By Kate Kelland
LONDON (Reuters) - British scientists are turning to crowdfunding to complete the first scientific study ever to image the brain of someone "tripping" on the psychedelic drug LSD.
The study, part of a psychedelic research project the scientists say could revolutionize understanding of the human brain, is led by neuroscientists at Imperial College London who now need around 25,000 pounds ($38,000) to finish their work.
When they do, the research will produce the world's first images of the human brain on LSD and will begin to reveal the way the drug can work to heal many debilitating illnesses such as alcohol addiction, depression and anxiety, the scientists told a briefing in London.
"Despite the incredible potential of this drug to further out understanding of the brain, political stigma has silenced research," said David Nutt, a psychiatrist and professor of psychopharmacology at Imperial College London.
He accused funders and governments of "playing politics with promising science that has so much potential for good".
LSD is one of the most potent known psychoactive drugs and was used in the 1950s and 1960s as an aid to psychotherapy for various psychiatric illnesses. It appears to break down psychological defenses and help patients open up during therapy.
But it was later banned, and under the 1971 United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances is now illegal almost everywhere, including in the United States, Australia, New Zealand and most of Europe. This status make it extremely difficult for scientists to research its effects in humans.
People who use psychedelic drugs often describe experiencing "expanded consciousness", vivid imagination and dream-like states.
Nutt and other researchers have previously conducted studies with psilocybin, the psychedelic ingredient in magic mushrooms, and found it suppresses activity in certain "hub" areas of the brain that normally play a constraining role.
This latest study involves giving 20 volunteers a small dose of LSD and using the latest imaging technology to capture its effect on the brain. Nutt's team said they expected to find that LSD's effects were similar to those of psilocybin, but more profound and longer-lasting.
The LSD study has been funded so far with 100,000 pounds from the Beckley Foundation, a UK-based think tank dedicated to researching potential medical benefits of psychoactive substances.
The crowdfunding campaign is hosted by the science funding platform Walacea.com and will run for 45 days from March 5.
(Editing by Tom Heneghan)