Bristol Research: Danger Drugs ‘could Have Potential To Save Lives’

The Bristol Post highlights emerging research into psilocybin, MDMA, and ketamine as treatments for addiction, depression, PTSD, obsessive compulsive disorder, and other conditions. The article profiles Dr. Tim Williams, a psychiatrist with experience researching addictions and psychedelics. “What we want to be able to do is use these drugs to help unstick people whose minds are stuck,” explains Williams. “Then we can allow them to engage with regular therapy, which they wouldn’t have been able to do before.

Originally appearing here.

THEY are banned drugs branded dangerous to society, whose users and dealers face arrest and sometimes jail. But a Bristol doctor is carrying out tests to see if ecstasy, ketamine and other illegal substances could be “useful” to medicine, with volunteers taking them under test conditions for the first time.

At Bristol Specialist Drugs and Alcohol Service, Dr Tim Williams helps treats thousands of addicts a year as they pass through one of the city’s network of rehabilitation agencies.

Now the clinical director of this NHS service is helping to find a way to harness some of the drugs’ “life-saving” potential in unprecedented clinical trials. He claims the research could, for the first time, uncover treatment for a number of often fatal mental health problems.

Away from BSDAS, the consultant psychiatrist has been working on trials with a team at Imperial College London using club drug ecstasy, horse tranquiliser ketamine and powerful psychedelics like magic mushrooms.

Working alongside Professor David Nutt, who was controversially sacked as a drugs adviser to the Government, Mr Williams has been testing substances on volunteers in a controlled clinical environment. Using modern brain scanners, the group has been monitoring the drugs’ effects, “to see how they could be at all useful”.

And what Dr Williams has found, he says, could save lives.

“What we wanted to demonstrate was that these recreational drugs can have a very specific impact on the brain which could help treat various problems,” he says at BSDAS’s headquarters in Colston Fort, Kingsdown.

Drugs like psilocybin, the active chemical in magic mushrooms, can “switch off” a part of the brain which normally inhibits a patient from working through their problem with a therapist. Dr Williams argues that this drug, alongside MDMA (ecstasy) and ketamine, could be used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and borderline personality disorder.

“What we want to be able to do is use these drugs to help unstick people whose minds are stuck,” he said. “Then we can allow them to engage with regular therapy, which they wouldn’t have been able to do before.

“It has potentially got a great benefit and could save lives. There is a high percentage of people stuck in a range of disorders, which often lead to suicide or mortality. There is very little to treat problems like these at the moment – and this could break the cycle.”

Dr Williams said it could be 10 to 15 years before the drugs are possibly used on patients, adding: “These drugs have all been around for a long time but we have never been able to study them properly because they are illicit, so there is an enormous amount of regulation.”

Even though the doses used in the clinical trials are very small, Dr Williams says his team are aware of the dangers of using the drugs, which, at their strongest, can “strip away a whole personality”.

“We do worry about the side-effects,” he admits. “But we have to be responsible as scientists. This is very different from taking these substances recreationally.”

DR Williams said he agreed with David Nutt that alcohol was more harmful than many of the illicit drugs he was testing.

Professor Nutt, from Bristol, was sacked from the Government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs after saying alcohol was more harmful than ecstasy.

But Dr Williams said: “I certainly agree with him that alcohol is the most harmful drug in our society at the moment.”

He called for a complete “re-writing” of our laws on drugs, adding: “I don’t think legalisation is the right way to go about it. But there needs to be rationalisation of drug laws so there is better relationship between the harms of different drugs and the punishments for using them.”

Dr Williams said the current laws were not fit for purpose and hindered scientific study.