The world is experiencing a devastating physical health emergency. But the coronavirus pandemic has also seen a renewed focus on our psychological wellbeing. Loneliness, uncertainty and grief may be intensifying an already acute mental health crisis, and in the US there has been a 20% spike in the number of prescriptions for antidepressant and anti-anxiety drugs during lockdown. Demand for key antidepressants is threatening to exceed supply in the UK – where prescriptions have already more than doubled over the last decade.
I head the Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London, the first of its kind, supported by about £3m in philanthropic donations. For 15 years, my research has focused on how drugs such as LSD, psilocybin, DMT and MDMA work in the brain, and how they may be useful in treating disorders such as depression. Like the present pandemic, a psychedelic drug experiences can be transformative – of the individual – and of society. Both illuminate the extent to which the condition of the world we inhabit is dependent on our own behaviours. And these, in turn, are a consequence of how we feel, think and perceive.