Inside the UK’s campaign to reschedule psilocybin with MP Crispin Blunt

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Member of Parliament Crispin Blunt has championed the campaign to reschedule psilocybin for scientific and research purposes in the UK. Last month the honourable Mr Blunt raised the issue directly with Boris Johnson at Prime Minister’s Questions, with Johnson declaring he would get back to Blunt at the earliest opportunity. 

The constitutional convention saw the campaign to reschedule psilocybin elevated to national headlines, and a week later British psychedelic company COMPASS Pathways released data from its pivotal Phase IIb trial with psilocybin, which demonstrated its efficacy in treatment-resistant depression.

PSYCH sat down with Blunt and Timmy Davis, Psilocybin Rescheduling Project Manager at the Conservative Drug Policy Reform Group, to discuss the groundbreaking study and the future of the nation’s psychedelic healthcare industry, and receive an update on lobbying.

The campaign to reschedule psilocybin in the UK was outlined in the ‘Medicinal Use of Psilocybin’ policy document, published in June. PSYCH asked for an overview for its readers.

‘In the report we go over a brief history of psilocybin, its medical use, modern research and the barriers to research in the UK due to psilocybin’s Schedule 1 status under The Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001,’ outlined Davis.

‘We present an argument for a change in policy that would move psilocin and its esters, including psilocybin, from Schedule 1 to Schedule 2, with restrictions that would mitigate inappropriate prescribing.

COMPASS Pathways is a British company leading the charge in a lot of ways, yet they are listed on the Nasdaq rather than the London Stock Exchange. They have just released fantastic Phase IIb topline data, which is very exciting, and we wish them all the best in the hope market authorisation across the pond will speed things up here.

‘We are absolutely doing our best to get everything that is released, from every corner of the globe, under the noses of the policy makers. We’re drawing their attention to the fact that the COMPASS study is the largest trial to date, and that it shows psilocybin is one of the most effective interventions for treatment-resistant depression. 

‘We can’t help but think that if the government had acted sooner on rescheduling psilocybin, a lot of the trial locations would have been onshore, further reaffirming the UK’s position as a world leader in the space.  

‘The original neuroimaging research was done at Imperial College London, which found psilocybin affected the areas of the brain implicated in depression, sparking everything that has led to this huge industry. So, it is a point of frustration in the UK that we have not capitalised off the back of science which essentially originated here.’

With the nation in danger of losing its position as a global leader in scientific research, PSYCH was eager to know if Blunt had spoken with the Prime Minister since their public confrontation.

‘We haven’t had a formal response since then,’ revealed Blunt. ‘I am promised a meeting by the Health Secretary and will personally brief him on the opportunities that are available.

‘I am yet to get a date for that meeting, but as a consequence of this interview I will make sure my office pushes hard to say “When is this meeting happening? It is urgent because of the opportunities that we are missing out on in the United Kingdom.” 

‘The government’s inability to support the development of this industry with the appropriate regulatory framework means the government is not playing its part, as it should be, in supporting the great strength of British science and research. It ought to be creating a very benign and supportive environment for investors, which would help elevate the industry to its maximum potential.’

The UK has a prestigious biosciences industry, underpinned by world-leading research institutions and direct access to lucrative capital markets. PSYCH proposed that restrictive regulations were deterring incumbent investors.

‘If we were intelligent in this space, quite frankly we would be enabling an investment market that supports the sciences enthusiastically, as its proponents wish to be able to do,’ responded Blunt. 

‘The policy unit is there to identify the global trends that are happening, and to place the UK in a position to catch these trends and take advantage of them. It is of huge importance now that we have left the European Union to sustain British competitive advantage.

‘The prime minister had told me that he had authorised the rescheduling of psilocybin back in May. What appears to have happened is that he has approved a policy in its submission to him and that the Home Office has been told to get on with it. However, the Home Office has come back with all these reasons why it can’t do anything.

‘The Home Office’s leadership on drug policy regulation is doing the country profound damage, in terms of the opportunities that are not able to be taken economically and scientifically to deliver medical treatments for the British population. We are shockingly wasting time and watching these opportunities go by, which is very frustrating.’

In contrast to many countries, the UK operates a nationalised healthcare system. PSYCH asked whether this was a barrier to adopting progressive healthcare policies and treatments.

‘The NHS has a choice. There are significant advantages to its database and the purchasing power it can provide to pharmaceutical companies. To get the NHS Kitemark on your product is a huge marketing benefit globally. So, are we going to combine the NHS with an entrepreneurial spirit to get things done? Like the vaccine programme was rolled out for COVID? Or are we going to see a procurement shambles that embarrasses everybody by its slowness and the fact the NHS gets ripped off by highly astute providers in the private sector?

‘If you have an area in which you have the scientists, the pharmaceutical base and the expertise, and it is energetically and positively organised, the NHS could be of huge benefit to pharmaceutical companies. The alternative is that you have a state monolith that is utterly risk averse and sits there as a great blob that does nothing. It just lumbers like every other state institution, wallowing in the wake of an energetic and dynamic private sector.

‘We are heading in the wrong direction and that is why my rhetoric is beginning to warm up in this respect. I will use all the opportunities available to me to try and prod the bureaucracy into responding. Regrettably, in my experience in the last three years, this government responds to the prospect of pain, not pleasure, so the prospect of pain is what it shall receive until it acts.’

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