Yale, Zurich scientists find why LSD makes people trip

The team used brain imaging technology to evaluate participants' reactions to LSD and to a combination of LSD and ketanserin, a drug that prevents ...

Yale, Zurich scientists find why LSD makes people trip

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Yale, Zurich scientists find why LSD makes people trip

Researchers at the University of Zurich in Switzerland and at Yale have pinpointed the receptor in the brain that makes someone’s reaction to the popular hallucinogenic drug LSD so profound. The team used brain imaging technology to evaluate participants’ reactions to LSD and to a combination of LSD and ketanserin, a drug that prevents the receptor serotonin 2A from attaching to the molecules of LSD. The results were surprising

According to co-author Joshua Burt GRD ‘20, giving patients ketanserin before administering LSD greatly diminished the effects of the hallucinogens. The finding, published in the journal eLife on Oct. 25, definitively links serotonin 2A to “Tripping” caused by LSD and is a major step in using psychedelics to treat disorders such as depression and schizophrenia

According to the study, a total of 24 subjects between the ages of 20 and 34 were randomly given either a placebo, a dose of LSD or a dose of LSD and ketanserin. Using brain scans of the subjects and their responses to the survey, the researchers found a strong similarity between the experiences of the placebo group and of the group given both LSD and ketanserin. This result, the researchers concluded, demonstrated that serotonin 2A is the major contributor to LSD’s psychedelic effects

In the United States, LSD, which is illegal to buy, possess, manufacture or distribute without a license, is a Title I substance - the same classification as heroin and ecstasy - making it difficult to perform studies involving the drug. “There’s a renewed interest in the potential therapeutic benefits of psychedelics like LSD, so we’re really starting to see a lot more of this type of research emerge in the U.S,” Burt said. LSD’s psychedelic properties were first discovered in 1943 by Swiss scientist Albert Hofmann.

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