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SPEECH: ACCESS TO PSILOCYBIN TREATMENTS

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Categories: News

Martin spoke in the Backbench Business Debate on access to psilocybin treatments. Here is an extract of his speech transcribed via Hansard:

Martin Docherty-Hughes MP (SNP, West Dunbartonshire): It is a pleasure to speak in the debate today and to follow the hon. Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger) on a subject about which I have to admit I had no great prior knowledge. I had some knowledge, although not great prior knowledge, so getting my nose into briefings and articles about a most poorly understood topic, at least I think for Members in this House, and hearing the various contributions today has been most enlightening.

I will come on to those contributions in a moment, but I would like to pay tribute to my good friend, my hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan), who is a co-sponsor of today’s debate. He is certainly a fan of the road less travelled, and I find the tenacity and good humour with which he approaches the sometimes unfashionable subject of drug reform—not only in this Chamber, but at home in Scotland—to be a breath of fresh air. As we know, the subject can often be too dominated, especially in this place, by preening truism pedlars who do not challenge either elected Members or the general public, who expect us to be able to have debates of substance on topics that, as the hon. Member for Devizes indicated, have no easy answers, but are none the less valuable.

I thank the hon. Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt) and especially the hon. Member for Warrington North (Charlotte Nichols) for showing that there is cross-party support in this House for a sensible evidence-based approach to drug law reform. To come first to the hon. Member for Warrington North, who talked about the prior debate on access to nature, we live in these islands surrounded by psilocybin. Importantly, the hon. Member brought in the lived experience of their condition and how this research, or rescheduling to schedule 2 would have a profound impact on those suffering from PTSD. I hope not only that the Minister is listening, but that all of us on the Front Benches are listening, as well as those who advise Ministers in Government in Whitehall. I am sure Government Ministers will be taking their advice and I hope they are listening to the lived experience so well and eloquently expressed by the hon. Member.

The hon. Member for Reigate exposed something that all politicians, especially those on the Front Benches, need to be very careful about, which is proposing White Papers that talk about an evidence-based policy-making approach. Well, the evidence seems to be self-evident. My good friend, my hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde, talked about how the regulation we have is based on a preconception. I am maybe going to call it the “Mary Whitehouse approach”, because it seems to be founded on the Mary Whitehouse approach of the 1950s. I hope that those who advise Ministers—from the medical profession, but notably civil servants in Whitehall—will reflect that we now perhaps need to take our heads out of the sand.

I think it is clear from the contributions in general today that something does need to change with regard to the drug scheduling laws, particularly as they relate to psilocybin. It is a strange time for drug reform in many ways. We in this place seem a good decade, if not even further, behind the attitudes of the wider public—and, actually, other countries—who appreciate that the days of endless and expanding prohibition must surely be behind us and that the so-called war on drugs has been in so many ways not only unwinnable, but actually detrimental to the society it seeks to protect. I think all of us on the Front Benches really need to take our heads out of the sand and look at the opportunities that debates such as this now offer us to change our own views.

My party is one that I hope will always support sensible drug policies that uphold the rule of law and make communities safer. I am afraid that I now need to perhaps challenge the Minister about the UK Government’s continued reticence, for example, to even countenance an evidence-based change to drug laws, which, at least from my perspective, means letting people down. For those of us in Scotland, we have seen this in, for example, the safe consumption rooms. It is a policy with proven efficacy across the western world that enjoyed cross-party support as one possible way to reduce the terrible toll of drug deaths in many of our constituencies, yet I am afraid this was reduced to the level of party politics.

I mention the Government’s attitude to opiates there deliberately, because in many ways psychedelic drugs are more restricted, as we have already heard from various Members, with opiates being licensed for medical and research use, while substances such as psilocybin remain on the schedule 1 list with no medical potential. So this makes it an issue of pretty unique importance. I can understand arguments against, for example, safe consumption rooms, even if I disagree with them, but when it comes to psychedelic compounds, I do not think anyone can have the same arguments regarding addiction and societal breakdown that we would have heard around opiates.

Members who want a crash course in opiate addiction need only pick up the Financial Times today to see the profound consequences of opiate addition in the city of San Francisco in the United States. It is a harrowing article to read, and will have consequences for us all if we do not start to pick up on some of the issues highlighted by the hon. Member for Reigate about accessing new medical treatments. That is not, as the hon. Member for Devizes indicated, a silver bullet, but it is another tool in the armoury for those suffering from various conditions.

This is not just for mental health issues; there are a whole range of usages, and people are using psilocybin, or even micro-dosing with it, for many other issues. There are those who consider using it for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which is not a mental health issue but a learning disability. There are those using it who are pre-menopausal, menopausal and post-menopausal, to deal with the menopause. We have to take this out of certain silos and see it as the broadest opportunity. As the hon. Member for Devizes said, this is not a silver bullet but another element in our armour to deal with a whole range of medical conditions. I would like to hear what the Minister has to say, because I am not sure that that approach is yet cutting through, although I might yet get that wrong.

As we have heard from those contributing to the debate, there are certainly enough examples of the efficacy of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy to merit further research, but the barriers put up by schedule 1 status make any investment in that research prohibitively expensive. SNP Members believe that needs to change. We talk about the shrinking number of industries—again, the hon. Member for Reigate made a fantastic speech to challenge the Government, and they made it very clear that the UK seeks to be a global player. After financial services, the example given is the pharmaceutical industry, yet in that area of relative competitive advantage the Government seem—I might be wrong; perhaps the Minister wants to get to his feet and change that opinion—to be choosing to cede to states, notably in North America and the rest of Europe, that do not share that head-in-the-sand approach.

At a time when it is becoming somewhat fashionable for Members to talk about the mental health crisis, catching up with the lived experience of so many in communities such as mine, and those described by the hon. Member for Warrington North, where people could take advantage of advances in psychiatric pharmacology to improve their lives, those of their families, and be better able to contribute to their community, is something I would recommend to Members across the House, to Ministers, and to those who seem to be advising them to stick their heads in the sand. To overcome such problems, we must rise to the challenge and grasp the opportunity offered by psilocybin and other areas like it, and not curtail what is a reasonable scientific proposal by sticking our political heads in the sand.

Let me conclude with a final appeal to the better judgment of the Minister and those advising him. They can be safe that they would be able to proceed with a solid trifecta of public support, a solid working hypothesis about how research into psilocybin would work, and a depth of industrial and academic capacity to bring this research forward. Let us see whether the Minister has the confidence to do so.

Watch the debate in full here.

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