The mind-bending effects of LSD alter a user’s perception of reality and change communication patterns between different regions of the brain, according to new research from the University of Zurich. Understanding how lysergic acid diethylamide – acid – does this may provide insight into how health disorders develop and offer potential treatments.
When tripping, a person experiences a variety of different effects, from hallucinating things that aren’t there and distortions in sound to time speeding up or slowing down – symptoms some people suffering from certain psychiatric disorders (like schizophrenia) might experience. To see how LSD does this, the researchers dosed 24 participants with either a placebo, LSD, ketanserin, or a combination of the three and then imaged their brains to map the pharmacological effects on neural connectivity.
LSD was shown to reduce communication between parts of the brain responsible for planning and decision making, but increases connections between regions associated with sensation and movement. Volunteers who reported the strongest trips also showed the most communication happening between the latter regions of the brain. These changes are linked to a receptor in the brain called serotonin 2A, which is activated by the mood-regulating chemical serotonin. On the other hand, the hypertension drug ketanserin prevented the effects of LSD by blocking its ability to bind to serotonin 2A.
Altogether, the study shows the potential medical use for LSD.
“Studying how LSD affects the brain could thus offer insights into the mechanisms underlying these conditions,” wrote the authors in the journal eLife. There is also evidence that LSD could help reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety disorders, both of which are believed to be caused by decreased serotonin levels.
It’s important to note that LSD also binds to other receptors in the brain, and further research is needed to help develop a better understanding of how the symptoms of mental health conditions arise, ultimately leading to the development of more effective treatments.
“By looking for similar patterns of brain activity identified in the study, clinicians may be able to identify which patients are most likely to benefit from these drugs,” explained researcher Katrin Preller in a statement.
The study builds on a growing body of work involving psychedelics in the treatment of mental health disorders like depression or anxiety. As MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for the treatment of PTSD inches closer to federal approval in the US, “magic mushrooms” are being targeted for the treatment of depression.