As the counter-culture drug of choice, the now infamous experimental use of LSD during the 1960s led to a moral panic about its effects on individuals and on society as a whole. Today, media outlets continue to report LSD as a drug that makes people dangerous, psychotic, and in some cases homicidal, further entrenching public fears about it.

In this, the second in our series looking at potential new uses for some of society’s most controversial drugs, we take another look at LSD.

Studies reporting the possibility of using LSD as a therapeutic treatment for various mental health conditions were published from the 1950s. But following the USA’s criminalisation of LSD in 1966, clinical research was abandoned and its potential forgotten for decades.1

Now, emerging research is beginning to change the perception of LSD from a drug that can negatively affect mental health and wellbeing, to one that can alleviate the symptoms of anxiety and depression. Its benefits are also being studied in relation to helping individuals who are trying to overcome drug dependency.2

LSD

LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide) is a part of a group of drugs known as psychedelics. It is also considered to be an empathogen, that is a drug that enhances feelings of empathy and connectedness.3 It is a synthetic chemical derived from a fungus that commonly infects rye.

LSD is also described as a ‘psychedelic’ (or mind-manifesting) drug because of the changes experienced to perception, mood and thought. When taken in high doses it reportedly distorts experiences of time and space in addition to producing visual hallucinations.

LSD as a treatment

Recent findings indicate that psychedelic drugs can affect the function and structure of the brain and promote neuron growth.6 Exactly how LSD affects the brain is complicated, but it seems to interact with multiple receptors, such as serotonin and dopamine.