Study: A microdose of LSD can alter a fundamental human experience

“Anyone on any of these doses could sit behind a computer and do their work.”


IN LARGE DOSES, LYSERGIC ACID DIETHYLAMIDE (LSD) can repair damaged neurons in the brain, and reveal new ways of seeing the world. In small doses, microdosers chase the effects of the drug on creativity or mood, without the full psychedelic experience.

However, a new study suggests that even a microdose might be able to change a powerful human sensation: pain.

Microdoses of LSD increased pain tolerance and decreased ratings of painfulness and unpleasantness. Here, a microdose was defined as about 20 micrograms.

Twenty-fourcollege students were asked to plunge their hands into frigid 37-degree water and see how long they could handle the chill. Compared to a placebo, students on 20 micrograms of LSD could keep their hands in cold water about 20 percent longer and had lower ratings of unpleasantness and painfulness.

Greater increases in pain tolerance were “comparable” to what you might see with traditional pain-management drugs, like oxycodone or morphine during that same task, the authors note.

The study was published Monday in The Journal of Psychopharmacology, and was partially supported by the Beckley Foundation, a non-profit that researches psychoactive substances and advocates for “evidence-based changes” in global drug policy.

The study’s first author, Johannes Ramaekers, a professor at Maastricht University, suggests LSD could one day be an alternative to opioids, which are highly addictive.

“That would be of interest,” he tells Inverse. “To see if low doses of LSD could actually replace an opioid and at least reduce the addiction potential, because LSD has no addiction potential.”

While LSD does come with certain risks — a “bad trip” can lead to unpredictable behavior, it can possibly exacerbate certain psychotic disorders, and it’s not recommended for people with severe cardiovascular disease — it does not entail physical dependence or cause withdrawal. People can become tolerant to LSD over time, meaning that they’ll need higher doses to get the same effects.

It also exhibits very low physiological toxicity, even at very high doses. Taken together, its qualities make it an attractive alternative to pharmaceutical drugs to some scientists.

Microdoses of LSD cut from a tab. Microgen/Getty Images

MICRODOSING AND PAIN MANAGEMENT – Research on the therapeutic potential of psychedelics is resurging after a drought between the 1970s and the 2000s. Ramaekers attributes the slowdown to the war on drugs. In 1970, psychedelics were placed into the most tightly regulated group (Schedule I) of The Controlled Substances Act).

Before the research landscape dried up, an influential study was conducted in 1964 on terminally ill patients who were suffering from extreme pain. They received LSD, and two opioids: meperidine and dihydromorphinone. LSD tended to produce longer and more powerful dampening of pain than the other drugs. The drawback was that the doses were so high, that the patients also experienced a psychedelic state.

“When those patients were asked, the next day or the next week, if they would like to have another dose to treat pain, there was a significant amount of patients that said, ‘no thank you,’ because of the strong, psychedelic experience,” Ramaekers says.


In this new study, Ramaekers and his colleagues tried to get that dosage just right: enough to improve pain tolerance, not enough to cause hallucinations.

The team tested three different dosages of LSD: 5 micrograms, 10 micrograms, and 20 micrograms.

“Anyone on any of these doses could sit behind a computer and do their work,” Ramaeker says.

At five micrograms, the team found no significant differences in how long people could withstand the water challenge. At ten micrograms, they saw a small difference that approached significance, but random chance still couldn’t be ruled out.

That 20 microgram dose was enough to produce significant effects on pain.

However, 20 is on the high-end of a microdose. You would be aware that you took a dose of LSD, says Ramaeker. Patients seemed to have more positive moods and were more attentive.

“It’s not really mind-altering or bringing hallucinations,” he says. “You may perceive colors, for example, as a little bit brighter.”

HOW DOES IT WORK? –  This study wasn’t designed to illuminate why LSD seems to have an effect on pain, but Ramaekers proposes three ideas in the paper.

  • LSD promotes “self-transcendence” that blunts the experience of pain. Psychedelics can cause “breakthrough experiences” that feel like entering another reality. As the paper puts it: “in essence: no self, no pain.”
  • Microdoses were linked to increases in the patient’s blood pressure, and increases in blood pressure have been linked to increased pain tolerance before. However, as one 2013 study points out, this relationship may hold for acute pain (like a pinprick), but not chronic pain (that originates in the body)


F. Kaskais Web Guru

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