Over the course of the psychedelic movement’s seventy years of ebbs and flows, many figures and organizations have risen to prominence. Still, few have played such a consistently central role as Amanda Feilding and the Beckley Foundation.

Amanda Feilding

“I became deeply involved in ‘66 when I suddenly realized how incredibly valuable psychedelics were—particularly LSD before it was illegal,” Feilding told me recently at Psychedelic Sciences 2023. “I really got involved in trying to understand, scientifically, the mechanisms that make it work, and how you can use it on oneself and therefore, other people, to benefit.”

Since then, Feilding and her collaborators have performed some of the most groundbreaking research on psychedelics to date, including the first studies into the neural mechanisms underlying psilocybin as a treatment for depression, the first MRI brain imaging study on LSD, and John Hopkins’ wildly successful studies on nicotine addiction treatment, at the same time, the Beckley Foundation has grown into an expansive ecosystem of psychedelic advocacy endeavors, proving that organization on a vast scale is essential for driving change.

“The only way to teach the establishment is in their own language, which is science.”

―Amanda Feilding

In the Eye of the Psychedelic Storm

I first met Feilding briefly at a dinner held by the Beckley Foundation the evening before Psychedelic Sciences 2023 began. Many of the top minds in psychedelic research, activism, and investing were present. From ultra-wealthy venture capitalists, to indigenous advocates, to a pleasantly beer-buzzed Paul Stamets, and a hundred other scientists and psychedelic aficionados of note. It was a veritable Who’s Who of psychedelic fandom. At the center of it all was Amanda.

Later she told me that she’d had many mystical experiences as a child, which inspired her to study comparative religion under some of the leading experts at Oxford. Then, in the mid-1960s, she discovered LSD. While she was immediately impressed by the experience, she initially wondered whether something so powerful could be used practically.

“It’s a trip to the funfair,” Feilding reminisced. “Can heaven be a funfair? The lack of control made it difficult to handle.”

trip to the funfair

So she began exploring how it could be applied in a range of capacities, particularly concerning cognitive function. Over the years, these efforts spanned a variety of demonstrations and seminars aimed at expanding the public awareness of what psychedelics have to offer.

“The only way to teach the establishment is in their own language, which is science,” she explained. “And one needs to demonstrate how these compounds are incredibly valuable not only for the individual, but for society as a whole. So that’s why I decided to stop being Amanda Feilding and become the Foundation.”

beckley logo

Launched in 1998, the Beckley Foundation built an advisory board of some of the top experts in the world, including Albert Hoffmann—the chemist who had discovered LSD nearly 60 years earlier.

“I design research,” Feilding told me, “and then I go and find funding. I know the compounds very well, and therefore I have a very good intuition into what areas are most interesting to research.”

Her initial goals involved disseminating the idea that psychedelics were non-toxic and useful.

“I started thinking, how do I prove it?” she explained. “So I set up the Beckley Imperial Research Programme through David Nutt, who was on my advisory board. I was the one who knew about psychedelics and he was a good name in science. And so he made some of the early breakthroughs.”

These included the aforementioned research into the therapeutic mechanisms of psilocybin (“We started with psilocybin because LSD was too toxic” politically), followed by the MRI mapping of the brain on LSD. Later, when discussing research ideas with neuroscientist Roland Griffiths, Feilding said, “Why not overcoming nicotine addictions? I’ve done it myself. So we started the ‘overcoming nicotine research’ at Johns Hopkins, which has become an amazing success.”

smoking cold turkey

She told me how she had quit smoking cold turkey after an LSD trip—another example of how her personal experience informed her professional efforts. “I get a sense [about] what can work from learning on myself.”

The power of organization

But just because Feilding work is often inspired by personal experience, that doesn’t mean she does it all by herself. Quite the opposite. The Beckley Foundation has grown into a sprawling, multipurpose organization with six distinct wings:

  • The Beckley Foundation, which focuses on research and drug policy reform.
  • Beckley Psytech, drug development, and research.
  • Beckley Academy, which aims to expand the pool of psychedelic therapeutic talent by training new and existing practitioners.
  • Beckley Waves, which funds and mentors psychedelic startups, entrepreneurs, and other entities.
  • The Trip Report, which provides thought leadership and media commentary.
  • Beckley Retreats, provides psychedelic experiences in a range of settings.

Combined, the Beckley ecosystem creates an expansive network to promote the psychedelic movement.

“I think we’ve come a very, very long way,” Feilding said. “Even in the last five years there’s been an immense change. The science of how these compounds can be useful to humanity has taken root. But they need to be watered and grown to spread out, and for that one needs education, therapist training, wonderful places where people can go, and schools.”

This is exactly what Beckley’s wide web achieves, largely through the strategic channeling of funding.

money in psychedelics

This brings us to the question of money in psychedelics—one of the primary concerns that was expressed repeatedly by conference attendees during PS2023.

“I think it’s incredibly important that it’s [the psychedelic industry] treated slightly separately from normal capitalism,” Feilding explained when asked about the issue. “In capitalism, it’s your duty to get maximum profit. The few people who invest in risky areas—and obviously this is—they have to make a profit. But [psychedelics are not] about maximizing profit. The non-profit is important.”

“I think there’s an ethicalness about psychedelics because they’re nature’s gift, God’s gift to humanity, or to the world. And therefore, in my opinion, it should be very democratic for people to get them when that becomes regulatorily possible—the sooner the better, I would say. Poor countries, rich countries, whatever. One doesn’t want it to be expensive and only for the rich. Ethically, it’s a gift for the future. It’s for everyone.”

Speaking of the future, I asked what was next for Feilding and Beckley.

“At the moment we’re doing a big study into the depth of changes underlying the mystical experience—to investigate it in greater detail to therefore help guide people to be able to achieve that state.” Feilding also said she’s “starting a whole program that concentrates on LSD, because I think it’s the purest and most beautiful of compounds.”

mystical experience

Throughout our talk, Feilding was beamingly optimistic about where we will take psychedelics—and where they will take us—next.

“What I think is exciting is that now there is cultural buildup of knowledge about these compounds,” she said. “We’re not going to make the same mistakes of the 60s’ with the excessive use—although the 60s were a big breakthrough.”

Having been a part of it, she would know better than most.

This material is not intended as a replacement or substitute for any legal or medical advice. Always consult a medical professional about your health needs. Psychedelics are widely illegal in the United States, and readers should always be informed about local, state, and federal regulations regarding psychedelics or other drugs.