Despite its vast potential, LSD has been mostly off-limits to scientists for half a century, declared highly dangerous, even in small doses.
But a landmark placebo-controlled clinical trial found microdoses of LSD are physically safe, easing the drug’s path forward as a medicine.
Researchers in London with Eleusis, a private life-sciences company, asked 48 healthy, older adults without significant health problems to take 5, 10, or 20 micrograms every four days for three weeks — basically the Fadiman Protocol.
Other small studies have looked at microdosing’s affect on mood and cognition, with inconclusive results. This Phase 1 study, in contrast, monitored all aspects of microdosers’ health, from blood pressure to heart rates and rhythms to walking, talking, memory, and perception.
Microdosers, researchers found, had no more negative side effects than a placebo. Cognition, balance, and coordination were not impaired — although microdosers reported more headaches.
“The study provides reassuring safety data,” said Robin Carhart-Harris, head of the Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London, “and opens the door for larger scale clinical trials to evaluate the potential therapeutic effects of LSD.”
Eleusis plans to carry out Phase 2 studies for LSD for Alzheimer’s and other degenerative diseases.
Studies of microdosing signal an expansion of the possibilities for psychedelics in the West, which burst into the scene in the 50s and 60s as a mind-expanding, culture-shaking bombshell, favored by monks and mystics plumbing the nature of mind and soul.
Psychonauts still seek God and Nature through psychedelics. But researchers also envision a whole new class of drugs aimed at dozens of psychological ailments. Psilocybin — a hallucinogen similar to LSD — has twice been declared a “breakthrough treatment” for depression when combined with therapy.
Less noticed has been psychedelics’ effects not on the mind and spirit, but the body. Long-distance runners and rock climbers report that LSD and mushrooms improve focus and lessen pain and fatigue.
So researchers are increasingly investigating the drugs’ effects on muscles and neurons. Focused on physical effects, Eleusis habitually calls them “serotonin 5-HT2A receptor agonists” — rather than psychedelics, hallucinogens, or entheogens.
Eleusis studies have found psychedelic-type drugs reduce inflammation in both mice with asthma and mice with a heart problem called coronary artery disease, which could lead to promising treatments of some of the most common health problems.
Serotonin receptors, which help regulate memory and cognition, degenerate in folks with Alzheimer’s, leading to some of the disease’s early signs, including depression and anxiety.
“Our research with serotonin 5-HT2A receptor agonists, such as LSD, suggest that they may represent a new strategy to treat diseases associated with chronic inflammation,” said Charles Nichols, co-author of the study and Professor of Pharmacology at Louisiana State University.
Eleusis’s studies hint at the intriguing possibility that healthy adults could take LSD the way they take Advil or aspirin — as a routine anti-inflammatory.
Microdosing participants didn’t trip — didn’t feel “oceanic boundlessness,” synesthesia, or auditory hallucinations. They functioned normally.
But they did see the world differently in one fascinating way.
When shown a blue circle for a few seconds, then asked to guess how long the shape was visible, microdosers overestimated the duration. The outside world, in other words, seemed to move more slowly.
Large doses of psychedelics famously dilate time; sunsets can seem to last for days. This study suggests microdosers subjectively experience a few more moments in their day than the rest of us — even though they aren’t aware of it. (Results of this part of the study were published last year.)
Thanks to this study, time dilation —- and other effects of microdosing — can now be studied more easily, and in more depth, clearing a path for clarity on whether microdosing can be a helpful medicine for brain diseases, or add a few more microseconds to your day, possibly helping you find your flow.
“This groundbreaking Phase 1 trial,” said Shlomi Raz, Chairman and Founder of Eleusis, could help “unlock the therapeutic potential of psychedelics at subperceptual, non-psychoactive doses, to safely address the most urgent unmet needs in public health.”