A new study published in Experimental neuroscience Provides some early evidence that the psychedelic substance known as LSD has nootropic properties. Research shows that LSD increases markers of neuroplasticity in human brain organelles, improves novelty preference in rats and memory performance in humans.
When combined with psychotherapy, psychedelic drugs have shown promise in treating psychiatric conditions such as depression, PTSD, and addiction. However, the cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in the therapeutic effects of psychedelics remain unknown.
Some studies have shown that psychedelic substances have a positive effect, in part, because they promote neurogenesis and neuroplasticity. The authors of the new study were interested in better understanding whether the neuroplasticity induced by psychedelics can be used to improve learning and memory.
“My main research topics are the neural plasticity mechanisms underlying the cognitive benefits of sleep and dreaming. In the last decade, I have become interested in psychedelics because they induce dream-like states with profound cognitive effects,” says study author Sidarta Ribeiro, of Rio Grande do Sul. – Full Professor of Neuroscience at the Brain Institute of the Federal University of Norte.
To study LSD’s effects at the cellular level, researchers created brain organoids—brain-like structures grown from human induced pluripotent stem cells. They found that LSD affects several processes, including DNA replication, neuronal pathway finding, and mTOR signaling.
“Proteomic data from human brain organelles reveal that LSD regulates several processes associated with neuronal plasticity,” the researchers said. “Notably, we found significant LSD-induced changes in the mTOR-induced pathway, a protein kinase involved in several neuronal plasticity events and acting as a hub between plasticity, learning and memory.”
To examine LSD’s effects on hippocampus-dependent memory processes, researchers had 76 rats undergo a novel object preference task several days after receiving a dose of LSD or an inert saline solution. Rats given LSD spent more time exploring novel objects. However, LSD generally did not affect the total time spent exploring the objects.
“Our results show that LSD pretreatment can significantly increase novelty preference in rats several days after dosing, with a significant single-dose effect,” the researchers said. “Results suggest that LSD-induced plasticity enhances novelty seeking.”
Ribeiro and his research team also investigated the effects of LSD in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. In a cross-over study, 25 healthy volunteers who had used LSD at least once (but had abstained from any psychedelic or other illegal drugs for at least two weeks) received 50 mcg of LSD in one session and 50 mcg of an inactive placebo in another session. The order of sessions was randomized.
The morning after dosing, participants completed a visuospatial 2D object location task (an assessment of memory consolidation) and the Rey-Osterriet Complex Figure Test (a widely used neuropsychological assessment of memory encoding and recall). line).
The researchers found that participants performed better on memory tests the day after taking LSD compared to the day after taking a placebo. “To our knowledge, this is the first study to show that LSD improves subacute memory in humans,” the authors wrote in their study. However, they noted that LSD’s effects were not as strong, which may have been the result of “a single, relatively low dose.”
The findings suggest that “even a single dose of LSD can promote neural plasticity and improve cognition in healthy adults,” Ribeiro told PsyPost. However, the researcher noted, “we still need to learn more about age differences, potential gender differences, and the role of context (setting) in modulating effects.”
“Psychedelic drugs have been demonized since the 1960s, and in the last decade they’ve come back through the front door into biology and medicine,” Ribeiro added. “But the benefits of psychedelics are not limited to treating patients with pathological conditions. They can also be very useful for improving the consciousness of healthy people, which means that they should be considered not only as medicine, but as a part of human life in general.”
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