Scientists wishing to further develop research into psychedelic-assisted therapy compared the hallucinogenic effects of LSD to the active component in magic mushrooms, psilocybin on healthy participants. In a study published this month, they found no major differences in the induced altered states of consciousness of the participants.
LSD, psilocybin and other ‘classic’ psychedelics are being investigated as possible tools in the fight against psychiatric problems, such as treatment-resistant depression, anxiety disorders, gambling and more. Modern research on how these substances could potentially help combat these conditions began after the swiss chemist Dr Albert Hoffman famously synthesised LSD in 1938.
Both LSD and psilocybin work by stimulating the 5-hydroxytryptamine-2A receptors in the brain. These receptors make up a network of serotonin receptors and have been linked with various psychiatric problems and mood disorders. However there are slight differences in the mechanism of how each substance works; LSD works more on the dopamine D1-3 receptors, whereas psilocin, the active metabolite of psilocybin, inhibits the serotonin transporter. Researchers wished to understand if these differences in receptor activity manifested in a different experience for people who take these substances.
In the study, published in the journal Nature, researchers stated that there were previously no modern studies directly comparing the effects of LSD to psilocybin. They felt more research was required to advance the recent evolution in psychedelic-assisted therapy.
A double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomised, crossover study was designed and conducted using 28 participants, 14 male and 14 female. The participants took part in 5 sessions of 25 hours where they received either placebo, psilocybin, or LSD. Each session was separated by at least 10 days.
Various measures were recorded, including; heart rate, blood pressure, pupil size, body temperature. Blood tests were taken to measure different levels, and participants were asked to self-report feelings, such as; experience of unity, spiritual experience, blissful state, insightfulness, disembodiment and others such as; impaired control and cognition, and anxiety.
The researchers noted that “The doses of 100 and 200 µg LSD and 30 mg psilocybin produced comparable subjective effects. The 15 mg psilocybin dose produced clearly weaker subjective effects compared with both doses of LSD and 30 mg psilocybin. The 200 µg dose of LSD induced higher ratings of ego-dissolution, impairments in control and cognition, and anxiety than the 100 µg dose. The 200 µg dose of LSD increased only ratings of ineffability significantly more than 30 mg psilocybin. LSD at both doses had clearly longer effect durations than psilocybin. Psilocybin increased blood pressure more than LSD, whereas LSD increased heart rate more than psilocybin.”
To conclude they said that “both doses of LSD and the high dose of psilocybin produced qualitatively and quantitatively very similar subjective effects, indicating that alterations of mind that are induced by LSD and psilocybin do not differ beyond the effect duration. Any differences between LSD and psilocybin are dose-dependent rather than substance-dependent.”
The small size of the cohort involved in this study means that more research is needed, and no solid conclusions should be drawn. It is also worth noting that people’s experiences with psychedelics are deeply personal and highly subjective, and there are many different variables that could affect a trip.