Is LSD about to return to polite society? For 40 years, Amanda Feilding, Countess of Wemyss and March, has believed psychedelics are an effective treatment for depression and anxiety. Now a growing number of scientists agree—Ed Cumming, The Guardian UK
Imagine a family of drugs that could treat addiction, depression and post-traumatic stress: sicknesses of the soul for which modern medicine, in all its surgical wizardry, has few cures. Substances that were a fillip to creativity and could provide those who took them with an experience comparable to seeing God or witnessing the birth of a child. Say these wonder chemicals were found: why would a society make them illegal?
The question has dogged Amanda Feilding since the 1960s, when during her teens and early 20s she first tried psychedelics. Through cannabis, LSD and magic mushrooms she found that the doors of perception were flung wide open. A blissful period of experimentation followed, in the heyday of that swinging decade, before the doors were slammed shut again in what she says was a panic about their dangers.
In 1966, when she was 22, she met Bart Huges, a Dutch chemist with whom she had a long romantic relationship. He introduced Feilding to the psychedelics and the science of consciousness, and in particular to his theories about how blood circulates in the brain. He described two theories controlling blood supply to the brain: a ‘large mechanism’ of overall blood volume, and a ‘small mechanism’ which controlled the distribution of blood in the brain more specifically. “Funnily enough, that second mechanism has been shown to be more or less what we’re picking up now in our studies,” Feilding says.
Huges’s other interest was trepanation, the practice of drilling a hole in the skull to expose the outer layers of the brain. Proponents claim that it is one of the earliest forms of surgery – ancient skulls have been found with holes in them – but it is fair to say that modern medical consensus is against it. The zenith of Feilding’s experimentation with cerebral circulation was in 1970 when she trepanned herself, an experience that was turned into an art film, Heartbeat in the Brain. A short excerpt is on YouTube. In the film the 27-year-old Feilding explains that if the public is not made aware of trepanation’s benefits then it will never be available free on the NHS. Next she chops her fringe off and drills a hole in her forehead. The available clip (the whole film is not online) cuts to the moments after the procedure. Feilding, her head bandaged and white apron stained red, wipes the blood off her face and smiles.