An Oxfordshire charity with an impressive roll-call of scientific advisers is pressing for the drug LSD to be used more for medicinal purposes.
Perhaps ironically, the charity — Beckley Foundation — has its headquarters at Beckley Park, the secluded and moated Henry VIII hunting lodge outside Oxford which, according to the Oxford Literary Guide, was the model for Aldous Huxley’s Crome Yellow.
Huxley was a great experimenter with drugs. He went on to write Doors of Perception, Heaven and Hell and Island — the latter describing a society in which people are brought closer to “reality” by the use of magic mushrooms.
The charity was founded by Amanda Feilding in 1998 at her family home, to promote the study of consciousness. A separate programme, called the Beckley Foundation Drug Policy Programme (BFDP), investigates governments’ drug policies, reviewing the dilemmas facing policy makers at national and international levels.
Now the foundation is helping to form a network of researchers and has contributed to one Swiss and two US studies. It has also contributed to the funding of forthcoming clinical LSD trials in Germany and has lobbied for more UK research.
Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) was first created in a laboratory by Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann in 1938 and Swiss doctors continued to use it for therapeutic purposes until little more than a decade ago.
Other governments clamped down on it after it acquired a bad reputation — mainly during the 1960s, when it was widely abused.
The US Government banned it in 1968 and most other governments did so after the 1971 UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances.
Mr Hofmann died in April 2008 at the age of 102 and Ms Feilding promised him on his deathbed that she would campaign to see the drug he first synthesised — and ingested — rehabilitated become a serious research tool into studies of the human brain, psychotherapy, and a possible therapy for such conditions as migraines and cluster headaches, and some other degenerative diseases.
Ms Feilding, speaking to The Oxford Times from Washington DC, where she and her husband Lord Wemyss are promoting the foundation’s work, said: “We want to open up these incredibly valuable compounds that have been used throughout history. We know LSD is non-toxic and non-addictive. Now we have made a hole in the wall of taboo and we are collaborating with the University of California at Berkeley and using them beneficially.”
The Beckley Foundation certainly has an impressive board of advisers, including Oxford professor and former head of the Medical Research Council Colin Blakemore, US expert pharmacologist Prof David Nichols, and Prof David Nutt of Imperial College, the former chief drug adviser sacked by home secretary Alan Johnson in October for publicly criticising the Government’s drugs policies.
Prof Nutt, who will speak at the Oxford Union on Monday, had criticised politicians for “distorting” research evidence in the debate over illicit drugs. He will also give a public talk as guest of Abingdon MP Dr Evan Harris at Cosener’s House, Abbey Close, Abingdon, on Sunday at 4pm.
Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) was a frequent member of the circle of writers, including DH Lawrence, TS Eliot, and Siegfried Sassoon, who used to gather at Garsington Manor as guests of the colourful Lady Ottoline Morrell during the First World War and shortly afterwards. The house in his first novel Crome Yellow, published in 1921, with its “three projected towers” is said to have been inspired by Beckley. It was also, incidentally used, in the film Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
It seems apt, somehow, that the modern study of consciousness should be carried out at Beckley, since Huxley wrote of “the mystery that is me and the mystery that is other people”, and the Beckley foundation motto is: “Know Thyself.”
After the expiry in the 1960s of the patent for LSD, held by Hofmann’s employer, the Swiss drug company Sandoz, LSD became a much-used recreational mind-altering drug and Huxley’s experiments with it became famous.
Ms Feilding said: “In spite of 40 years of prohibition, drugs are cheaper, purer and more widely available than ever before.”
She added: “Everyone agrees that more informed debate is required as the basis for any further change in attitude and policy.”
At a seminar organised by the Beckley Foundation, Prof Nichols said: “Psychedelics could be powerful tools in the development of a better understanding of mind-brain interaction, personality and cognition.
“They provide treatment options for patients with terminal illnesses, and there are positive indications that they could be beneficial for conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and eating disorders, which are notoriously difficult to treat effectively.”
He added; “There has not been a singe study of LSD since the last one was shut down 35 years ago. Why is that?”
He was speaking in 2005. Now Ms Feilding says she is “particularly proud” that the Beckley Foundation has initiated the first fully approved neuroscientific investigation involving LSD and human subjects in more than 35 years.
In its endeavours to further understanding about changing states of human consciousness, the foundation is also looking at cannabis.
Ms Feilding said: “Given that cannabis is the most widely used illegal drug, furthering our understanding is clearly vital, both of the dangers it may have but also of the potential benefits that can be derived from it and the chemicals it contains.”
With this in mind, the foundation is helping to develop a biochemical test to identify people for whom cannabis use is particularly unsuitable. It hopes to clarify the psychological risks associated with cannabis and determine how such risks might be minimised.
It is concerned that new varieties of cannabis such as skunk contain higher quantities of the psychoactive ingredient THC than occurs naturally and suggests that this could be why more people than before are reporting bad experiences with the drug.