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In the past fifteen years there has been a growing resurgence of interest in the status and use of psychedelic drugs. Many older people associate them with the hippie culture of the late 60s. However, things have moved on considerably. And now there is a growing consensus, underwritten by a great deal of painstaking scientific and medical research at major academic institutions such as Imperial College, London, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, the University of Basel and Cardiff University, that these substances can actually be beneficial to an individuals's mental health if used in therapeutic, ritualistic or equivalent settings i.e. safe environments.

The psychedelic renaissance (for that is what it is) pays homage to earlier understandings of these remarkable drugs, but has also taken into account the narrowness of past interpretations whether simplistic, post-Freudian accounts of regression in the 1950s or idiosyncratic readings of
The Tibetan Book of the Dead in the 1960s. Now we are able to see, courtesy of fMRI and other techniques, and map how psychedelics such as LSD (essentially derived from the ergot fungus), mescaline (peyote and other cacti), psilocybin (aka 'magic mushrooms') and DMT (involving ayahuasca vines and chakruna shrubs) and others affect the various networks in the brain and map them with subjective qualia .

In short, psychedelics have the capacity to provide us with privileged insight into how the brain works, how it is able to 'construct' reality but also, at the same time, our necessary sense of 'selfhood'. In addition, they shine a torch not just into what might be regarded as generic 'mystical experience', but also into the ultimate claims of all religions, that there is a 'Ground of Being' which at different times and in different ways people dare to call 'G-O-D'.

The first Breaking Convention took place at the University of Kent in 2011. In 2013 it moved to the The Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich (part of the campus of the University of Greenwich) which is a wonderful setting, especially with the famous Royal Observatory being less than a mile away. So far the Convention has rightly resisted commercial sponsorship. However, it is suported by
MAPS and The Beckley Foundation .

In the 1960s psychedelics tapped into the
zeitgeist effortlessly. Now we live in harder, infinitely more challenging times, but the power and 'magic' of these drugs hasn't departed. Perhaps we need to tune in again as a matter of urgency?

Here are my talks in 2015 and 2017 which can also be found on Vimeo and YouTube respectively.

Entheogens and the Emerging Internet of Everything

A Psychedelic Take on Work and Identity in an Age of Big Data and Smart Algorithms


Some Recent Papers and Articles on Psychedelics

(ordered alphabetically)


Connectome-harmonic decomposition of human brain activity reveals dynamical repertoire re-organization under LSD

Decoding the Tripping Brain

Does microdosing LSD really work? A new study will try to find out

Effective connectivity changes in LSD-induced altered states of consciousness in humans

How to Change Your Mind: The New Science of Psychedelics by Michael Pollan – review by Oliver Burkeman

Inside Jamaica's Magic Mushroom Retreat for Women [in memory of Kai Wingo]

LSD and magic mushrooms could heal damaged brain cells in people suffering from depression, study shows

Macrodosing psychedelics: The story of one straitlaced writer's journey into mindbending drugs

Neural correlates of the LSD experience revealed by multimodal neuroimaging

Psychedelics Promote Structural and Functional Neural Plasticity

Religious leaders get high on magic mushrooms ingredient – for science

Study shows how LSD interferes with brain's signalling

Why psychedelics could be the new class of antidepressant




Drugs Policy (General)

The Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 is intended to restrict the production, sale and supply of a new class of psychoactive substances often referred to as "legal highs" within the UK. A number of informed people (including myself) had severe reservations about the scope and wording of 2015 Bill believing that it would not achieve its desired ends but simply make matters alot worse on our streets and within our penal institutions. It's early days but I believe our concerns were essentially correct. An open letter was published in The Times and a copy delivered to the then Prime Minister David Cameron. I was a co-signatory of the letter but also had a minor hand in its final drafting. Here is the relevant text:


Dear Prime Minister,

We the undersigned request that HM Government immediately reconsiders the proposed Psychoactive Substances Bill (2015).

Parliament is responsible for protecting citizens against the harms of drugs. However, the enactment of the Psychoactive Substances Bill would be deleterious to the freedoms, well-being and ultimate safety of UK citizens. The UN Drug Conventions were established under the assumption that prohibition would reduce drug use and therefore minimise drug-related harms. Instead, global drug use has increased significantly in the decades since these policies were incorporated into law. Many countries have witnessed the unintended and damaging consequences related to the dangers of an unregulated criminal market and the criminalisation of a large number of otherwise law-abiding citizens.

If enacted, the Psychoactive Substances Bill would be unlikely to reduce the market for new psychoactive substances (NPS), which are mostly sold “not for human consumption”. The law will place the market in the hands of unregulated criminal organisations; increasing the likelihood of violence between competitors over market control as well as driving market focus on products that are higher in price and potency. Unregulated illegal markets have no incentive to comply with quality assurance protocols and accurate labelling of products, resulting in increased health risks for users and a greater strain on the already overburdened National Health Service.

Medical science will suffer from the proposed legislation, just as it continues to suffer from the over rigid regulation of other controlled psychoactive substances. Scheduling psychoactive agents in a blanket ban will impede the development of novel psychiatric medicines and prevent vulnerable members of society from potentially benefiting from new treatments.

Furthermore, any legislation that prohibits the sale of all psychoactive compounds without proper consideration of their relative harms and benefits presents an unwarranted threat to the long-standing freedoms of UK citizens. It is not possible to legislate against all psychoactive agents without criminalising the sale of dozens of harmless, everyday products that produce changes in mood and behaviour, from fresh flowers and herbs to spices and incense.

If the Government is genuinely serious about reducing drug-related harms, it should ensure that policy-makers focus their attention on public health campaigns, wide-ranging educational initiatives, effective drug treatment strategies, and the adequate funding of relevant medical and scientific research.

Despite these concerns we welcome the fact that the Psychoactive Substances Bill does not target NPS possession for personal use and would strongly encourage the extension of this approach to the regulation of other psychoactive drugs. In general, however, we believe the bill to be very poorly drafted, unethical in principle, unenforceable in practice, and likely to constitute a real danger to the health and well-being of our nation’s citizens.

Yours sincerely,



Prof. David Nutt
Edmond J Safra Chair in Neuropsychopharmacology
Imperial College, London

Prof. Julian Savulescu
Director
Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, University of Oxford

Prof. Barry Everitt
Director of Research
University of Cambridge

Prof. Richard Ashcroft
Professor of Bioethics
Human Rights Collegium, Queen Mary University of London

Dr Rowan Williams
Master
Magdalene College, Cambridge

Prof. Colin Drummond
Chairman
Faculty of Addictions, Royal College of Psychiatrists

Prof. Colin Blakemore
Former Executive Director
Medical Research Council, UK

Dr Ian M. Kenway
Director
Centre for Information Ethics and Public Policy

Prof. Graeme Henderson
Professor of Pharmacology
University of Bristol

Lord Rea
President
UK Health

Prof. Ilana Crome
Professor of Addiction Psychiatry
University of Keele

Prof. Celia Morgan
Director
Centre for Neuropsychopharmacology, University of Exeter

Dr James Rucker
Lecturer in Psychiatry
Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IOPPN)

Prof. Robin Mackenzie
Professor of Law
University of Kent

Prof. A. C. Grayling
Master
New College of the Humanities

Dr Adam Winstock
Director
Global Drugs Survey

Prof Ilina Singh
Professor of Neuroscience & Society
University of Oxford

Dr Charlotte Walsh
Lecturer in Law
University of Leicester

Dr Andrew Gallimore
Neurobiologist
University of York

Dr Melissa Bone
Doctor of Law
University of Manchester

Patrick Hennessey
Barrister
39 Essex Chambers

Dominic Taylor
Former Senior Officer
Prison Service HQ, Ministry of Justice

Sam Branson
Chairman
Sundog Pictures

Dr Julian Huppert
Former Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament
Cambridge

Neil Woods
Detective Sergeant, Chairman
Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP UK)

Paul Flynn
Labour Member of Parliament
Newport West

Paul Whitehouse
Chief Constable (retired)
Sussex

James Duffy
Chairman
Strathclyde Police Federation

Francis Wilkinson
Chief Constable (ret.)
Gwent

Annie Machon
Former Intelligence Officer
MI5

Jonathan Liebling
Political Director
United Patients Alliance

Amanda Feilding
Director
Beckley Foundation

Dr Teri Krebs
Board Leader
EmmaSofia, Oslo

Niamh Eastwood
Executive Director
Release

Darryl Bickler
Co-Founder
Drug Equality Alliance

Martin Powell
Head of Campaigns
Transform Drug Policy Foundation

Dr Chris Ford
Clinical Director
International Doctors for Healthier Drug Policies

Richard Todd
Trustee
DrugScience

Jason Reed
Executive Director
Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP UK)
Producer
The Culture High

Dr David Luke
Senior Lecturer in Psychology
University of Greenwich
Co-Director
Breaking Convention

Dr Ben Sessa
Consultant Psychiatrist, Senior Research Fellow
University of Cardiff
Co-Director
Breaking Convention

Dr Cameron Adams
Research Associate in Anthropology
University of Kent
Co-Director
Breaking Convention

Aimee Tollan
Co-Director
Breaking Convention
David King
Co-Director
Breaking Convention






"The Change, It Had To Come"
Psychedelic Research Today
LSD and magic mushrooms could heal damaged brain cells in people suffering from depression, study shows