The potential to benefit from therapeutic LSD without the full psychedelic experience
Brain-wave patterns and psychological effects that have been observed in humans after taking high doses of psychedelics have been reported from those taking low doses of LSD, raising the possibility that very low doses of LSD may produce therapeutic effects that do not invoke, or are dependent upon, the full psychedelic experience.
Researchers conducting a randomized control trial studied 22 male and female patients, aged 18-35, who were given either a placebo (control) substance or single “micro” doses of LSD in either 13µg or 26µg concentrations. Both doses of LSD were noted to cause increases in positive mood, elation, energy, and anxiety in addition to increased heart rate and blood pressure, with the higher dose demonstrating an increased (dose-dependent) intensity of these effects. When measuring levels of altered consciousness, researchers reported that subjects given LSD experienced a “blissful state” (associated with heightened mood) which also intensified with the 26µg dose.
It was noted that although LSD had increased the blissful state of study subjects in dose-dependent fashion, both doses did not cause any other signs of perceptual or sensory effects, i.e., “altered states of consciousness,” that are typically induced by psychedelic drugs taken in higher doses.
Altered states of consciousness, in which an individual may subjectively experience a strong psychological shift from a normal state of consciousness, are short-lasting episodes that are typically induced through psychedelic and hallucinogenic drugs in addition to practices such as meditation and hypnosis. LSD doses ranging from 25µg to 200µg are expected to induce the full subjective psychedelic effects of LSD including ego dissolution and disembodiment, with studies suggesting that these intense and sometimes anxiety-provoking experiences may begin to occur after taking doses of 100µg and above.
Very low doses of LSD (<25µg), typically referred to as microdoses, have been the subject of recent studies suggesting that doses within this range may beneficially impact mood for prolonged durations while producing no to minimal adverse effects including experiences that may be anxiety provoking or traumatic to some users.
Many studies have investigated the potential for psychedelics such as psilocybin and LSD to act as therapeutic drugs, particularly for psychiatric conditions. However, such studies have predominantly experimented with higher doses of psychedelics. Although the positive effects of repeated microdosing using very low doses of psychedelics have been reported previously, the behavioral and conscious-altering effects of these doses are not well understood.
A 2020 review of 14 experimental studies that assessed the effects of low doses of LSD and / or psilocybin in healthy patients determined that low doses of LSD (10-20µg) had subtle positive effects on cognitive processes including convergent and divergent methods of problem solving (involving, respectively, logical and effective determination for a single best possible answer amongst many, e.g., in multiple-choice test scenarios, and creative pursuits requiring thinking that is open to a limitless number of possibilities, e.g., avoiding accuracy in favor of accepting multiple potential co-existing realities for a given circumstance such as the ability of an individual to be both sick and healthy at the same time). The review demonstrated that low doses of LSD were tolerated in healthy volunteers, suggesting that microdosing the psychedelic may play an effective role in treating depression as the selectively increased “cognitive flexibility” afforded from enhanced awareness and acute logical ability allow for an effectively-homed creative approach to problem solving which may combat the debilitating rumination, e.g., gravitation towards negative thoughts, often seen in the mood disorder.
As such findings confirm previously anecdotal reports of the increased cognitive boost brought on from microdosing in healthy subjects while shedding light on the positive effects of this practice that may serve beneficial to those suffering from mood disorders such as depression, they also bring awareness to potential drawbacks. Though a pleasant experience was noted in subjects who had microdosed LSD in all 14 studies reviewed in the 2020 study, increased anxiety and a cycling pattern of depressive and euphoric mood were also observed.
As such studies have involved mostly small numbers of volunteers who are healthy, a desire is needed for future studies that experiment with LSD microdosing in larger groups of patients who have depression and are representative of a diverse demographic and clinical backgrounds.
More clinical trials are required to build greater comprehension of the therapeutic merit of microdosing LSD and other psychedelics so that further insights into both the potential benefit and harm of these substances may be elicited. Results may be compared to the benefits and drawbacks of therapy using higher psychedelic doses in addition to determining how different psychedelics and their doses may cause varying effects in different patient groups. As more data from research is collected, findings will become generalizable to entire populations as opposed to limited test cohorts and may potentially spearhead implementation of current prospects of future government approved and clinician-administered psychedelic psychiatric treatments into present reality.