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Psilocybin mushrooms
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London is getting Europe’s first psychedelic drugs research lab

Mushrooms could help mental health

Written by
Alice Saville

There was a time when getting into mushrooms meant either scouring your Ottolenghi cookbook, or choking down some ill-tasting tea in a field somewhere, while wearing asymmetric hempen garments and listening to psytrance. But now mushrooms are being dragged out of the woods and into the lab, as scientists discover the potentially wondrous medical effects of the fungi-derived compound psilocybin. British start-up Clerkenwell Health is opening the first commercial facility for psychedelic drug trials in Europe, making London a world leader in shroomy research.

The first trials will begin in August, and will focus on psilocybin’s potential to help people cope after they’ve been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Using psychedelics in mental-health treatment isn’t exactly a new concept: researchers started trials way back in the ’50s. But scientific progress has been painfully slow since then, after the UK government banned LSD in 1967 and psilocybin in 1971, largely putting paid to further studies. 

Now, things finally seem to be ramping up again, and the UK’s fast becoming a world centre for research thanks to regulators that are increasingly willing to approve trials, and the recent introduction of a special pathway designed to bring innovative therapies to market more quickly. Clerkenwell Health’s new lab near Harley Street will work with drug companies around the world, including Toronto’s Psyence, Canada’s Mindset Pharma and US-based Mydecine, to tackle problems like end-of-life anxiety, psychiatric disorders and even nicotine addiction. 

But is it safe? Before you start to visualise forlorn acid casualties stumbling in bewilderment through Marylebone, be reassured that studies take place in a carefully controlled environment, where psilocybin consumption is combined with talking therapy. It’s a far cry from psychedelics’ weird and wild reputation in years gone by, but it could signal a brave new frontier in mental health treatment.

Can’t get on a trial? Enjoy this technicolour tsunami of foam in Greenwich instead.

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