Psychedelics breakthroughs – why now?

We take a deep dive into the stories behind the science

Psychedelic compounds have been used in shamanic medicine for centuries, but psychedelics and their properties were only ‘discovered’ more recently by modern science in the 1940s, before decades without progress. What happened and why are psychedelic breakthroughs emerging now?

History of psychedelics

It was Albert Hofmann, a pharmaceutical researcher in Switzerland, who first synthesized the substance LSD and subsequently experienced the first LSD trip on his famous bicycle ride home from his lab in 1943. His discovery was the first step in what has been a rollercoaster journey for psychedelics in the 77 years since. 

Sandoz, the pharmaceutical company Hoffman worked for, first marketed the new compound to researchers as ‘Delysid’ and quickly generated widespread excitement in the psychiatric community. Thousands of scientific publications about LSD’s potential to treat anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions were produced over the next two decades.

The narrative moved in an unexpected direction when the properties of psychedelics such as LSD and psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms) became more widely recognised in the 1950s, and the likes of the US Government and CIA started experimenting with LSD for ‘mind-control’ interrogation techniques against enemies of the state. 

Meanwhile recreational usage of psychedelics began to surge and the hippie movement sprang up in 1960s. Their close association with the counterculture and anti-war movements along with – often sensationalised - reports of the dangers of these drugs, led to psychedelics being outlawed around the world and halted scientific research into their medical potential for decades. 

A psychedelic revival

In the late 90s Beckley Psytech cofounder Amanda Feilding established the Beckley Foundation, a non-profit organisation at the forefront of global drug policy reform and scientific research into psychoactive substances. The Foundation has since played an instrumental role in reigniting and advancing scientific research into the potential medical properties of psychedelics. It has collaborated with leading scientific and political institutions worldwide, such as Johns Hopkins University and Imperial College London, to design and develop novel research and global policy initiatives.

Heralded as ‘the hidden hand’ behind the renaissance in psychedelic science, Amanda and the Beckley Foundation have broken down barriers, building a global network of scientific collaborators, and initiating pioneering research into psychedelics. Notable scientific achievements by the Foundation include the 2016 study which produced ground-breaking results on psilocybin-assisted therapy for treatment resistant depression. Also in that year, working with the Beckley-Imperial Research Programme, the Foundation published the first ever images of the human brain on LSD, a landmark moment in scientific understanding of the drug. Amanda has been a co-author on over 50 peer reviewed publications to date, with the Foundation’s array of highlights including:

  • 1998 - Study on psychedelics and cerebral circulation
  • 2007 - First Ethics Committee approval of LSD study since prohibition
  • 2009 - Beckley-Imperial Psychedelic Research Program
  • 2011 - Global public letter for Drug Policy Reform
  • 2012 - First ever brain imaging study on psilocybin
  • 2014 - First ever brain imaging study on LSD started
  • 2014 - Psilocybin Tobacco Addiction Study
  • 2016 - Psilocybin Treatment Resistant Depression Study
  • 2017 - Ayahuasca Neurogenesis study
  • 2018 - LSD Microdosing study

What now?

The Foundation’s research has paved the way for a number of early stage psychedelic medicine companies, which are researching treatments for a range of serious and debilitating conditions. Beckley Psytech was created to build upon the Foundation’s work by developing safe and effective psychedelic medicines available to patients in need and integrating these treatments into mainstream medical practice.

Our focus is specifically on treatments for mental health and CNS disorders, and we have promising research programmes including the exploration of synthetic 5-MeO-DMT, a short acting psychedelic agent, which has been used in shamanic medicines by indigenous peoples of South America for centuries. 

We hope to make up for lost time in psychedelic science by creating fully licensed psychedelic medicines with the potential to transform lives of patients in need.