Magic mushrooms could replace antidepressants within five years, says new psychedelic research centre

'Absurd' that magic mushrooms and MDMA are class A drugs, expert tells MPs

Government urged to declare a 'public health crisis' as opioid overdose deaths hit record levels amid cuts to treatment services, experts say

Alex Matthews-King
Health Correspondent
Wednesday 12 June 2019 12:17

The classification of magic mushrooms and MDMA as class A drugs is “absurd” when the potential risk of harm and abuse is significantly lower than legal or less strictly controlled substances, MPs have been told.

Magic mushrooms have some of the lowest rates of harm of any drug and studies have indicated they possess great potential for treating serious depression, but they’re classified alongside crack cocaine and heroin under the Drugs Act since 2005.

Professor Matthew Hickman, an expert on drug deaths from Bristol University and a previous chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), said that politics, not evidence of harm, had been behind this classification.

“When I was on the ACMD, my first meeting was regrading magic mushrooms as class A solely because, chemically, it was like LSD,” he told MPs on the told the Health Select Committee after being asked for his view on the UK’s drug classification system.

“Because the committee never downgraded a drug, or took a drug off, it just had to be the same.

“If it’s pharmacologically the same it should get the same [classification]. It is absurd.”

“MDMA shouldn’t be a class A,” he added. “That’s also been used for treatment resistant depression and PTSD as well.”

MPs are reviewing the state of UK drug policy at a time when drug overdose deaths are rising but addiction and treatment services have been repeatedly cut.

Experts blamed the short sighted decision to remove responsibility for drug treatment from the NHS as part of the 2012 Health and Social Care Act, and give it to local authorities whose budgets have been repeatedly cut.

Office of National Statistics data show there were 3,756 deaths from all types of drugs in England and Wales in 2017.

This is the fifth year in a row where a new record has been set, with a record 432 deaths due to cocaine but some of the biggest increases relating to powerful opioid drugs such as the painkiller fentanyl.

In an upcoming editorial in the Lancet Psychiatry medical journal, Professor Hickman, and co-author Professor Sir John Strang, of King’s College London will argue there is a need “to call for a public health crisis around opioid related deaths.”

“It’s the highest it’s ever been, it’s gone up annually, the services aren’t working,” Professor Hickman added.

He said opioid addiction treatment is not being offered for long enough, and coupled with a lack of support in prisons it means sufferers who leave these services are at much higher risk of overdose if they relapse.

These deaths have risen much faster than the increasing age of drug users, and experts said it should not be assumed that they were inevitable.

“On the face of it, every drug death is avoidable,” Josie Smith, the head of substance misuse at Public Health Wales told the committee.

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