Accessing psilocybin in the UK


Psilocybin in the UK

Acceleration the adoption and accessibility of psychedelic healthcare is crucial to drive innovation in mental health care and improved patient outcomes worldwide. The discovery and development of psychedelic medicines in Europe are currently hindered by regulations that restrict their access. Despite a mounting body of clinical evidence demonstrating its medical efficacy, psilocybin remains a Schedule 1 substance in the UK.

This places the psychoactive compound under the most stringent and restrictive regulations, with a licence issued by the Home Office required to lawfully produce or possess psilocybin – even for research purposes.

Obtaining this licence is resource-intensive, both financially and administratively, with a lengthy application process. This prevents psychedelic research from taking place in the UK, with drug developers instead relocating to more favourable jurisdictions.

Psilocybin in the UK

Ultimately, the creation of frameworks that support medical innovation attracts investment. As a result, supporting research into psilocybin’s therapeutic potential through regulatory reform would enable the UK’s emerging psychedelic ecosystem to develop quicker – with direct access to London’s capital markets.

The Conservative Drug Policy Reform Group (CDPRG) is championing the campaign to reschedule psilocybin in the UK, with Chair and Member of Parliament Crispin Blunt speaking at the PSYCH Symposium on Wednesday, 11 May.

Ahead of the seminal event, PSYCH spoke with Blunt and Timmy Davis, Psilocybin Rescheduling Project Manager at the CDPRG, on the need to facilitate access to psilocybin in the UK for medical research.

On the subject of British psychiatrists writing to Home Secretary Sajid Javid asking to reschedule psilocybin, Blunt said, ‘These three psychiatrists are amongst the top cited psychiatrists in the world and, not only that, they’ve been directly involved with psilocybin research, as well. 

‘Professor Alan Young signed and he heads the psychedelic trials group at King’s College London, which is one of the leading institutions of psychedelic research in the world, and especially in the UK.

‘These are the people who are the leads in the treatments and that’s one thing we wanted to show with this letter, and the work that we do generally, is that it’s not proven psychedelics can be powerful treatments, because the research hasn’t been done.

‘There is a consensus that the research should be enabled and that the evidence should be able to be collected – and that’s essentially across the board. You’d be very, very hard-pressed to find somebody that doesn’t support a call for rescheduling.’

PSYCH asked Blunt whether the presence of world-leading research institutions and publicly listed organisations positioned the UK to be a major player in psychedelic healthcare.

‘The danger is we may already have missed the boat,’ lamented Blunt. ‘If you look at where the investment is going, it’s not going into the UK, because we have been so slow off the mark as research has been so difficult.

‘Let’s hope that real government strategies, underpinned by science, and reinforced by industry knowledge – where we are already strong – can come to the rescue. I think it’s important that we hold the conversations now to try and catch up. 

‘Investors will only be convinced about investing in a new location to do research and produce these treatments if they’re convinced that the government is absolutely serious about giving this every opportunity to succeed.’

Since PSYCH spoke with the CDPRG in November, the team have met with the Home Office to discuss regulatory reform. PSYCH was eager to learn how these consultations had progressed.

‘There has been a really interesting and fruitful dialogue since November, which gives us a lot of faith that this issue is going to be addressed,’ said Timmy Davis.

‘What was being reported back to me is that they’re serious,’ added Blunt. ‘They’re focused, they’re listening, they’re trying to do their best job and at the very least are intellectually curious. Which is positive.’

PSYCH asked if Blunt felt the campaign to reschedule psilocybin was widely supported in Parliament.

‘It’s actually trying to find opposition, and why would anyone oppose rescheduling? There is no credible public policy argument to leaving these things in schedule one.

‘The number of my colleagues who actually stand in the way of this is less than ten, out of 651 in the House of Commons. There are, of course, ministers out there who are being briefed by their civil servants about what needs to be done to ensure there are no risks and to ensure they don’t approve a change that has unpredicted effects. 

‘We live in hope that the CDPRG has produced the evidence that gets policymakers to start thinking properly about the scope of what they’re trying to do and put it in the widest possible context.‘Let’s start having a mature debate in society about what people are doing to make themselves feel better. Proper public education and public health policies to reduce the harms and to educate people on the damage they might be doing to themselves.

‘If we don’t, it may cost our science base billions. For those in the United Kingdom who could be treated, it could cost many of them their lives.’

Blunt will speak on the accessibility of psilocybin in the UK at PSYCH Symposium: London 2022, on Wednesday, 11 May. He commented on the importance of continued advocacy to embrace psychedelic healthcare in Europe.

‘Those of us interested in this area of policy need investors to produce the capacity for companies to deliver these treatments. The industry then needs to report to the government that it’s getting in the way and that its policies are not fit for purpose.

‘If the government wants the UK to meet the objectives of government policy, which is to be a bioscience superpower, it needs the investment and support of both industry and finance.’

PSYCH Symposium provides an opportunity to connect with key decision makers, learn from industry leaders and share opportunities that will contribute to the future of psychedelic healthcare.

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