The acid test

LSD brain imaging study meets with crowdfunding success. Ella Rhodes reports.

A crowdfunding site set up to raise funds to complete research into the effects of LSD on the brain has attracted more than one thousand backers in less than a week. The site, set up by Professor David Nutt and his colleagues, is carrying out research as part of the Beckley Foundation’s Psychedelic Research Programme.

The Beckley Foundation, a charity which carries out research into psychedelic drugs and consciousness, initially set out to raise £25,000 to complete an fMRI and MEG imaging study into LSD on the brain. However after raising almost £50,000 in under a week the researchers extended their goal to include a further £50,000 to help run a study into LSD and creativity and problem solving.

The brain under the influence of LSD has never been seen using modern imaging techniques: as a schedule 1 substance, LSD for research purposes is highly controlled and expensive. However Professor Nutt and his colleagues (Imperial College London) have already carried out a brain imaging study of people who had taken psilocybin – the key ingredient of magic mushrooms – which showed the chemical plays a role in the Default Mode Network, an area of the brain implicated in depression, OCD and Alzheimer’s.

The 20 participants in the LSD study have already been scanned, and results from the initial imaging study will be released later this year once analysis is complete. Professor Nutt said in a statement: ‘Despite the incredible potential of this drug to further our understanding of the brain, political stigma has silenced research. We must not play politics with promising science that has so much potential for good.’

Writing on the crowdfunding site, the scientists explain: 'It is difficult to find funding for psychedelic research as the subject is surrounded by taboo, but we hope that there are many of you who will be excited to provide funding so that this fascinating and important research project can be completed.'

Speaking to us, Professor Nutt added that the level of support so far had 'surprised and thrilled' him. 'Reflecting on why, I suspect that many people have used these drugs and gained benefit so are interested in how they work and how they might be turned into medical use. It's a silent minority to whom we have given a voice and so they wish to support us – and this includes a number of academics.'

- Read more from Professor Nutt in our September 2014 hallucinogens special

 

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