LSD Found to Increase Pain Threshold

Following on from the pioneering clinical studies in the 1960s and 1970s by the late Timothy Harvey, profound analgesic effects from Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) have again been demonstrated in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

Returning to where Leary left off, this study is the first to revisit the potential of LSD as an analgesic – or painkiller. Unlike the evaporated research of "the most dangerous man in America" the team from Maastricht University, University of Basel, and Oxford sought to do so at "dose levels which are not expected to produce profound mind-altering effects."

Harkening back to the studies conducted in the 1960s and 1970s, where the "profound analgesic effects of full doses of LSD in terminally ill patients" was first discovered, twenty-four healthy volunteers have taken part in a new experiment to see if the Harvard Psychedelic Project had any merit.

Funded by the Beckley Foundation, the research team has published the first clinical study exploring the potential of LSD microdosing in pain relief since the 60s. The potential for LSD's ability to enhance mood and cognitive functions is also being looked at, with results to be released soon.

According to the study, volunteers received single doses of 5, 10 and 20 µg LSD as well as placebo on separate occasions. To assess pain tolerance, volunteers would endure a Cold Pressor Test at 1.5 and 5-hour intervals after treatment was administered.

In order to assess the production of profound mind-altering effects, ratings of dissociation and psychiatric symptoms, as well as assessments of vital signs, were included to monitor mental status as well as safety during treatments.

"From a medical point of view, controlled research on the efficacy of LSD in pain management should focus on non-hallucinogenic, low doses of LSD, which are more manageable and thus preferable over treatment with high doses of LSD that produce full-blown psychedelic effects," explained the researchers.

Results found that those who consumed LSD 20 µg significantly increased the time that participants were able to tolerate exposure to the pain test i.e. volunteers had "decreased their subjective levels of experienced pain and unpleasantness."

Alongside those results, volunteers also recorded "slightly increased ratings of dissociation, anxiety and somatization" in addition to elevated mean blood pressure. However, the magnitude of these effects was small.

Describing its analgesic effects as "protracted" at a non-psychoactive dosage, the present data of LSD as a suitable painkiller warrants further research in patient populations.

In conclusion, the present study provides evidence for analgesic activity of LSD in healthy volunteers at doses that are low enough to avoid physiological or mental challenges.Ramaekers, J. G. et al. (2020) Journal of Psychopharmacology.

What Does This Mean For Acid?

Up until now, "controlled studies on the efficacy of LSD as an analgesic [were] virtually absent or dated." Referencing several studies which recorded a "more protracted and more effective action than the other drugs," this new study has again confirmed its efficacy in future pain treatment.

Taking over from the last fifty years of "self-medication with LSD" this new data indicates the drug consistently reduces pain perception on a significant level when compared to the placebo.

More important, however, is the ability to produce these effects "at dose levels that are not expected to produce relevant mind-altering effects." The reason being that this would increase the drugs "acceptability" in the management of pain.

Describing the reduction in subjective pain perception as "remarkable" in comparison to opioids such as oxycodone and morphine. This is due to results being "measurable despite a prolonged exposure time to the pain stimulus".

At both the 1 and 5 hour marks, "the analgesic effects of LSD 20 μg were equally strong" speaking to the sustained efficacy profile for LSD, suggesting that the effects could outlast the 5 hour time window applied in the study.

Within this extended time window, "the level of cognitive interference" was "very mild" and would not be expected to interfere with daily activities.

LSD 20μg significantly increased pain tolerance (i.e. immersion time) by about 20%, while decreasing the subjective levels of experienced painfulness and unpleasantness.Ramaekers, J. G. et al. (2020) Journal of Psychopharmacology.

Despite the level of detail, it is still unclear how LSD influences pain perception. Most explanations focus on its ability to affect "the processing of nociceptive information or on psychological changes in coping with pain." The latter suggests that the psychedelic experience reorients attention away from pain, with the former suggesting the promotion of self-transcendence in essence, removes all pain.

Calling for an extended dose-finding study to determine which analgesic effects of LSD are optimal, future research will need to discover "when efficacy is maximal and mental interference is minimal." Further research will also be needed to replicate the study in "patient populations who suffer from persistent pain".

The potential for tolerance development after repeated dosing will also need to be determined, though the authors are confident it is "devoid of problematic sequelae that are associated with current mainstay drugs, such as opioids."

There were an estimated 27 million people who suffered from opioid use disorders in 2016 according to the World Health Organisation. In 2015, roughly 450,000 people died as a result of drug use, with 118 thousand associated with opioid use disorders.

In response to the findings, Amanda Feilding, Founder and Director of the Beckley Foundation was encouraged by the results urging a continued exploration into LSD and its beneficial relationship with pain. Comparing the "magnitude" of its effects to opioids, Lead researcher Jan Ramaekers is strongly pushing for further clinical trials to "assess the replicability and generalisability of these findings."

"We must continue to explore [LSD] with the aim of providing safer, non-addictive alternatives to pain management, and to bring people in pain a step closer to living happier, healthier and fully expressed lives."Amanda Feilding, Founder and Director of the Beckley Foundation and co-director of the Beckley/Maastricht Microdosing Research Programme

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Elliot Nash
Elliot Nash

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