Words by Maisie Levitt, News Online Editor
Trigger warnings for drugs, mental illnesses, addictions and suicide.
Leading psychiatrists and drug reformers are urging British ministers to reclassify the psychedelic compound psilocybin to enable researchers to explore its medicinal potential.
The demand has also stemmed from those experiencing cluster headaches, a severe pain which no existing medications have much efficacy on. There is evidence that psilocybin can help reduce the mental and physical impact of the headaches.
The active ingredient in magic mushrooms, psilocybin, is a schedule one drug, making it one of the most tightly controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act, in the same category as cocaine, morphine and fentanyl. Campaigners want it moved to schedule two, in order to facilitate more studies into cluster headaches.
Recent studies yielding ‘impressive results’ have also shown how psilocybin can reduce the symptoms of treatment-resistant depression. It is now also being investigated into its potential benefits for those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anorexia and obesity, as well as people struggling with tobacco, cocaine and alcohol addictions.
Three world-renowned British psychiatrists have written to Sajid Javid, the health secretary, and Kit Malthouse, the Crime and Policing Minister at the Home Office, urging them to rethink the classification.
Professors Karl Friston, Allan Young and Simon Wessely want the ministers to commission the chief medical officer for England, Sir Chris Whitty, to “assess the evidence for the harms and utility of psilocybin” in its potential role in various forms of treatment and medicine.
“There has been no recent review of the evidence for psilocybin’s current scheduling [and] there is not and never has been an evidential basis for psilocybin’s current scheduling.”
The psychiatrists have also argued that this scheduling is inconsistent with the Home Office’s decision for cannabis-based products for medicinal use in 2018.
The demand for the reclassification is supported by the Conservative Drug Policy Reform Group, which includes the ex-justice minister, Tory MP Crispin Blunt.
Blunt has stated that Boris Johnson had agreed to reschedule psilocybin and other psychedelic substances to further medical studies into their uses in a meeting with him in May 2021. However, there has been no change since then.
Blunt has said, “Cluster headache sufferers hold guns to their heads routinely as they weather attacks of this ill-understood condition.”
“To keep in place the red tape that precludes further clinical knowledge of how this pain can be alleviated with psilocybin is to cement thousands in the UK between a rock and a hard place. Do they break the law to access a medicine that seems to work, or do they accept that the Home Office has consigned them to a life of suffering further preventable attacks?”
Ainslie Course, the director of cluster headaches charity ClusterBusters UK, as well as 160 other people suffering from the condition, have also written to Javid and Malthouse. Course wrote that those with cluster headaches have suicide rates 20 times the national average. She also added that many sufferers are breaking the law by buying psilocybin online.
A government spokesperson responded that “Medicines involving controlled drugs must go through a licensing process to ensure their safety, quality and efficacy. No medicine based on psilocybin has yet been licensed by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency.”
“However, we are working with the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to consider whether barriers to legitimate research on controlled drugs – including psilocybin – could be removed.”