OPEN Foundation

M. Liechti

Prediction of MDMA response in healthy humans: a pooled analysis of placebo-controlled studies

Abstract

Background: 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA, “ecstasy”) is used both recreationally and therapeutically. Little is known about the factors influencing inter- and intra-individual differences in the acute response to MDMA. Effects of other psychoactive substances have been shown to be critically influenced by personality traits and mood state before intake.

Methods: We pooled data from 10 randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over studies performed in the same laboratory in 194 healthy subjects receiving doses of 75 or 125mg of MDMA. We investigated the influence of drug dose, body weight, sex, age, drug pre-experience, genetics, personality and mental state before drug intake on the acute physiological and psychological response to MDMA.

Results: In univariable analyses, the MDMA plasma concentration was the strongest predictor for most outcome variables. When adjusting for dose per body weight, we found that (a) a higher activity of the enzyme CYP2D6 predicted lower MDMA plasma concentration, (b) a higher score in the personality trait “openness to experience” predicted more perceived “closeness”, a stronger decrease in “general inactivation”, and higher scores in the 5D-ASC (5 Dimensions of Altered States of Consciousness Questionnaire) scales “oceanic boundlessness” and “visionary restructuralization”, and (c) subjects with high “neuroticism” or trait anxiety were more likely to have unpleasant and/or anxious reactions.

Conclusions: Although MDMA plasma concentration was the strongest predictor, several personality traits and mood state variables additionally explained variance in the response to MDMA. The results confirm that both pharmacological and non-pharmacological variables influence the response to MDMA. These findings may be relevant for the therapeutic use of MDMA.

Studerus, E., Vizeli, P., Harder, S., Ley, L., & Liechti, M. E. (2021). Prediction of MDMA response in healthy humans: a pooled analysis of placebo-controlled studies. Journal of psychopharmacology (Oxford, England), 35(5), 556–565. https://doi.org/10.1177/0269881121998322

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MDMA-induced changes in within-network connectivity contradict the specificity of these alterations for the effects of serotonergic hallucinogens

Abstract

It has been reported that serotonergic hallucinogens like lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) induce decreases in functional connectivity within various resting-state networks. These alterations were seen as reflecting specific neuronal effects of hallucinogens and it was speculated that these shifts in connectivity underlie the characteristic subjective drug effects. In this study, we test the hypothesis that these alterations are not specific for hallucinogens but that they can be induced by monoaminergic stimulation using the non-hallucinogenic serotonin-norepinephrine-dopamine releasing agent 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA). In a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind, crossover design, 45 healthy participants underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) following oral administration of 125 mg MDMA. The networks under question were identified using independent component analysis (ICA) and were tested with regard to within-network connectivity. Results revealed decreased connectivity within two visual networks, the default mode network (DMN), and the sensorimotor network. These findings were almost identical to the results previously reported for hallucinogenic drugs. Therefore, our results suggest that monoaminergic substances can induce widespread changes in within-network connectivity in the absence of marked subjective drug effects. This contradicts the notion that these alterations can be regarded as specific for serotonergic hallucinogens. However, changes within the DMN might explain antidepressants effects of some of these substances.

Müller, F., Holze, F., Dolder, P., Ley, L., Vizeli, P., Soltermann, A., Liechti, M. E., & Borgwardt, S. (2021). MDMA-induced changes in within-network connectivity contradict the specificity of these alterations for the effects of serotonergic hallucinogens. Neuropsychopharmacology : official publication of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, 46(3), 545–553. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41386-020-00906-2

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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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Acute dose-dependent effects of lysergic acid diethylamide in a double-blind placebo-controlled study in healthy subjects

Abstract

Growing interest has been seen in using lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) in psychiatric research and therapy. However, no modern studies have evaluated subjective and autonomic effects of different and pharmaceutically well-defined doses of LSD. We used a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, crossover design in 16 healthy subjects (eight women, eight men) who underwent six 25 h sessions and received placebo, LSD (25, 50, 100, and 200 µg), and 200 µg LSD 1 h after administration of the serotonin 5-hydroxytryptamine-2A (5-HT2A) receptor antagonist ketanserin (40 mg). Test days were separated by at least 10 days. Outcome measures included self-rating scales that evaluated subjective effects, autonomic effects, adverse effects, plasma brain-derived neurotrophic factor levels, and pharmacokinetics up to 24 h. The pharmacokinetic-subjective response relationship was evaluated. LSD showed dose-proportional pharmacokinetics and first-order elimination and dose-dependently induced subjective responses starting at the 25 µg dose. A ceiling effect was observed for good drug effects at 100 µg. The 200 µg dose of LSD induced greater ego dissolution than the 100 µg dose and induced significant anxiety. The average duration of subjective effects increased from 6.7 to 11 h with increasing doses of 25-200 µg. LSD moderately increased blood pressure and heart rate. Ketanserin effectively prevented the response to 200 µg LSD. The LSD dose-response curve showed a ceiling effect for subjective good effects, and ego dissolution and anxiety increased further at a dose above 100 µg. These results may assist with dose finding for future LSD research. The full psychedelic effects of LSD are primarily mediated by serotonin 5-HT2A receptor activation.

Holze, F., Vizeli, P., Ley, L., Müller, F., Dolder, P., Stocker, M., Duthaler, U., Varghese, N., Eckert, A., Borgwardt, S., & Liechti, M. E. (2021). Acute dose-dependent effects of lysergic acid diethylamide in a double-blind placebo-controlled study in healthy subjects. Neuropsychopharmacology : official publication of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, 46(3), 537–544. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41386-020-00883-6

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Acute subjective effects in LSD- and MDMA-assisted psychotherapy

Abstract

Background: Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) were used in psychotherapy in the 1960s-1980s, and are currently being re-investigated as treatments for several psychiatric disorders. In Switzerland, limited medical use of these substances is possible in patients not responding to other treatments (compassionate use).

Methods: This study aimed to describe patient characteristics, treatment indications and acute alterations of mind in patients receiving LSD (100-200 µg) and/or MDMA (100-175 mg) within the Swiss compassionate use programme from 2014-2018. Acute effects were assessed using the 5 Dimensions of Altered States of Consciousness scale and the Mystical Experience Questionnaire, and compared with those in healthy volunteers administered with LSD or MDMA and patients treated alone with LSD in clinical trials.

Results: Eighteen patients (including 12 women and six men, aged 29-77 years) were treated in group settings. Indications mostly included posttraumatic stress disorder and major depression. Generally, a drug-assisted session was conducted every 3.5 months after 3-10 psychotherapy sessions. LSD induced pronounced alterations of consciousness on the 5 Dimensions of Altered States of Consciousness scale, and mystical-type experiences with increases in all scales on the Mystical Experience Questionnaire. Effects were largely comparable between patients in the compassionate use programme and patients or healthy subjects treated alone in a research setting.

Conclusion: LSD and MDMA are currently used medically in Switzerland mainly in patients with posttraumatic stress disorder and depression in group settings, producing similar acute responses as in research subjects. The data may serve as a basis for further controlled studies of substance-assisted psychotherapy.

Schmid, Y., Gasser, P., Oehen, P., & Liechti, M. E. (2021). Acute subjective effects in LSD- and MDMA-assisted psychotherapy. Journal of psychopharmacology (Oxford, England), 35(4), 362–374. https://doi.org/10.1177/0269881120959604

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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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Pharmacokinetics and subjective effects of a novel oral LSD formulation in healthy subjects.

Abstract

AIMS:

The aim of the present study was to characterize the pharmacokinetics and exposure-subjective response relationship of a novel oral solution of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) that was developed for clinical use in research and patients.

METHOD:

LSD (100 μg) was administered in 27 healthy subjects using a placebo-controlled, double-blind, cross-over design. Plasma levels of LSD, nor-LSD, and 2-oxo-3-hydroxy-LSD (O-H-LSD) and subjective drug effects were assessed up to 11.5 hours.

RESULTS:

First-order elimination kinetics were observed for LSD. Geometric mean maximum concentration (Cmax ) values (range) of 1.7 (1.0-2.9) ng/mL were reached at a tmax (range) of 1.7 (1.0-3.4) hours after drug administration. The plasma half-life (t1/2 ) was 3.6 (2.4-7.3) hours. The AUC was 13 (7.1-28) ng·h/mL. No differences in these pharmacokinetic parameters were found between male and female subjects. Plasma O-H-LSD but not nor-LSD (< 0.01 ng/mL) concentrations could be quantified in all subjects. Geometric mean O-H-LSD Cmax values (range) of 0.11 (0.07-0.19) ng/mL were reached at a tmax (range) of 5 (3.2-8) hours. The t1/2 and AUC values of O-H-LSD were 5.2 (2.6-21) hours and 1.7 (0.85-4.3) ng·h/mL, respectively. The subjective effects of LSD lasted (mean ± SD) for 8.5 ± 2.0 hours (range: 5.3-12.8 h), and peak effects were reached 2.5 ± 0.6 hours (range 1.6-4.3 h) after drug administration. EC50 values were 1.0 ± 0.5 ng/mL and 1.9 ± 1.0 ng/mL for “good” and “bad” subjective drug effects, respectively.

CONCLUSION:

The present study characterized the pharmacokinetics of LSD and its main metabolite O-H-LSD. The subjective effects of LSD were closely associated with changes in plasma concentrations over time.

Holze, F., Duthaler, U., Vizeli, P., Müller, F., Borgwardt, S., & Liechti, M. E. (2019). Pharmacokinetics and subjective effects of a novel oral LSD formulation in healthy subjects. British journal of clinical pharmacology., 10.1111/bcp.13918
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Cytochrome P450 enzymes contribute to the metabolism of LSD to nor-LSD and 2-oxo-3-hydroxy-LSD: Implications for clinical LSD use

Abstract

In recent years, experimental research on lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) in humans has gained new momentum. In humans, LSD is metabolized rapidly into several metabolites but knowledge of the involved metabolizing enzymes is limited. The aim of the current study was to identify the cytochrome P450 (CYP) isoforms involved in the metabolism of LSD to 6-norlysergic acid diethylamide (nor-LSD) and 2-oxo-3-hydroxy-LSD (O-H-LSD) in vitro, in order to evaluate potential effects of enzyme polymorphisms or prescription drugs on LSD pharmacokinetics. Additionally, interactions of LSD and both metabolites with 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) receptors were assessed. LSD was incubated with human liver microsomes over 4 h and the production of nor-LSD and O-H-LSD was quantified by liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry. Metabolism was inhibited by the addition of specific CYP inhibitors. Additionally, recombinant CYPs were used to verify the inhibition results obtained with microsomes and induction of metabolism was investigated in human hepatocyte-derived cells. Radioligand binding and calcium mobilization assays were used to determine 5-HT receptor affinities and activities, respectively. Human liver microsomes displayed minor metabolite formation (<1% metabolized) over 4 h. CYP2D6, 2E1, and 3A4 significantly contributed to the formation of nor-LSD, and CYP1A2, 2C9, 2E1, and 3A4 were significantly involved in the formation of O-H-LSD. These findings could be verified using recombinant CYPs. Enzyme induction with rifampicin distinctly increased the formation of both metabolites, whereas treatment with omeprazole only slightly increased formation of nor-LSD. LSD and nor-LSD were pharmacologically active at the 5-HT1A, 5-HT2A, 5-HT2B, and 5-HT2C receptors. Nor-LSD mainly differed from the parent compound by having a lower affinity to the 5-HT2C receptor. O-H-LSD displayed substantially weaker affinity and activity at serotonergic receptors in comparison to LSD. To conclude, human liver microsomes converted only small amounts of LSD to nor-LSD and O-H-LSD but several CYPs significantly contributed. Genetic polymorphisms and drug interactions could therefore influence pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of LSD. Nor-LSD likely has hallucinogenic activity similar to LSD, whereas O-H-LSD is inactive. Drug-drug interaction studies in humans are required to further assess the clinical relevance of these findings.

Luethi, D., Hoener, M. C., Krähenbühl, S., Liechti, M. E., & Duthaler, U. (2019). Cytochrome P450 enzymes contribute to the metabolism of LSD to nor-LSD and 2-oxo-3-hydroxy-LSD: Implications for clinical LSD use. Biochemical pharmacology164, 129-138., 10.1016/j.bcp.2019.04.013
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Role of serotonin transporter and receptor gene variations in the acute effects of MDMA in healthy subjects

Abstract

Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA; ecstasy) is used recreationally and has been investigated as an adjunct to psychotherapy. Most acute effects of MDMA can be attributed to activation of the serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine [5-HT]) system. Genetic variants, such as single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and polymorphic regions in 5-HT system genes, may contribute to interindividual differences in the acute effects of MDMA. We characterized the effects of common genetic variants within selected genes that encode the 5-HT system (TPH1 [tryptophan 5-hydroxylase 1] rs1800532 and rs1799913, TPH2 [tryptophan 5-hydroxylase 2] rs7305115, HTR1A [5-HT1A receptor] rs6295, HTR1B [5-HT1B receptor] rs6296, HTR2A [5-HT2A receptor] rs6313, and SLC6A4 [serotonin transporter] 5-HTTLPR and rs25531) on the physiological and subjective response to 125 mg MDMA compared with placebo in 124 healthy subjects. Data were pooled from eight randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies that were conducted in the same laboratory. TPH2 rs7305115, HTR2A rs6313, and SLC6A4 5-HTTLPR polymorphisms tended to moderately alter some effects of MDMA. However, after correcting for multiple comparisons, none of the tested genetic polymorphisms significantly influenced the response to MDMA. Variations in genes that encode key targets in the 5-HT system did not significantly influence the effects of MDMA in healthy subjects. Interindividual differences in the 5-HT system may thus play a marginal role when MDMA is used recreationally or therapeutically.

Vizeli, P., Meyer zu Schwabedissen, H. E., & Liechti, M. E. (2018). Role of serotonin transporter and receptor gene variations in the acute effects of MDMA in healthy subjects. ACS chemical neuroscience., 10.1021/acschemneuro.8b00590
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