This is Your Brain on Acid (Seriously)

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Dr. David Nutt on what the first brain imaging study of humans on LSD reveals mental health and human consciousness.

The study of psychedelics is “bringing psychotherapy and medicine together,” says David Nutt, a neuropsychopharmacologist at Imperial College London and a co-author of the first imaging study looking at the effects of LSD on the human brain. “Drug-assisted psychotherapy is going to be the great advance in the [field in the] next 20 years.”

In 2009, Nutt was fired from his job as a drug adviser to the British government after he made comments about ecstasy and other illegal drugs being less dangerous than alcohol and even horseback riding.

Reason’s Zach Weissmueller sat down with Nutt at the Psychedelic Science 2017 conference in Oakland to talk about the results of his groundbreaking imaging study, what he learned about drug policy while working as a science adviser for the English government, and what he sees for the future of psychedelics and mental health treatment.

Produced by Zach Weissmueller

Camera by Alex Manning. Additional graphics by Meredith Bragg.

Music by Sergey Cheremisinov.

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This is a rush transcript—check all quotes against the audio for accuracy.

Zach: Hi I’m Zach Weissmueller for Reason. We’re here at the Psychedelic Science 2017 conference in Oakland. I’m here with David Nutt. He is the Edmond J. Safra Professor of Neuropsychopharmacology at the Imperial College of London. Thank you very much for joining us Dr. Nutt.

Dr. Nutt: Good to be here.

Zach: You were the chief drug advisor in England. Something happened, could you just tell us that story?

Dr. Nutt: For nine years I was the head of the group that assessed drug harms for the government and over that time we did an enormous amount of research into the comparative harms of drugs. As a result of that I discovered, somewhat to my surprise, that alcohol was actually the most harmful drug in the UK. The drugs that politicians like to get hysterical about like cannabis and MDMA, Ecstasy, are comparably much less harmful. So then I started explaining that to the government saying, “Well, our drug laws are wrong. Actually putting people in prison for cannabis possession is not fair because alcohol is more dangerous.” They did not want to hear that. They said, “Stop saying that.”

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