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The Paradoxical Psychological Effects of LSD

08/02/2016

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A new paper from the Beckley/Imperial Research Programme has been published online. There is an unresolved paradox that some effects of LSD are similar to certain features of mental illnesses, especially psychosis, but at the same time can cause profound and beneficial changes in mental well-being. This study is the first to specifically address this issue by investigating acute and mid-term (2 weeks after LSD administration) effects of 75 μg of LSD in a placebo-controlled single-blind trial in healthy volunteers.

At the dose administered, LSD induced profound changes in consciousness, complex and simple visual hallucinations, synaesthesia, and other ‘psychosis-like’ symptoms. Although ratings suggested ‘psychotomimetic’ effects, the LSD experience differed from actual psychosis in that the overall mood was positive and there was no increase in anxiety. 2 weeks after LSD, subjects reported increased optimism and ‘openness’, consistent with previous findings from Beckley collaborator Roland Griffiths , whose subjects reported increased well-being and life satisfaction after psilocybin. Together, the findings support the validity of psychedelics in the study of psychosis, and, more importantly, their potential usefulness in the treatment of mood disorders.

An explanation for these results is based on the ‘entropic brain’ hypothesis developed by Carhart-Harris et al., (2014). Psychedelics, acting through the 5-HT2A receptor stimulation, fundamentally change the quality of consciousness towards more unconstrained, ‘entropic’. This is happening though the ‘loosening’ of the brain networks dynamics resulting in the more flexible cognition, altered perceptions and other acute effects described here. Though the mechanisms yet unknown, some of these effects persist in the long term and produce improved psychological well-being. Future investigations from the Beckley/Imperial Research Programme and others will be working on uncovering these mechanisms.

Read the paper (with subscription) here

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