LSD, a psychedelic drug, could be effective in treating anxiety

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The use of psychedelic drugs such as LSD in the treatment of mental health is at the forefront of clinical research. Lyuba Burakova/Stocksy
  • Psychedelic compounds have attracted increased attention as potential therapeutic agents in mental health, particularly at low, non-hallucinogenic doses.
  • A new study shows that repeated doses of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) over time are effective in reducing symptoms of stress-related anxiety and depression.
  • Ongoing investigation sheds light on previously unexplained mechanisms of action, highlighting the serotonin reuptake inhibitor-like effects of LSD

A new study has found that psychedelic drugs such as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) can be effective in reducing symptoms of stress-related anxiety and in treating mental health.

The study research team was led by Dr. Gabriella Gobbiprofessor in the Department of Psychiatry at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Center (RI-MUHC) in Montreal, Canada.

The study, published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacologyalso involved eight other neuroscientists and involved a collaboration between the RI-MUHC, Vita-Salute San Raffaele University, Italy, and the Center for Pharmaceutical and Pharmacological Sciences at the University of Padua, Italy.

Dr. Danilo De Gregorio, assistant professor of pharmacology at San Raffaele University, was the lead author of this research paper. Previous studies by Dr. De Gregorio and Dr. Gobbi to identify the neurobiological mechanisms by which LSD relieves anxiety had been elusive and unclear.

The researchers gave low doses of LSD to a group of 8- to 12-week-old male mice for seven days; they weighed 25-30 grams. The mice were exposed to chronic restraint stress conditions and then given varying doses of LSD.

Head twitch responses representing the research target protocol were recorded and were proportional to the varying amounts of LSD administered to the mice. Doses were repeated at specified time intervals to assess their behavioral and neurobiological responses.

The results showed that the intraperitoneal LSD administration did not produce antidepressant or anti-anxiety effects in unstressed mice. Administration of the medium dose of LSD per protocol to stressed mice prevented stress-induced anxiety behaviors and stress-induced cellular changes in the brain.

Repeated administration of LSD also protected against worsening of anxious behaviors following chronic exposure to stress, suggesting an anti-anxiety effect of repeated LSD in anxiogenic conditions.

The researchers found that although low doses of LSD only activated the transmission of serotonin, higher doses, which stimulated the dopaminergic system, caused psychotic effects.

According to the study results, low-dose LSD increases nerve transmission of serotonin, as do members of the class of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These drugs are a class of antidepressants commonly used for stress-induced anxiety and depression.

A study on healthy human subjects showed that LSD treatment produced feelings of happiness, confidence, empathy, positive social effects, and altruism when used in conjunction with psychotherapy.

Further studies are needed to show the efficacy and mechanisms of action of LSD in the treatment of depression and anxiety in humans. Previous studies by Dr. Gobbi and his colleagues explored the adverse side effects of LSD.

Preliminary randomized controlled trials (RCTs) also demonstrated the effectiveness of LSD as an adjunct to psychotherapy in cases of individuals with life-threatening illnesses. Participants reported sustained improvements in anxiety and stress for up to 12 months after two sessions of LSD-assisted psychotherapy.

Dr. Gobbi’s study found that low doses of LSD promoted new dendritic spines in rodents which are nerve branches that transmit electrical signals between nerve cells such as those found in the brain. These nerve branches can be damaged due to chronic stress, and evidence has shown that LSD repairs these structures in mice.

Dr Gobbi said Medical News Today“We were surprised by the neuroplastic effects of LSD, particularly the increase in spines in stressed mice, which indicates that LSD can facilitate new synapses.”

Dr. Gobbi’s next step will be to assess the mechanisms of action of psychedelics psilocybin and ketamine. Future studies will take into account ayahuasca and MDMA to treat addiction, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder(PTSD)and anxiety.

MNT spoke with Eric Hollander, MDprofessor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the Montefiore Einstein Institute for Psychiatric Research in New York, New York.

Regarding the limitations of the study, Dr. Hollander said:

“The study did not assess the effects of LSD on depression, did not see anti-anxiety effects in mice that were not stressed, did not study effects in females, and did not have not studied the effects of single doses of LSD.”

“This study used repeated doses rather than intermittent doses, and showed prevention of the development of anxiety in mice, rather than treating people who already had an anxiety disorder.”

When asked how his findings could lead to future treatments, Dr. Gobbi told DTM“A small published clinical trial suggested that LSD may relieve anxiety in life-threatening patients. These animal data may support the mechanism of action for this clinical effect.

Dr. Hollander said DTM that recent research has increasingly investigated links between psychedelic drugs and depression, anxiety, PTSD, addiction, and cancer.

“Psychedelic drugs have been shown to be beneficial in anxiety disorders such as PTSD, OCD,” Dr. Hollander said.

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