‘LSD is the purest, cleanest drug of all’

Eufemia Didonato

Unfortunately, Huges was so vocal about his theories, which included everyone taking acid, that he was eventually thrown out of the country. ‘A knock on the door in the middle of the night from the Foreign Office,’ declares Feilding. Mellen, who was Huges’ disciple, subsequently made three disastrous attempts at the procedure, including one where a drill broke, and a friend who knows him told me, ‘He went down to his neighbour’s, bleeding, asking if they had a spare drill bit.’ Mellen later wrote a book about trepanning, called Bore Hole.

Feilding, after four years of trying to find a doctor to trepan her, eventually injected herself with local anaesthetic, shaved her hair and used a dentist drill, and filmed it. 

This film she considers an artwork, but it is not for the faint-hearted. She once showed it to an invited audience. ‘Punks fainted. People fell like ripe plums to the floor.’ Nonetheless she still subscribes to this faith and had herself trepanned again in Mexico. ‘The change in consciousness is subtle.’ 

Her second husband, James Charteris, the 13th Earl of Wemyss and 9th Earl of March, whom Feilding married under the Bent Pyramid in Egypt in 1995, got himself trepanned in Cairo the following year. One has to admire the woman’s powers of persuasion.

When neuroimaging came into medical practice in the 1970s, Feilding was hoping that brain scans would show the benefits of trepanning, but they didn’t. Where they do prove her right, however, is on the effects of psychedelics on the brain, where there is an increase in electrical activity, not blood flow. Now scientists have begun to explore the possible benefits of these banned substances, taken in therapeutic settings.

This is where the scientific research is going. Imperial College has carried out studies on treatment-resistant depression using psilocybin, found in magic mushrooms. Psychedelics are also being used to stop addictions from smoking to drinking. In Germany, researchers at Maastricht University, in collaboration with Feilding, are looking at LSD microdosing as a means of enhancing mood. 

The Beckley Foundation will soon launch a study into the effects of ibogaine, a powerful psychoactive substance derived from root bark, as a therapy for Parkinson’s disease. Beckley researchers are currently in Brazil to study the effects of ayahuasca, a brew of leaves long used by Amazonian tribes for spiritual purposes, which they hope may help people overcome heroin addiction.

Other studies show that LSD may help those with terminal illness, relieving both pain and anxiety, and could become part of palliative care. The possibilities of the benefits for those with Alzheimer’s are yet to be explored, but the way these drugs increase neuroplasticity is not in doubt.

Feilding herself loves LSD as ‘the purest and cleanest of them all’. She finds ‘MDMA rather shallow. And I worry about ketamine as possibly addictive.’ She has no time for opiates at all.

In order for Feilding to be taken seriously in the scientific world, she had to have a game plan. As she herself acknowledges, ‘I have no letters after my names. As a single female, how can I change drug policy?’ And so, ‘I became a foundation. I knew I had to gather top scientists around me.’

Her attempt to change drug policy is political – ‘We need a new regulatory framework that is to everyone’s benefit’ – but she says, ‘I am not a political person. I would love to be inspired by politics. I would love to have a good talk with Boris. If anything we are cutting ourselves out of an exploding industry.’

Now Feilding is part of the gold rush. ‘It’s taken 60 years to get here. We need to fast-forward our research.’ Her goal is to build an ethical company that will put people before profit, ‘but the dam has broken and everyone wants to be involved’.

Just before the pandemic began, I myself had seen how much money was sloshing around ‘the psychedelic renaissance’ when I went on a mushroom retreat in Amsterdam. The truffles we took there, containing psilocybin, were legal. The cost of the retreat was £2,000 a pop and my fellow psychonauts were as far from hippies as you may imagine. 

The video below contains graphic content: viewer discretion is advised. 

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