A SCIENTIST who has researched the therapeutic use of hallucinogenic drugs has launched a new Scottish psychedelic society set up to campaign for a change in the law.

Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, the Head of Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London, was in Glasgow on Friday to talk about the health benefits of taking magic mushrooms and LSD.

The 37-year-old gained his PhD under the guidance of his “mentor” professor David Nutt, who was dismissed as chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs in 2009, after saying that ecstasy, cannabis and acid were less dangerous than alcohol and tobacco.

Carhart-Harris said: “Psychedelics are a class of compounds – drugs like lysergic acid diethylamide [also known as acid], psilocybin, which is found in magic mushrooms, and dimethyltryptamine, which is the key psychedelic ingredient in ayahuasca, an Amazonian brew that’s used ceremonially.

“We can define them by their ability to reveal aspects of our mind that ordinarily we’re not fully conscious of. We can also define them by their pharmacology, how they work in the brain, and they stimulate a particular aspect of the serotonin system.”

The scientist has tested psychedelics on patients with mental health problems and reported “exciting” results.

“Three weeks after taking psilocybin half of the patients who had treatment-resistant depression for most of their lives, and who had tried pretty much everything, half of them were depression free,” Carhart-Harris said. “It’s creating a lot of excitement in psychology that we might have something that does what other treatments don’t do.”

He described anti-depressants as a “patch over a wound” and said he expects the government to change the law which bans psychedelics in the face of mounting evidence – but only if more trials are carried out.

Carhart-Harris said: “One of the reasons why this area of research has been slow to take off is because you need to get a licence to do trials. Although it seems quite trivial it costs a few thousand pounds and requires equipment and maintenance. For example, you must get your fridge bolted to a room and security access set up [to discourage theft]. It puts people off, especially since this is an area that carries some stigma among scientists.

“At the moment the licence states psilocybin has significant abuse potential and no recognisable medicinal value but already we have evidence to the contrary. Something needs to change because you’ve got legislation that’s not based on the science. There’s a conflict there and it will become more starkly obvious.”

Carhart-Harris said previous trials have shown that psychedelic drugs can treat obsessive compulsive disorder and addiction to alcohol and nicotine, as well as help people with terminal illness.

He said: “Hopefully now studies like ours and others which have happened in recent years are beating a path for others to follow suit and expand this area and take it closer to licensing. There are entrepreneurs funding multi-site trials to get psilocybin licensed for the treatment of depression. So, positive things are happening. If you follow the logic, scheduling will eventually have to change.”

Carhart-Harris was speaking at the launch of the Psychedelic Society of Glasgow on Friday. Ivan Januskevic, 23, set up the group, which is only the second in the country.

“Previously there was only an Edinburgh branch, but we are looking to expand,” Januskevic said.

When asked if the group will take the banned substances at their meetings he said: “According to law, it is illegal. Most of these substances are Class A and generally thought to be without medicinal potential, which is the part that grates me most.

“Studies have shown these have the least harm potential and many health benefits, yet they are in the highest classification in terms of what the government believes is harmful. It’s a strange position to be in. It seems like cognitive dissonance. That’s why the psychedelic society campaigns for a change in the law.”

To find out more about the group, visit psychedelicsociety.org.uk.


Those who take psychedelics are likely to experience “a distorted view of objects and reality, including seeing and sometimes hearing things that aren’t there,” according to a government-funded drug education service known as Frank which was set up to warn people about the dangers of banned substances.

These hallucinations are known as “trips,” according to the website, and these can be “good or bad” but it admits experiences on psychedelics are “sometimes pleasant”.

“Time and movement can appear to speed up and slow down,” according to Frank. “Colour, sound and objects can get distorted and you can experience double vision.”

Advocates of psychedelics say the drugs can engender profound “spiritual experiences”. Ivan Januskevic of the Psychedelic Society of Glasgow said: “These substances alter human consciousness to an incredible degree. It’s like a spiritual experience which creates connectivity with the universe.”


Professor David Nutt, a neuropsychopharmacologist at Imperial College London, has published dozens of scientific papers about psychedelics. He has argued that the drugs can treat chronic pain, depression, anxiety and addiction issues.

Scottish psychiatrist RD Laing wrote extensively about the therapeutic benefits of acid. The Glaswegian, who died in 1989, prescribed the drug to people with mental health problem in the 1960s before it was outlawed.

Psychologists Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert carried out pioneering studies of the effects of mind-altering substances on the brain. They were both fired from their jobs at Harvard University in the early 1960s for failing to carry out trials in controlled settings.

Writer Aldous Huxley published The Doors of Perception in 1984 which detailed his experiences of taking mescaline. He later routinely took acid. He famously described the drugs as “medicine” and is credited with popularising the term psychedelics, which was coined by British-born psychiatrist Dr Humphrey Osmond who administered mescaline to Huxley.