Now that is mindblowing! She’s the way-out aristocrat who drilled a hole in her own head and spent years dabbling in every psychedelic drug imaginable. But Lady Amanda Feilding has turned it all into a healthcare revolution worth £58million
Most people’s idea of a pre-party loosener is a glass of something chilled and fizzy.
Not so for Lady Amanda Feilding who, back in the day, once drilled a hole in her head an hour before hitting the town.
Then aged 27, she filmed herself using a dentist’s drill to sink through three layers of bone to her brain — which she said was ‘soft like a pudding’ — in an attempt to increase blood flow in the area and supposedly create more energy and ‘consciousness’.
Afterwards, she had a warm bath and a steak dinner. A picture taken later that evening in 1970 shows her swathed in technicolour robes and headscarf, her loyal pet pigeon Birdie perched on her shoulder, utterly cool and composed.
Believe it or not, the ancient practice of skull-drilling or ‘trepanning’ was considered by some at the time to be a legitimate medical procedure.
Lady Amanda Feilding (pictured in 1970) once drilled a hole in her head an hour before hitting the town. Afterwards, she had a warm bath and a steak dinner. A picture taken later that evening in 1970 shows her swathed in technicolour robes and headscarf, her loyal pet pigeon Birdie perched on her shoulder, utterly cool and composed
Feilding — now the Countess of Wemyss and March — had been introduced to it by an ex-lover and mentor, a Dutch scientist. She was campaigning for it to be made available as a mental health treatment on the NHS.
It elicited no support from clinicians and didn’t catch on. However, another of the aristocrat’s life-long pursuits — to boost research into use of psychedelic drugs to manage mental illness — has been rapidly gaining ground.
And this month, her not-for-profit company, Beckley Psytech (its CEO and Director is her son, Cosmo Feilding Mellen), raised £58 m from venture capitalists to further fund its research.
The Oxford-based start-up is hoping to develop therapies for neurological conditions using synthetic versions of the active ingredients of psychedelic compounds in magic mushrooms and in a hallucinogen secreted by a toad found only in northern Mexico and the U.S. south-west.
Increasingly, mainstream researchers believe tiny ‘micro’ doses of these psychedelics — not enough to cause the patient to feel ‘high’ or hallucinate — may be effective in treating depression and other conditions. A book by New York Times writer, Michael Pollan, How To Change Your Mind: The New Science Of Psychedelics, topped bestseller lists last year.
Feilding (pictured in 2019) — now the Countess of Wemyss and March — had been introduced to the technique by an ex-lover and mentor, a Dutch scientist
For Lady Feilding, being at the cutting edge of pharmacological research and winning substantial investment is, according to her friends, something of a vindication. Because as eccentric, bohemian aristocrats go, the Countess has long been in a class of her own, and in her own words, something of a ‘pariah’.
Now 78, she may be feeling her moment has come and has been gathering a number of titles other than that bequeathed by her noble ancestry, including the ‘Queen of Consciousness’ — by New Scientist magazine — while Wired Magazine said recently that ‘if LSD is having its renaissance, Feilding is its Michelangelo’.
Amanda Feilding has also spent decades exploring ‘mysticism’ and certainly such traits seem to be in her genes.
Her father, Basil, the great-grandson of the 7th Earl of Denbigh and the Marquess of Bath, was an anti-Establishment hippie and unsuccessful artist, her mother, a devout Catholic who believed her daughter should live at home until she married. (In the event, after winning the science prize at her convent school and discovering pot, she headed off to the Middle East with £25 in her pocket and lived for a time with the Bedouin.)
A start-up is hoping to develop therapies for neurological conditions using synthetic versions of the active ingredients of psychedelic compounds in magic mushrooms and in a hallucinogen secreted by a toad
Her childhood was a bizarre mix of poverty and privilege. ‘Money would run out, so we’d have no heating, no hot water, no petrol,’ she has said.
The surroundings in which she grew up were remarkably grand, however. Beckley Park is a moated stately home in Oxfordshire built during Henry VIII’s reign and where she returned to live and raise her children after her parents’ death.
Creatives and visionaries who frequented Beckley Park include author Aldous Huxley, whose novel, The Doors Of Perception, explored the altered state of consciousness reached using the drug mescaline.
Lady Feilding (who nicknamed the grand house ‘Brainblood Hall’) lived there with her first partner, Joe Mellen, the author of ‘Bore Hole’ (about trepanning) from the 1960s onwards.
She described the Old Etonian ‘beatnik’ as ‘anti making money’ and they spent their time ‘exploring the brain and consciousness’, and had two sons, Rocky and Cosmo. ‘In our home there were no taboos,’ she has previously said. ‘The children grew up knowing that you could smoke pot and work, and even enhance your cognitive function.’
She is remarkably close to her sons, and travels with them to the Burning Man festival — a psychedelic-fuelled hedonists’ utopia in the Nevada desert, where no money is permitted and which features orgy domes and effigy burning.
Lady Feilding and Mellen separated in the mid-1990s, and in 1995 she married James Charteris, 13th Earl of Wemyss and March (then known as Lord Neidpath), under the Bent Pyramid, an oddity among the ancient pyramids of Egypt thanks to its curved, misshapen appearance.
Her own first encounter with hallucinogenic drugs was a traumatic one — at 22, her coffee was spiked with LSD and she took months to recover.
But her fascination with the experience meant Lady Feilding spent the next 50- plus years of her life personally experimenting with psychedelics and lobbying to extend research into their therapeutic use.
Pictured: A Mexican magic mushroom, or psilocybe cubensis
In doing so, she has attracted the attention of many respected scientists, including Oxford neuroscientist Professor Colin Blakemore and his counterpart at Cambridge, Professor Trevor Robbins.
Through her Beckley Foundation, Lady Feilding has also worked with a number of prestigious institutions, including Imperial College London, UCL and King’s College London to further research into the potential of psychedelic drugs.
And now it seems there was always method in this Lady’s ‘madness’.
Since the 1990s, a growing number of legitimate studies have shown that hallucinogenics can help treat depression and other mental illnesses. Clinical trials using tiny amounts of these drug compounds have helped some patients overcome past trauma and habitual negative thought patterns.
Beckley Psytech is focusing on a synthetic version of psilocybin, commonly found in ‘magic mushrooms’, which can be used to treat a rare headache (known as short-lasting unilateral neuralgiform headache) that affects 45,000 people in the U.S. and Europe.
More interestingly, Beckley Psytech will also study whether depression can be treated with small doses of synthetic 5-MeO-DMT, a compound produced in the glands of the Sonoran Desert toad, where it functions as a protective poison (secreted through the skin), but is also a source of mind-altering hallucinations.
Toad venom users have described their trips as feeling like they are ‘reborn’, and a ‘total fusion with God’ and claim to experience bright lights, euphoria and deep personal insights.
Last year, conservationists concerned at the plummeting numbers of the toads, pleaded with people in California and Arizona to stop licking them — yes really! — in a bid to get high.
A synthetic version of 5-MeO-DMT would not only ‘leave toads in peace’, as Lady Feilding’s son Cosmo puts it, but allow the production of a standardised, pharmaceutical-quality product.
‘It’s great that there is so much interest and so much investment going into this area after so many years in the dark,’ he has said.
‘[My mother] has spent decades fighting against social stigma and regulatory hurdles to shine the light of science on to the medical potential of psychedelic compounds . . . These medicines cannot be ignored any longer.’
Lady Feilding might be forgiven for thinking ‘I told you so . . .’, finally recognised as a pioneer in the field of ‘psychedelic bio-technology’ and now the City is following in her wake — including investment from Jim Mellon, the British billionaire ‘Master Investor’ who consistently ranks among the top 10 per cent in The Sunday Times Rich List.
Currently believed to be on holiday in Jamaica, Lady Feilding is — at last — laughing all the way to the bank.
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