The British psychiatrist and neuropsychopharmacologist David Nutt had reached arguably the pinnacle of his field as chairman of the government's Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. Then 2009 he was summarily dismissed from his position. In May, Reason TV's Zach Weissmueller sat down with Nutt to discuss his sacking, and what he's learned from the psychedelic research he continues to do atemperial College London.
Q. What happened that caused you to lose your job?
A. We did an enormous amount of research into the comparative harms of drugs, and I discovered, somewhat to my surprise, that alcohol was actually the most harmful drug in the U.K. I started explaining to the government, "Our drug laws are wrong. Putting people in prison for cannabis possession is not fair, because alcohol is more dangerous." They did not want to hear that.
Q. You just completed some research on LSD in conjunction with the Beckley Foundation. Tell me about that.
A: It's a fascinating drug. In the 1950s and '60s it was going to solve the World's problems. The National Institute of Health in America funded 140 separate studies. Then as soon as it started being used recreationally, is suddenly got banned. We decided it was time to bite the bullet and do the first brain imaging study of LSD.
Q: You were quite literally looking at, "This is your brain on drugs." What is our brain on this particular drug?
A: Our brains are trained over decades to do things exactly the same way every day, every hour, every minute, every second. Those structures we thought were hardwired, but it turns out they're not hardwired. They can be disrupted by LSD. We think that [plains why afterwards, people often feel different, and better, because the brain's been allowed to work a slightly different way for the first time.
Q: What is the application of that?
A: It helps us make sense of why drugs like LSD can change the way people behave in the long term. The founder of [Alcoholics Anonymous], Bill Wilson, became a profound enthusiast for LSD. It work. People are much less likely to relapse back to drinking after they've had a psychedelic experience, because they can see there's a world out there which isn't all about the bottle.
Q: Do your brain scans offer any clue to why psychedelics seem to offer some relief to these with conditions like depression...