Today’s Solutions: February 08, 2023

Here at The Optimist Daily, we’ve commonly discussed how psychedelics potentially treat mental illnesses. With their power to alter our brains in miraculous ways, researchers are racing to understand their power.

Scientists don’t fully understand the human brain itself yet, therefore lots of psychedelic therapy research is still in its very early stages and lacks concrete evidence to explain and support its effectiveness. It will be a while until researchers and doctors have developed precise and safe potential treatments using these drugs.

Working toward the answer 

Researchers are making progress, with more and more studies getting closer to a neurological explanation, including a recent paper published in Neuropsychopharmacology. Conducted by a group at the McGill University Health Center, researchers shed light on a previously unexplained phenomenon: why LSD can be used to relieve anxiety.

While many practical studies have come to the conclusion that psychotherapy-assisted microdosing was effective in reducing depression and anxiety symptoms, the underlying biochemical mechanisms were unclear.

The team was led by Dr. Gabriella Gobbi, who discovered that low doses of LSD impact the same pathways in the brain as a common class of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). You may know these as Prozac, Zoloft, Cipralex, and others.

How does LSD relieve anxiety?

The data showed that LSD increases the amount of serotonin being released in our brains. This hormone is essential for mood stabilization. A lack of serotonin can be a cause of depression and anxiety. In mice, taking a low dose of LSD tricked their nerves to release more serotonin through desensitizing them to the protein. The brain then believed more needed to be released and was stimulated to do so.

The team also showed that the drug can trigger new branches of neurons to form. “We have shown that LSD can rebuild these branches that are ‘dismantled’ due to stress. This is a sign of brain plasticity,” explains Dr. Danilo De Gregorio, first author of the study. Both of these neurological effects combined resulted in an apparent decrease in the mice’s anxiety.

There is a long way to go

More research in humans is required before we can point to the exact anxiety-reducing mechanism LSD performs in our brains. “Interest in LSD stems from its ability to influence serotonin levels and produce feelings of happiness, confidence and empathy as well as improvement of social behavior. However, more studies are needed to identify safe and effective therapeutic uses, as psychedelics can cause psychosis and neurotoxic effects,” said Dr. Gobbi.

This breakthrough is still a huge leap in understanding of biological mechanisms of LSD in the brain. Hopefully, in the future these drugs will be more thoroughly understood so they can be used to treat neurological conditions and improve the lives of the millions suffering with depression and anxiety.


Source study: NeuropsychopharmacologyRepeated lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) reverses stress-induced anxiety-like behavior, cortical synaptogenesis deficits and serotonergic neurotransmission decline

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