We are creating a unified UKRI website that brings together the existing research council, Innovate UK and Research England websites.
If you would like to be involved in its development let us know.

Site search
Back to blog

Actually, we do fund studies of illicit drugs

by Guest Author on 5 Mar 2015

A cannabis plant

(Image: Drome on Flickr under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Whatever you might have heard in the media, we do fund research into illicit psychoactive drugs. Here Dr Kathryn Adcock, Head of Neurosciences and Mental Health at the MRC, explains.

You might have seen in the news today that Professor David Nutt, Professor of Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London, has said that UK funders are unwilling to fund research that uses illicit drugs.

But we agree that recreational drugs may have therapeutic benefits, and we encourage research in this area. That’s why in 2012 we funded Professor Nutt to the tune of over £500,000 for his research into whether psilocybin – the active ingredient in magic mushrooms – can treat major depression. In 2013 we funded his £250,000 project to use psilocybin in schizophrenia research.

And Professor Nutt isn’t the only person we’re funding in this area. Last year, for example, we spent more than £860,000 on studies into the therapeutic use of a cannabis derivative called cannabidiol for psychosis and cannabis dependence. We’re also funding research into whether ketamine can reduce the side effects of electroconvulsive therapy in people being treated for severe depression.

We make our funding decisions via our boards of experts, and decisions are made based on the quality of the research proposal, not on how controversial a topic is. We’re certainly not cautious about funding studies just because they relate to an illegal drug.

So, those researchers out there with a great proposal for research into how recreational drugs can improve health, as well as research into substance abuse and addiction, you know where to come.

Kathryn Adcock


Of course research is done into illegal drugs – how else would the NHS know how to treat people suffering addiction or overdose? Legal highs also need ongoing research – several years ago I attended a very interesting talk on the subject by the Institute of Psychiatry (now IOPPN, KCL) who work closely with South London and Maudsley NHS FT

author avatar by Carol Stevenson on 13-Mar-2015 18:03

Indeed all labeling of drugs as “illicit” are arbitrary and culturally delineated (c.f. alcohol and Islam). Also, there are exemptions for some “First Nation” cults in the US and Canada. However, this is beside the question. Research must never be limited by any legal or cultural constraints. Rather, like with the research into very dangerous microbes etc., which require class 4 labs, there must be safeguards to ensure society “at large” sees only the benefits and not the downsides. But it would be a weird idea to limit research into ANYthing on such culturally volatile grounds!

author avatar by Maureen Coffey on 14-Mar-2015 21:22

What is causing a block within the medical profession re apparent benefit to those who suffer some forms of fitting of non-recreational cannabidiol?

author avatar by Philmo on 20-May-2019 18:02

Leave a reply

You may use basic HTML in your comments. Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

From category

Share this: