The Psychedelic Drug Trial a new programme for BBC Two has exclusive access to a groundbreaking new trial at Imperial College London.
The trial sees for the first time ever, under controlled conditions, a psychedelic drug tested head to head against a standard antidepressant as a treatment for depression.
The film follows a pioneering team of scientists and psychotherapists, led by Professor David Nutt, Dr Robin Carhart-Harris and Dr Rosalind Watts, as they compare the effects of psilocybin (the active ingredient of magic mushrooms) with an antidepressant (an SSRI called escitalopram), on a small group of participants with clinical depression.
This is scientific research at its most cutting edge. With more than seven million people being prescribed antidepressants each year in England alone, this drug trial is an important milestone in understanding a completely different treatment for depression.
Filmed over 16 months, this film explores both the immediate and long-term impacts of the trial on the lives of participants. It investigates whether controlled use of psychedelic drugs combined with psychological support could help tackle one of the biggest medical challenges we face, and what it takes to conduct research in uncharted scientific territory.
We meet a paediatric nurse who has been off work for 10 months due to depression; a cafe-owner who has been struggling with his mental health for over two decades; an artist who feels her depression has taken away her sense of agency; and a photographer ready to embrace a new alternative treatment.
How do psychedelic drugs taken in a controlled environment measure up against the industry-standard antidepressants that have been popular since the 1990s? The empirical results of the trial are explored alongside the participants’ powerful lived experience.
The Psychedelic Drug Trial airs Wednesday 19th May at 9pm on BBC Two.