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Thanks to Crowdfunding, the World’s First Brain Scan Study of LSD’s Effects is a Go

by Rafi Schwartz

March 10, 2015
image via youtube screen capture

Of all the psychedelic substances on Earth, perhaps none are as powerful, or as stigmatized, as that of Lysergic acid diethylamide, or as it’s usually known: LSD. But, for all its psychotropic potential, the effects of LSD on the brain have been surprisingly under-researched, particularly as the drug’s less-than-savory reputation has grown over the years. Now, decades after Timothy Leary’s infamous acid studies of the 1960s, a team of British medical researchers, including Imperial College London Neuropsychopharmacology Professor David Nutt and Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, have begun exploring how the drug interacts with brain’s natural chemistry by conducting the world’s first MEG and fMRI brain scan study of LSD’s effects. This, they claim, is England’s first major study of the drug in nearly fifty years.

While the study is being carried out as part of The Beckley Foundation Psychedelic Research Programme, the team turned to the scientific crowdfunding site Walacea to help finance the project, offering “psychidelic prints” and dinner with the researchers as rewards. As Laughing Squid points out, the researchers blew past their £25,000 (nearly $40,000) goal in just two days, and have as of today raised nearly double that amount from over 1,000 separate backers. According to the Walacea page, the money will be put toward completing the already-begun research depicted in the video above, with the study’s findings likely to be published later this year; This, rather than to launch a new study from scratch, the results of which wouldn’t be available for a number of years.

image via youtube screen capture

To conduct the study using LSD, classified in England as a Schedule-1 narcotic, the team needed a license to utilize the drug, as well as the approval of an ethics committee to administer it to human subjects. The costs of acquiring the license and onerous red tape needed for approval are, they surmise, one of the reasons the drug has been under-studied. But, more than money and red tape, it is the stigma against psychedelic research which they feel has been the greatest hindrance to progress in the field. As a Beckley Foundation article on the study explains:

Professor Nutt said: ‘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’.

The censorship of psychedelics caused by the ‘War on Drugs’ has obstructed scientific research over the last 40 years by making research councils cautious about funding research in this field and scientists hesitant about getting involved. However, many scientists and members of the public feel that this censorship must end. ‘Only with the very best scientific research will we overcome the taboo and reintegrate these valuable therapeutic substances into the fabric of society’ says [Beckley Foundation founder/director] Amanda Feilding

By conducting sophisticated brain scans of study subjects under the influence of LSD, the team hopes to derive new methods for treating a host of psychological disorders, including obsessive compulsion and depression. 

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Thanks to Crowdfunding, the World’s First Brain Scan Study of LSD’s Effects is a Go