Study measures effects of LSD ‘microdosing’ on mood in healthy individuals

Woman in a darkened room

Researchers at the University of Chicago Medicine have initiated studies to test the idea that “microdosing” of the psychedelic drug LSD elevates mood. Their first study was designed to identify a suitable dose for repeated dosing in patients. In this study, published in Biological Psychiatry, they examined the effects of three low doses of LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) on mood, behavior, cognition and physical function in young adult volunteers.

“Understanding the acute effects of repeated low doses of LSD in healthy adults is a first step to investigating the effects it may have on individuals with depression,” said the study’s senior author, Harriet de Wit, PhD, professor of psychiatry and director or the Human Behavioral Pharmacology Laboratory at the University of Chicago.

The recent phenomenon of “microdosing” LSD to improve mood and cognitive function has received widespread coverage in the press. But these accounts — mostly self-reported and anecdotal — have not yet been tested with modern clinical research methods. The use of LSD as an antidepressant in combination with psychotherapy was studied in the 1950s and 1960s, but many of those studies were performed without adequate control groups.

De Wit’s team looked at the mood-altering, physiological and behavioral impact of three very low doses (6.5, 13 and 26 micrograms) of LSD in 20 healthy young adults in a double-blind, placebo-controlled setting. Four 8-hour sessions took place in a comfortable private room equipped with a couch, table, television and computer for testing.

During each peak of the drug’s effect, study participants completed mood questionnaires and behavioral tasks assessing emotions and cognition. Cardiovascular measures and body temperature were also assessed.

Ratings on the questionnaires demonstrated that single low doses of LSD produced very mild feelings on ratings of “feeling an effect” or “liking the effect.” The drug did not alter the subject’s performance on measures of cognition, heart rate or body temperature. The study’s authors concluded that 13 micrograms is the optimal low dose to use repeatedly in testing the idea that microdosing improves mood.

The results from this investigation set the stage for further research to determine if low doses of LSD can safely improve mood in patients with depression. A follow-up study - now underway and seeking funding—is testing the effects of repeated doses of the drug in individuals who report symptoms of depression.

“This could lead to development of novel treatments for the disorder,” de Wit said.

Additional authors on the study “Acute subjective and behavioral effects of microdoses on LSD in healthy human volunteers” include: Anya Bershad, MD, PhD; Scott Schepers, PhD; Michael Bremmer, BA; and Royce Lee, MD.