In a new study, researchers from the University of Zurich in Switzerland used brain imaging technology to investigate how LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide, or “acid”) appears to alter a healthy person’s perception of reality.

They found that LSD triggers a reduction in the communication between brain regions responsible for planning and decision making. At the same time, it increases the connectivity in brain networks associated with sensory functions and movement.

Based on patterns of brain signals, the scientists were also able to establish that the changes in brain connectivity caused by LSD are linked to a particular receptor in the brain (serotonin-2A receptor).

“When we blocked this receptor using ketanserin, LSD stopped having an effect,” said Dr. Katrin Preller, lead author of the study, who is currently also a visiting professor at Yale University.

The findings may offer insights into how some psychiatric  disorders develop and how these could be treated. For example, disturbances in sensory perception and thought, as those triggered by LSD, are similar to the changes in perception and thought that appear in patients with psychotic disorders.

“The new findings may therefore also have an immediate impact on the treatment of psychotic symptoms as they occur in schizophrenia, for example,” said Dr. Franz Vollenweider, professor at the University Hospital of Psychiatry Zurich.

Most schizophrenia patients are treated with antipsychotic drugs, which block some of the serotonin receptors identified by the new study. However, there are many patients who do not respond to this treatment.

“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,” Preller said.

LSD is a psychedelic substance derived from a chemical in rye fungus. Before its classification as a schedule I drug in 1968 by the U.S. government, more than 1,000 academic papers and dozens of books had been published on its use in psychotherapeutic settings.

In recent years, researchers have become increasingly interested in the use of psychedelics to treat mental health disorders. Growing evidence suggests LSD and other psychedelic drugs, such as psilocybin {“magic”) mushrooms and ayahuasca, may hold significant promise for psychiatric conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social anxiety and eating disorders.

Previous work by the same research group at the University of Zurich has shown that psychedelics such as LSD might positively impact symptoms of depression, such as low mood, increased self-focus and decreased serotonin levels.

Source: University of Zurich