OPEN Foundation

H. de Wit

Preliminary Report on the Effects of a Low Dose of LSD on Resting-State Amygdala Functional Connectivity.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:
The practice of “microdosing,” or the use of repeated, very low doses of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) to improve mood or cognition, has received considerable public attention, but empirical studies are lacking. Controlled studies are needed to investigate both the therapeutic potential and the neurobiological underpinnings of this pharmacologic treatment.
METHODS:
The present study was designed to examine the effects of a single low dose of LSD (13 μg) versus placebo on resting-state functional connectivity and cerebral blood flow in healthy young adults. Twenty men and women, 18 to 35 years old, participated in 2 functional magnetic resonance imaging scanning sessions in which they received placebo or LSD under double-blind conditions. During each session, the participants completed drug effect and mood questionnaires, and physiological measures were recorded. During expected peak drug effect, they underwent resting-state blood oxygen level-dependent and arterial spin labeling scans. Cerebral blood flow as well as amygdala and thalamic connectivity were analyzed.
RESULTS:
LSD increased amygdala seed-based connectivity with the right angular gyrus, right middle frontal gyrus, and the cerebellum, and decreased amygdala connectivity with the left and right postcentral gyrus and the superior temporal gyrus. This low dose of LSD had weak and variable effects on mood, but its effects on positive mood were positively correlated with the increase in amygdala-middle frontal gyrus connectivity strength.
CONCLUSIONS:
These preliminary findings show that a very low dose of LSD, which produces negligible subjective changes, alters brain connectivity in limbic circuits. Additional studies, especially with repeated dosing, will reveal whether these neural changes are related to the drug’s purported antidepressant effect.

Bershad, A. K., Preller, K. H., Lee, R., Keedy, S., Wren-Jarvis, J., Bremmer, M. P., & de Wit, H. (2019). Preliminary report on the effects of a low dose of LSD on resting state amygdalar functional connectivity. Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging., https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bpsc.2019.12.007
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Acute subjective and behavioral effects of microdoses of LSD in healthy human volunteers

Abstract

Background
Numerous anecdotal reports suggest that repeated use of very low doses of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), known as “microdosing,” improves mood and cognitive function. These effects are consistent both with the known actions of LSD on serotonin receptors, and with limited evidence that higher doses of LSD (100-200 μg) positively bias emotion processing. Yet, the effects of such sub-threshold doses of LSD have not been tested in a controlled laboratory setting. As a first step, we examined the effects of single very low doses of LSD (0 – 26μg) on mood and behavior in healthy volunteers under double-blind conditions.
Methods
Healthy young adults (N=20) attended four laboratory sessions during which they received placebo, 6.5μg, 13μg, or 26μg LSD in randomized order at one-week intervals. During expected peak drug effect, they completed mood questionnaires and behavioral tasks assessing emotion processing and cognition. Cardiovascular measures and body temperature were also assessed.
Results
LSD produced dose-related subjective effects across the three doses (6.5μg, 13μg, or 26μg). At the highest dose the drug also increased ratings of “vigor” and slightly decreased positivity ratings of images with positive emotional content. Other mood measures, cognition, and physiological measures were unaffected.
Conclusions
Single “microdoses” of LSD produced orderly dose-related subjective effects in healthy volunteers. These findings indicate that a threshold dose of 13μg of LSD might be used safely in an investigation of repeated administrations. It remains to be determined whether the drug improves mood or cognition in individuals with symptoms of depression.
Bershad, A. K., Schepers, S. T., Bremmer, M. P., Lee, R., & de Wit, H. (2019). Acute subjective and behavioral effects of microdoses of LSD in healthy human volunteers. Biological Psychiatry., https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2019.05.019
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Acute Subjective and Behavioral Effects of Microdoses of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide in Healthy Human Volunteers

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Numerous anecdotal reports suggest that repeated use of very low doses of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), known as microdosing, improves mood and cognitive function. These effects are consistent both with the known actions of LSD on serotonin receptors and with limited evidence that higher doses of LSD (100-200 μg) positively bias emotion processing. Yet, the effects of such subthreshold doses of LSD have not been tested in a controlled laboratory setting. As a first step, we examined the effects of single very low doses of LSD (0-26 μg) on mood and behavior in healthy volunteers under double-blind conditions.

METHODS:

Healthy young adults (N = 20) attended 4 laboratory sessions during which they received 0 (placebo), 6.5, 13, or 26 μg of LSD in randomized order at 1-week intervals. During expected peak drug effect, they completed mood questionnaires and behavioral tasks assessing emotion processing and cognition. Cardiovascular measures and body temperature were also assessed.

RESULTS:

LSD produced dose-related subjective effects across the 3 doses (6.5, 13, and 26 μg). At the highest dose, the drug also increased ratings of vigor and slightly decreased positivity ratings of images with positive emotional content. Other mood measures, cognition, and physiological measures were unaffected.

CONCLUSIONS:

Single microdoses of LSD produced orderly dose-related subjective effects in healthy volunteers. These findings indicate that a threshold dose of 13 μg of LSD might be used safely in an investigation of repeated administrations. It remains to be determined whether the drug improves mood or cognition in individuals with symptoms of depression.

Bershad, A. K., Schepers, S. T., Bremmer, M. P., Lee, R., & de Wit, H. (2019). Acute subjective and behavioral effects of microdoses of LSD in healthy human volunteers. Biological Psychiatry., 10.1016/j.biopsych.2019.05.019
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Effects of MDMA on attention to positive social cues and pleasantness of affective touch.

Abstract

The psychostimulant drug ±3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) reportedly produces distinctive feelings of empathy and closeness with others. MDMA increases social behavior in animal models and has shown promise in psychiatric disorders, such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). How it produces these prosocial effects is not known. This behavioral and psychophysiological study examined the effects of MDMA, compared with the prototypical stimulant methamphetamine (MA), on two measures of social behavior in healthy young adults: (i) responses to socially relevant, “affective” touch, and (ii) visual attention to emotional faces. Men and women (N = 36) attended four sessions in which they received MDMA (0.75 or 1.5 mg/kg), MA (20 mg), or a placebo in randomized order under double-blind conditions. Responses to experienced and observed affective touch (i.e., being touched or watching others being touched) were assessed using facial electromyography (EMG), a proxy of affective state. Responses to emotional faces were assessed using electrooculography (EOG) in a measure of attentional bias. Subjective ratings were also included. We hypothesized that MDMA, but not MA, would enhance the ratings of pleasantness and psychophysiological responses to affective touch and increase attentional bias toward positive facial expressions. Consistent with this, we found that MDMA, but not MA, selectively enhanced ratings of pleasantness of experienced affective touch. Neither drug altered the ratings of pleasantness of observed touch. On the EOG measure of attentional bias, MDMA, but not MA, increased attention toward happy faces. These results provide new evidence that MDMA can enhance the experience of positive social interactions; in this case, pleasantness of physical touch and attentional bias toward positive facial expressions. The findings are consistent with evidence that the prosocial effects are unique to MDMA relative to another stimulant. Understanding the behavioral and neurobiological processes underlying the distinctive social effects of MDMA is a key step to developing the drug for psychiatric disorders.
Bershad, A. K., Mayo, L. M., Van Hedger, K., McGlone, F., Walker, S. C., & de Wit, H. (2019). Effects of MDMA on attention to positive social cues and pleasantness of affective touch. Neuropsychopharmacology, 1, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41386-019-0402-z
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Psychedelics and related drugs: therapeutic possibilities, mechanisms and regulation

Abstract

The word “psychedelic” derives from the Greek terms for mind—psyche—and “delos” which means “clear, manifest,” so in essence, psychedelic drugs can be seen as the prototype “window on the mind” concept. The term was originally coined in the 1950s to describe lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), mescaline, and other hallucinogens, drugs that profoundly alter human experience. These have subsequently been shown to act primarily as agonists at the 5-HT2Areceptor in the brain. Research into the therapeutic potential and mechanisms of action of psychedelic and related drugs peaked in the late 1960s but then stagnated for 50 years after the 1971 UN Psychotropics Convention made psychedelic research with humans almost impossible to carry out (Kyzar et al. 2017).

Recently, however, this area is experiencing a renaissance as drugs often associated with recreational use—such as LSD, ketamine, and cannabis/cannabinoids—have been shown to have therapeutic potential in a range of disorders such as treatment-resistant depression, suicidal ideation, and some pediatric epilepsies. Further, recent pilot studies suggest that MDMA as well as the classic psychedelics, LSD, and psilocybin may contribute to the pharmacopeia for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other difficult-to-treat psychiatric disorders. Research has also been stimulated by functional neuroimaging studies of single doses of psychedelics showing that they produce widespread changes in brain connectivity as well as profound alterations to perception and cognition. At the same time, as one would expect from a relatively fledgling area, many questions remain about mechanisms of action, safety, and efficacy. These include what type of psychological therapies best combine with which type of psychedelic drug, whether some types of drug have benefits even without psychological treatment, what the optimal doses are, from single dose through to intermittent or repeated dosing. The current renaissance in empirical psychedelic research stimulated this Special Issue of Psychopharmacology. The articles are grouped into three sections: Clinical efficacy and clinical issues; Effects and Mechanisms of action; Regulation and history.

Curran, H. V., Nutt, D., & de Wit, H. (2018). Psychedelics and related drugs: therapeutic possibilities, mechanisms and regulation. 10.1007/s00213-017-4822-3
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MDMA Impairs Both the Encoding and Retrieval of Emotional Recollections

Abstract

The psychoactive drug ±3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) is increasingly used for its perceived emotional effects (eg, prosociality, empathy, psychotherapy), but surprisingly little research has been aimed at identifying the effect of the drug on emotional episodic memory in humans. Here, we report the first double-blind placebo-controlled study to examine the effects of MDMA on emotional memory separately during encoding and retrieval in healthy participants. Participants viewed emotionally negative, neutral, and positive pictures and their labels. Forty-eight hours later, they were given cued recollection and recognition memory tests designed to assess recollection and familiarity for the studied pictures. Participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups who received MDMA (1 mg/kg) either during encoding (Encoding group; N=20), retrieval (Retrieval group; N=20), or neither (Placebo group; N=20). Although MDMA administered at either phase did not affect overall memory accuracy, it did alter the recollection of details associated specifically with emotional memories as estimated using a dual process signal detection analysis of confidence judgments and subjective ‘remember’ judgments. In the Encoding group, MDMA reduced recollection estimates for negative and positive pictures but had little to no effect on neutral items or familiarity estimates. There was evidence for similar trends in the Retrieval group. These findings indicate that MDMA attenuates the encoding and retrieval of salient details from emotional events, consistent with the idea that its potential therapeutic effects for treating posttraumatic stress disorder are related to altering emotional memory.
Doss, M. K., Weafer, J., Gallo, D. A., & de Wit, H. (2017). MDMA Impairs Both the Encoding and Retrieval of Emotional Recollections. Neuropsychopharmacology. 10.1038/npp.2017.171
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MDMA does not alter responses to the Trier Social Stress Test in humans

Abstract

Rationale

±3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA, “ecstasy”) is a stimulant-psychedelic drug with unique social effects. It may dampen reactivity to negative social stimuli such as social threat and rejection. Perhaps because of these effects, MDMA has shown promise as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, the effect of single doses of MDMA on responses to an acute psychosocial stressor has not been tested.

Objectives

In this study, we sought to test the effects of MDMA on responses to stress in healthy adults using a public speaking task. We hypothesized that the drug would reduce responses to the stressful task.

Methods

Volunteers (N = 39) were randomly assigned to receive placebo (N = 13), 0.5 mg/kg MDMA (N = 13), or 1.0 mg/kg MDMA (N = 13) during a stress and a no-stress session. Dependent measures included subjective reports of drug effects and emotional responses to the task, as well as salivary cortisol, heart rate, and blood pressure.

Results

The stress task produced its expected increase in physiological responses (cortisol, heart rate) and subjective ratings of stress in all three groups, and MDMA produced its expected subjective and physiological effects. MDMA alone increased ratings of subjective stress, heart rate, and saliva cortisol concentrations, but contrary to our hypothesis, it did not moderate responses to the Trier Social Stress Test.

Conclusions

Despite its efficacy in PTSD and anxiety, MDMA did not reduce either the subjective or objective responses to stress in this controlled study. The conditions under which MDMA relieves responses to negative events or memories remain to be determined.

Bershad, A. K., Miller, M. A., & de Wit, H. (2017). MDMA does not alter responses to the Trier Social Stress Test in humans. Psychopharmacology, 1-8. 10.1007/s00213-017-4621-x
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The effects of MDMA on socio-emotional processing: Does MDMA differ from other stimulants?

Abstract

±3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) is a popular recreational drug that enhances sociability and feelings of closeness with others. These “prosocial” effects appear to motivate the recreational use of MDMA and may also form the basis of its potential as an adjunct to psychotherapy. However, the extent to which MDMA differs from prototypic stimulant drugs, such as dextroamphetamine, methamphetamine, and methylphenidate, in either its behavioral effects or mechanisms of action, is not fully known. The purpose of this review is to evaluate human laboratory findings of the social effects of MDMA compared to other stimulants, ranging from simple subjective ratings of sociability to more complex elements of social processing and behavior. We also review the neurochemical mechanisms by which these drugs may impact sociability. Together, the findings reviewed here lay the groundwork for better understanding the socially enhancing effects of MDMA that distinguish it from other stimulant drugs, especially as these effects relate to the reinforcing and potentially therapeutic effects of the drug.

Bershad, A. K., Miller, M. A., Baggott, M. J., & de Wit, H. (2016). The effects of MDMA on socio-emotional processing: Does MDMA differ from other stimulants?. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 0269881116663120.
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Urinary and plasma oxytocin changes in response to MDMA or intranasal oxytocin administration

Abstract

BACKGROUND:
The neuropeptide oxytocin (OT) has received increased experimental attention for its putative role in both normal social functioning and several psychiatric disorders that are partially characterized by social dysfunction (e.g., autism spectrum disorders: ASD). Many human experimental studies measure circulating plasma levels of OT in order to examine the relationship between the hormone and behavior. Urinary OT (uOT) assays offer a simple, easy, and non-invasive method to measure peripheral hormone levels, but the correspondence between uOT and plasma OT (pOT) levels is unclear. Here, we conducted two within-subjects, double-blind studies exploring changes in uOT and pOT levels following administration of two drugs: MDMA, an oxytocin-releasing drug (Study 1), and intranasal oxytocin (INOT: Study 1 and 2).
METHODS:
In Study 1, 14 adult participants (2 females) were each administered either oral 1.5mg/kg MDMA or 40IU INOT across two different study sessions. In Study 2, 10 male participants (adolescents and young adults) diagnosed with ASD received either 40IU INOT or placebo across two different sessions. In both studies, blood and urine samples were collected before and after drug administration at each study session. For Study 1, 10 participants provided valid plasma and urine samples for the MDMA session, and 8 provided valid samples for the INOT session. For Study 2, all 10 participants provided valid samples for both INOT and placebo sessions. Pre- and post-administration levels of pOT and uOT were compared. Additionally, correlations between percent change from baseline uOT and pOT levels were examined.
RESULTS:
Study 1: Plasma OT and uOT levels significantly increased after administration of MDMA and INOT. Furthermore, uOT levels were positively correlated with pOT levels following administration of MDMA (r=0.57, p=0.042) but not INOT (r=0.51, p=0.097). Study 2: There was a significant increase in uOT levels after administration of INOT, but not after administration of placebo. Under both conditions, INOT and placebo, significant increases in pOT levels were not observed. Additionally, change from baseline uOT and pOT levels were positively correlated (r=0.57, p=0.021). There was no significant correlation between uOT and pOT levels following placebo administration.
CONCLUSION:
Our results show a measurable and significant increase in pOT and uOT levels after the administration of MDMA (Study 1) and INOT (Study 1 and Study 2). Additionally, a positive correlation between uOT and pOT levels was observed in both samples (healthy adults and ASD patients) in at least one condition. However, uOT and pOT levels were not correlated under all conditions, suggesting that uOT levels do not fully correspond to pOT levels in the time windows we measured. Future studies should further examine the relationship between levels of pOT and uOT in healthy and clinical populations on measures of social behavior because uOT may serve as an additional non-invasive method to measure peripheral OT changes.
Francis, S. M., Kirkpatrick, M. G., de Wit, H., & Jacob, S. (2016). Urinary and plasma oxytocin changes in response to MDMA or intranasal oxytocin administration. Psychoneuroendocrinology74, 92-100. 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2016.08.011
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Oxytocin receptor gene variation predicts subjective responses to MDMA

Abstract

3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA, “ecstasy”) enhances desire to socialize and feelings of empathy, which are thought to be related to increased oxytocin levels. Thus, variation in the oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) may influence responses to the drug. Here we examined the influence of a single OXTR nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) on responses to MDMA in humans. Based on findings that carriers of the A allele at rs53576 exhibit reduced sensitivity to oxytocin-induced social behavior, we hypothesized that these individuals would show reduced subjective responses to MDMA, including sociability. In this 3-session, double blind, within-subjects study, healthy volunteers with past MDMA experience (N = 68) received a MDMA (0, 0.75 mg/kg and 1.5 mg/kg) and provided self-report ratings of sociability, anxiety, and drug effects. These responses were examined in relation to rs53576. MDMA (1.5 mg/kg) did not increase sociability in individuals with the A/A genotype as it did in G allele carriers. The genotypic groups did not differ in responses at the lower MDMA dose, or in cardiovascular or other subjective responses. These findings are consistent with the idea that MDMA-induced sociability is mediated by oxytocin, and that variation in the oxytocin receptor gene may influence responses to the drug.

Bershad, A. K., Weafer, J. J., Kirkpatrick, M. G., Wardle, M. C., Miller, M. A., & de Wit, H. (2016). Oxytocin receptor gene variation predicts subjective responses to MDMA. Social neuroscience. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17470919.2016.1143026

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