was banned and has hardly been studied since. There have only been a couple of MDMA imaging studies, but none of them using cutting-edge technologies, so we're doing that at present."
    In collaboration with Robin Carhart-Harris at Imperial College London, Nutt also wants to further his research into more psychedelic drugs such as LSD and ibogaine, a derivative of African root bark, which is used to treat addiction in Thailand and Cambodia.
    Carrying out such work is usually difficult for researchers, however, because they have to make such lengthy applications for licences to use illegal drugs. And even if the research went ahead and showed benefits from the drugs, it is unlikely doctors would be allowed to prescribe them. Nutt recently called for the UK's classification system of drugs to be rewritten to reflect more accurately their relative harms, and called for a regulated approach to making drugs such as MDMA and cannabis available for medical and research purposes.
    "Regulations, which are arbitrary, actually make it virtually impossible to research these drugs," said Nutt last month. "The effect these laws have had on research is greater than the effects that [George] Bush stopping stem cell research has had, because it's been going on since the 1960s."

    Alok Jha
    , science correspondent
    guardian.co.uk, Thursday 28 June 2012 17.16 BST
  2. Phenoxide
    Re: Psychedelic drugs can unlock mysteries of brain – former government adviser

    Nutt seems to have made quite a successful second career out of public and private speaking off the back of the ACMD debacle. He's also clearly been careful to foster connections in the press to keep his name out there. While I'm sure some view him as the voice of sanity that tells us all what we'd like to hear, I find him to be increasingly disingenuous and more interested in beating his own drum than in bringing about progressive drug policy changes. While his public comments regarding drug use immediately after leaving the ACMD were well considered, as time has passed his arguments seem to be increasingly an appeal to emotion than to scientific rigor. Every time I've seen him speak there's a bitterness about the way he was removed from his advisory post. There's an almost snarky quality about the way he confronts the status quo which doesn't come across as constructive to me at all, and isn't going to win the hearts and minds that don't already share his philosophy on drugs. I actually think his continued proclamations will only do more damage to UK drug policy because his name is so tarnished in Whitehall that anything he gets involved with will be roundly ignored.

    He's greatly overstating the challenges of controlled substance research in my opinion. Licenses do involve a lot of paperwork but if you're a legitimate institution and you've managed to tie down the funding for such a research project then licensing is not a major obstacle. The real challenge is securing that funding, especially from the public sector.

    Which leads into another point.. it's incredibly simplistic to suggest that research into psychedelics stagnated for 30 years or so solely because of their legal status. Even if those drugs had remained uncontrolled research into them would've been stifled because the general public perception of them at that time was very poor and being tarred with the 'recreational drug' label would've meant the only research that would be funded would've been focussed on abuse, not therapeutics. The problem therefore has nothing to do with legal status and everything to do with what public sector research funding bodies such as the NIH, NIDA, and UK research councils are willing to underwrite. If those funding bodies were willing to support research into these substances (and they increasingly are) then controlled substance status is largely irrelevant.

    I have no idea what his point was about a person pulling out of the clinical trial for fear that they wouldn't be allowed to travel. Taking part in a licensed clinical study is not illicit activity and is not something one would have to declare to US homeland security or the authorities in any other country to which one may travel (well.. unless you consider clinical trials to be morally turpitudinous). I'm sure Nutt is well aware of this and only raised the point to make the current situation look far more restrictive than it actually is rather than addressing the misconception.

    And to suggest that the impact of controlled status on drugs has been a greater hindrance to research than the restrictions on stem cell experimentation is frankly nothing more than a ludicrous soundbite for the media. Stem cell research encompasses a far broader range of biological and biomedical research. While both have their value I have no doubt that we'd have gained more from 10 more years of stem cell research than from 30 years of recreational drug research.

    Which is clearly why there is so much of it going on right now throughout Europe and North America and that he'll be discussing in his talk tomorrow! I'm just surprised they didn't plug his book too!
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