Former Top UK Drug Adviser Proposes Studying Benefits of Recreational Drug Use

By Victoria Kim 11/14/14

Professor David Nutt wants government to move beyond focusing on the adverse effects of recreational drugs.

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The positive side effects of recreational, non-prescription drugs are worth examining, said Professor David Nutt, a psychiatrist at Imperial College London.

The former chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which makes drug-policy recommendations to the UK government, said that recreational drugs, like any prescription medication, have the potential to provide psychiatric benefits.

“Millions of people take these compounds, and not all of the drugs are illegal,” Nutt said. “Indeed, certain legal highs have chemical similarities with therapeutic drugs and could lift mood or reduce anxiety.”

He noted that both the antibiotic minocycline and the anti-clotting agent warfarin were discovered as possible treatments for schizophrenia by accident. Recreational drugs should not be ruled out, he said.

“Most Western nations already collect information on adverse effects. We should establish parallel schemes to report psychiatric benefits,” Nutt said. “Commonly used medicines are considered safe, so trial for psychiatric benefits could be fast-tracked.”

Nutt would go a step further by observing the psychiatric benefits of recreational, non-prescription drugs. “Maybe those people with psychiatric problems who use illegal drugs discover that their illness is improved,” he said. “For example, past magic mushroom users have reported less obsessive compulsive disorder symptoms—so now we are planning a trial.”

A study published in October showed psilocybin, the psychedelic compound in magic mushrooms, helps the brain create new neural pathways that allow for an increase in organized cross-brain activity, providing intense relief for depressed individuals.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr