Researchers at the University of Chicago have discovered that low doses of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) may have potential antidepressant effects in individuals with mild to moderate symptoms of depression.
The study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology involved 39 volunteers aged 18 to 35 who were recruited from the university community. Participants were divided into two groups based on their scores on the Beck Depression Inventory-II, a standard measure of depression. Those with scores indicating mild to moderate depression formed the “high” depression group, while those with lower scores comprised the “low” depression group.
To mitigate the risk of expectancy bias, where people report positive results because they are expecting them, participants were given either a 26 microgram dose of LSD or a placebo in a random order during two five-hour long sessions, with sessions spaced at least a week apart. Both the participants and the researchers didn’t know who received LSD or the placebo during each session, making it a double-blind study.
“There has been a great deal of public interest in microdosing, or the idea that very low doses of LSD, taken every 3-4 days, can improve mood, cognition and creativity, among many other claims,” said study author Harriet de Wit. “However, such effects are highly susceptible to expectancy effects, i.e., people experience what they expect to experience. Therefore, controlled studies are essential to determine whether the effect of the drug exceeds that of a placebo.”
Participants reported feeling the effects of LSD, with the high-depression group showing a tendency to enjoy the effects of LSD more than the low-depression group. Participants with higher depression scores also experienced significant increases in mood measures after consuming LSD, a trend not reported by those in the low-depression group.
“We were surprised that the drug preferentially increased feelings of positive mood in the depressed sample, compared to the controls. There are many possible reasons for this, which will need to be examined in future studies,” de Wit said to reporters at PsyPost.
In a follow-up 48 hours after the LSD session participants in the high depression score group reported a notable decrease in their depression scores when compared to their scores after the placebo session. De Wit said this provided evidence that “people with depressed mood may experience different effects from a single dose of the drug, compared to nondepressed people,” adding that “this initial finding needs to be replicated and extended to other samples.”