OPEN Foundation

E. Theunissen

Pharmacokinetics and Pharmacodynamics of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide Microdoses in Healthy Participants

Abstract

“Microdoses” of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) are used recreationally to enhance mood and cognition. Increasing interest has also been seen in developing LSD into a medication. Therefore, we performed a pharmacokinetic-pharmacodynamic study using very low doses of LSD. Single doses of LSD base (5, 10, and 20 µg) and placebo were administered in a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled crossover study in 23 healthy participants. Test days were separated by at least 5 days. Plasma levels of LSD and subjective effects were assessed up to 6 hours after administration. Pharmacokinetic parameters were determined using compartmental modeling. Concentration-subjective effect relationships were described using pharmacokinetic-pharmacodynamic modeling. Mean (95% confidence interval) maximal LSD concentrations were 151 pg/mL (127-181), 279 pg/mL (243-320), and 500 pg/mL (413-607) after 5, 10, and 20 µg LSD administration, respectively. Maximal concentrations were reached after 1.1 hours. The mean elimination half-life was 2.7 hours (1.5-6.2). The 5 µg dose of LSD elicited no significant acute subjective effects. The 10 µg dose of LSD significantly increased ratings of “under the influence” and “good drug effect” compared with placebo. These effects began an average of 1.1 hours after 10 µg LSD administration, peaked at 2.5 hours, and ended at 5.1 hours. The 20 µg dose of LSD significantly increased ratings of “under the influence,” “good drug effects,” and “bad drug effects.” LSD concentrations dose-proportionally increased at doses as low as 5-20 µg and decreased with a half-life of 3 hours. The threshold dose of LSD base for psychotropic effects was 10 µg.

Holze, F., Liechti, M. E., Hutten, N., Mason, N. L., Dolder, P. C., Theunissen, E. L., Duthaler, U., Feilding, A., Ramaekers, J. G., & Kuypers, K. (2021). Pharmacokinetics and Pharmacodynamics of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide Microdoses in Healthy Participants. Clinical pharmacology and therapeutics, 109(3), 658–666. https://doi.org/10.1002/cpt.2057

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Mood and cognition after administration of low LSD doses in healthy volunteers: A placebo controlled dose-effect finding study

Abstract

There is a popular interest in microdosing with psychedelics such as LSD. This practice of using one-tenth of a full psychedelic dose according to a specific dosing schedule, anecdotally enhances mood and performance. Nonetheless, controlled research on the efficacy of microdosing is scarce. The main objective of the present dose-finding study was to determine the minimal dose of LSD needed to affect mood and cognition. A placebo-controlled within-subject study including 24 healthy participants, was conducted to assess the acute effects of three LSD doses (5, 10, and 20 mcg) on measures of cognition, mood, and subjective experience, up until 6 h after administration. Cognition and subjective experience were assessed using the Psychomotor Vigilance Task, Digit Symbol Substitution Test, Cognitive Control Task, Profile of Mood States, and 5-Dimensional Altered States of Consciousness rating scale. LSD showed positive effects in the majority of observations by increasing positive mood (20 mcg), friendliness (5, 20 mcg), arousal (5 mcg), and decreasing attentional lapses (5, 20 mcg). Negative effects manifested as an increase in confusion (20 mcg) and anxiety (5, 20 mcg). Psychedelic-induced changes in waking consciousness were also present (10, 20 mcg). Overall, the present study demonstrated selective, beneficial effects of low doses of LSD on mood and cognition in the majority of observations. The minimal LSD dose at which subjective and performance effects are notable is 5 mcg and the most apparent effects were visible after 20 mcg.

Hutten, N., Mason, N. L., Dolder, P. C., Theunissen, E. L., Holze, F., Liechti, M. E., Feilding, A., Ramaekers, J. G., & Kuypers, K. (2020). Mood and cognition after administration of low LSD doses in healthy volunteers: A placebo controlled dose-effect finding study. European neuropsychopharmacology : the journal of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology, 41, 81–91. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.euroneuro.2020.10.002

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Low Doses of LSD Acutely Increase BDNF Blood Plasma Levels in Healthy Volunteers

Abstract

Despite preclinical evidence for psychedelic-induced neuroplasticity, confirmation in humans is grossly lacking. Given the increased interest in using low doses of psychedelics for psychiatric indications and the importance of neuroplasticity in the therapeutic response, this placebo-controlled within-subject study investigated the effect of single low doses of LSD (5, 10, and 20 μg) on circulating BDNF levels in healthy volunteers. Blood samples were collected every 2 h over 6 h, and BDNF levels were determined afterward in blood plasma using ELISA. The findings demonstrated an increase in BDNF blood plasma levels at 4 h (5 μg) and 6 h (5 and 20 μg) compared to that for the placebo. The finding that LSD acutely increases BDNF levels warrants studies in patient populations.

Hutten, N., Mason, N. L., Dolder, P. C., Theunissen, E. L., Holze, F., Liechti, M. E., Varghese, N., Eckert, A., Feilding, A., Ramaekers, J. G., & Kuypers, K. (2020). Low Doses of LSD Acutely Increase BDNF Blood Plasma Levels in Healthy Volunteers. ACS pharmacology & translational science, 4(2), 461–466. https://doi.org/10.1021/acsptsci.0c00099

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A low dose of lysergic acid diethylamide decreases pain perception in healthy volunteers

Abstract

Background: Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) is an ergot alkaloid derivative with psychedelic properties that has been implicated in the management of persistent pain. Clinical studies in the 1960s and 1970s have demonstrated profound analgesic effects of full doses of LSD in terminally ill patients, but this line of research evaporated after LSD was scheduled worldwide.

Aim: The present clinical study is the first to revisit the potential of LSD as an analgesic, and at dose levels which are not expected to produce profound mind-altering effects.

Methods: Twenty-four healthy volunteers received single doses of 5, 10 and 20 µg LSD as well as placebo on separate occasions. A Cold Pressor Test was administered at 1.5 and 5 h after treatment administration to assess pain tolerance to experimentally evoked pain. Ratings of dissociation and psychiatric symptoms as well as assessments of vital signs were included to monitor mental status as well as safety during treatments.

Results: LSD 20 µg significantly increased the time that participants were able to tolerate exposure to cold (3°C) water and decreased their subjective levels of experienced pain and unpleasantness. LSD elevated mean blood pressure within the normal range and slightly increased ratings of dissociation, anxiety and somatization.

Conclusion: The present study provides evidence of a protracted analgesic effect of LSD at a dose that is low enough to avoid a psychedelic experience. The present data warrant further research into the analgesic effects of low doses of LSD in patient populations.

Ramaekers, J. G., Hutten, N., Mason, N. L., Dolder, P., Theunissen, E. L., Holze, F., … & Kuypers, K. P. (2020). A low dose of lysergic acid diethylamide decreases pain perception in healthy volunteers. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 0269881120940937; 10.1177/0269881120940937
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Depressive mood ratings are reduced by MDMA in female polydrug ecstasy users homozygous for the l-allele of the serotonin transporter

Abstract

MDMA exerts its main effects via the serotonergic system and the serotonin transporter. The gene coding for this transporter determines the expression rate of the transporter. Previously it was shown that healthy individuals with the short allelic variant (‘s-group’) of the 5-HTTLPR-polymorphism displayed more anxiety and negative mood, and had a lower transcriptional efficiency compared to individuals who are homozygous for the l-allele (‘l-group’). The present study aimed to investigate the role of the 5-HTTLPR polymorphism in MDMA-induced mood effects. Four placebo-controlled, within-subject studies were pooled, including in total 63 polydrug ecstasy users (Ns-group = 48; Nl-group = 15) receiving MDMA 75 mg and placebo on two test days, separated by minimally 7 days. Mood was assessed by means of the Profile of Mood States. Findings showed that MDMA induced -independent of sex- a positive mood state, and as a side effect also increased two negative affect states, anxiety and confusion. Anxiety ratings were higher in the l-group and independent of treatment or sex. Depression ratings were lowered by MDMA in the female l-group. Findings indicate that the MDMA-induced reduction in self-rated depressive feelings is sex- and genotype-dependent, with females homozygous for the l-allele showing this beneficial effect.
Kuypers, K. P. C., de la Torre, R., Farre, M., Xicota, L., Perna, E. D. S. F., Theunissen, E. L., & Ramaekers, J. G. (2018). Depressive mood ratings are reduced by MDMA in female polydrug ecstasy users homozygous for the l-allele of the serotonin transporter. Scientific reports8(1), 1061. 10.1038/s41598-018-19618-1
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Ayahuasca enhances creative divergent thinking while decreasing conventional convergent thinking

Abstract

Introduction: Ayahuasca is a South American psychotropic plant tea traditionally used in Amazonian shamanism. The tea contains the psychedelic 5-HT2A receptor agonist N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), plus β-carboline alkaloids with monoamine oxidase-inhibiting properties. Increasing evidence from anecdotal reports and open-label studies indicates that ayahuasca may have therapeutic effects in treatment of substance use disorders and depression. A recent study on the psychological effects of ayahuasca found that the tea reduces judgmental processing and inner reactivity, classic goals of mindfulness psychotherapy. Another psychological facet that could potentially be targeted by ayahuasca is creative divergent thinking. This mode of thinking can enhance and strengthen psychological flexibility by allowing individuals to generate new and effective cognitive, emotional, and behavioral strategies. The present study aimed to assess the potential effects of ayahuasca on creative thinking.

Methods: We visited two spiritual ayahuasca workshops and invited participants to conduct creativity tests before and during the acute effects of ayahuasca. In total, 26 participants consented. Creativity tests included the “pattern/line meanings test” (PLMT) and the “picture concept test” (PCT), both assessing divergent thinking and the latter also assessing convergent thinking.

Results: While no significant effects were found for the PLMT, ayahuasca intake significantly modified divergent and convergent thinking as measured by the PCT. While convergent thinking decreased after intake, divergent thinking increased.

Conclusions: The present data indicate that ayahuasca enhances creative divergent thinking. They suggest that ayahuasca increases psychological flexibility, which may facilitate psychotherapeutic interventions and support clinical trial initiatives.

Kuypers, K. P. C., Riba, J., de la Fuente Revenga, M., Barker, S., Theunissen, E. L., & Ramaekers, J. G. (2016). Ayahuasca enhances creative divergent thinking while decreasing conventional convergent thinking. Psychopharmacology, 1-9. 10.1007/s00213-016-4377-8

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Verbal Memory Impairment in Polydrug Ecstasy Users: A Clinical Perspective

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Ecstasy use has been associated with short-term and long-term memory deficits on a standard Word Learning Task (WLT). The clinical relevance of this has been debated and is currently unknown. The present study aimed at evaluating the clinical relevance of verbal memory impairment in Ecstasy users. To that end, clinical memory impairment was defined as decrement in memory performance that exceeded the cut-off value of 1.5 times the standard deviation of the average score in the healthy control sample. The primary question was whether being an Ecstasy user (E-user) was predictive of having clinically deficient memory performance compared to a healthy control group.

METHODS:

WLT data were pooled from four experimental MDMA studies that compared memory performance during placebo and MDMA intoxication. Control data were taken from healthy volunteers with no drug use history who completed the WLT as part of a placebo-controlled clinical trial. This resulted in a sample size of 65 E-users and 65 age- and gender-matched healthy drug-naïve controls. All participants were recruited by similar means and were tested at the same testing facilities using identical standard operating procedures. Data were analyzed using linear mixed-effects models, Bayes factor, and logistic regressions.

RESULTS:

Findings were that verbal memory performance of placebo-treated E-users did not differ from that of controls, and there was substantial evidence in favor of the null hypothesis. History of use was not predictive of memory impairment. During MDMA intoxication of E-users, verbal memory was impaired.

CONCLUSION:

The combination of the acute and long-term findings demonstrates that, while clinically relevant memory impairment is present during intoxication, it is absent during abstinence. This suggests that use of Ecstasy/MDMA does not lead to clinically deficient memory performance in the long term. Additionally, it has to be investigated whether the current findings apply to more complex cognitive measures in diverse ‘user categories’ using a combination of genetics, imaging techniques and neuropsychological assessments.

Kuypers, K. P., Theunissen, E. L., van Wel, J. H., Perna, E. B. D. S. F., Linssen, A., Sambeth, A., … & Ramaekers, J. G. (2016). Verbal Memory Impairment in Polydrug Ecstasy Users: A Clinical Perspective. PloS one, 11(2), e0149438. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0149438

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MDMA, cannabis, and cocaine produce acute dissociative symptoms

Abstract

Some drugs of abuse may produce dissociative symptoms, but this aspect has been understudied. We explored the dissociative potential of three recreational drugs (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), cannabis, and cocaine) during intoxication and compared their effects to literature reports of dissociative states in various samples. Two placebo-controlled studies were conducted. In Study 1 (N=16), participants received single doses of 25, 50, and 100 mg of MDMA, and placebo. In Study 2 (N=21), cannabis (THC 300 µg/kg), cocaine (HCl 300 mg), and placebo were administered. Dissociative symptoms as measured with the Clinician-Administered Dissociative States Scale (CADSS) significantly increased under the influence of MDMA and cannabis. To a lesser extent, this was also true for cocaine. Dissociative symptoms following MDMA and cannabis largely exceeded those observed in schizophrenia patients, were comparable with those observed in Special Forces soldiers undergoing survival training, but were lower compared with ketamine-induced dissociation. Cocaine produced dissociative symptoms that were comparable with those observed in schizophrenia patients, but markedly less than those in Special Forces soldiers and ketamine users. Thus, MDMA and cannabis can produce dissociative symptoms that resemble dissociative pathology. The study of drug induced dissociation is important, because it may shed light on the mechanisms involved in dissociative psychopathology.

van Heugten-Van der Kloet, D., Giesbrecht, T., van Wel, J., Bosker, W. M., Kuypers, K. P., Theunissen, E. L., … & Ramaekers, J. G. (2015). MDMA, cannabis, and cocaine produce acute dissociative symptoms. Psychiatry research, 228(3), 907-912. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2015.04.028

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