drug therapy | 

UK's former drug advisor on benefits of MDMA, ketamine and magic mushrooms for depression

Neil Fetherstonhaugh

Recreational drugs such as magic mushrooms, MDMA and ketamine can be more effective in treating resistant depression than any other known treatment, the UK’s former Chief Drug Adviser has said.

Professor David Nutt of Imperial College London is the scientific adviser to the ‘Awakn Clinic’ which is about to open in Bristol.

The clinic that is already licensed to prescribe ketamine to patients is also planning on administrating MDMA and magic mushroom therapies.

Professor Nutt told Newstalk Breakfast that said there is evidence that all three can help with depression, anxiety, PTSD and addiction.

“We are using these treatments for people who have failed on other treatments,” he said.

“Yes, there are other good treatments but in the case of depression, about one-third of people just don’t respond at all.

“We have shown that magic mushrooms – psilocybin – can treat those people with resistant depression more effectively than any other known treatment.”

He pointed out that these drugs have been vilified for decades in an attempt to stop recreational use.

“In our studies, we have done extensive studies on MDMA and psilocybin, they have turned out to be very acceptable drugs because you are only using them once or twice, it is not like you are using them every day,” he said.

Professor Nutt said the clinical benefits of all three drugs are now “well-proven”.

“Currently the only way one can do that is to have a big pharma company doing massive trials, spending billions of dollars to satisfy the regulators,” he said.

“That is going to take a long time. It may never happen and if we wait for that a lot of patients are going to be disadvantaged.

“That is why we want to move more quickly because the need is there now – especially after COVID.”

He also argued that people have been taking these drugs, in the case of mushrooms for millennia and in the case of MDMA for the last 50 years.

“We have the data for the last 50 years and the reason we were allowed to do the psilocybin studies in depressed people was because they accepted that the recreational use over decades had shown no ill effects.”

Professor Nutt was dismissed from his role as the UK Government’s Chef Drug Adviser in 2009 after he said drugs like ecstasy and LSD were less dangerous than alcohol.

He said he has become “more and more convinced” of his view in the years since.

“The evidence is growing and growing,” he said. “The problem with alcohol is that not only is it very harmful and very widely used, it has no medical value at all unfortunately.

“These drugs have enormous medical value and when they are used in medicine their safety is fantastic.

“Obviously, people can die using MDMA. If they take a gram off MDMA they may die but we are not giving them a gram, we are giving them MDMA in a medical setting in the same way as you would give an anaesthetic in a medical setting for a surgical procedure and in those situations, these drugs are safe.”

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