3 Reasons Addiction Treatment Researchers Should Look Closer at LSD


What does it take to end a person with substance use disorderion? The loss of a job, a home, even relationships with close friends or loved ones is often not enough to break the cycle of drug-seeking behavior and abuse. A new study from Imperial College London presented at the annual conference of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology suggests a different kind of treatment could help those in recovery from addiction: carefully administered doses of entheogens, more commonly known as hallucinogenic drugs, in controlled therapeutic settings. Here are three reasons why drug addiction treatment researchers should continue exploring the ways entheogens like LSD can be used to help addicts in recovery.


  1. Addiction manifests in the brain. Patterns of drug-seeking behavior are just the most visible form of a deeper processes happening within a person with substance use disorder’s brain. Over time, neural networks are formed that associate certain external stimuli or behaviors with a flood of dopamine injected into the brain through drug use. This firing of neural networks in response to a trigger, drug-seeking behavior and anticipated neural reward, can prove challenging to correct without dramatic interventions like residential drug treatment. In residential treatment, we can offer myriad tools to the addict to help change neural processes. Entheogens as part of intensive psychotherapy may be one such intervention.


  1. Entheogens are active on a neural level. LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) primarily affects the brain by interrupting the normal release and reuptake of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects basic bodily functions such as hunger, body temperature, muscle control and sensory perception. The impact of LSD and other entheogens on serotonin places these drugs in a unique position to alter the body’s current system of neurotransmitters as they stand at the time of ingestion, with little delay. This could mean a radical shift for those who use the drug in a clinical setting.


  1. Synchronized neural firing networks can be momentarily separated. Utilizing both an fMRI and an MEG to observe the effects of LSD on the brain, researchers found that LSD caused a dysfunction in the participant’s neural firing networks. As a result, some neural networks lost connection with one another where previously there had been a strong correlation. Their ability to temporarily suggest new ways for the brain to fire neural networks, especially where networks are newly able to fire independent of one another, is completely unique to entheogens like LSD. More research may show that this unique trait may provide relief for those who suffer from trauma or other co-occurring disorders.


There is still much for us to learn about entheogens as a treatment option for various mental health issues, including depression and addiction. However, the possibilities suggested by this treatment option make further research into its uses and limitations with larger study groups an important line of inquiry and one that addiction treatment professionals should follow closely.