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LSD enhances suggestibility in healthy volunteers

Abstract

Rationale

Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) has a history of use as a psychotherapeutic aid in the treatment of mood disorders and addiction, and it was also explored as an enhancer of mind control.

Objectives

The present study sought to test the effect of LSD on suggestibility in a modern research study.

Methods

Ten healthy volunteers were administered with intravenous (i.v.) LSD (40–80 μg) in a within-subject placebo-controlled design. Suggestibility and cued mental imagery were assessed using the Creative Imagination Scale (CIS) and a mental imagery test (MIT). CIS and MIT items were split into two versions (A and B), balanced for ‘efficacy’ (i.e. A≈B) and counterbalanced across conditions (i.e. 50 % completed version ‘A’ under LSD). The MIT and CIS were issued 110 and 140 min, respectively, post-infusion, corresponding with the peak drug effects.

Results

Volunteers gave significantly higher ratings for the CIS (p = 0.018), but not the MIT (p = 0.11), after LSD than placebo. The magnitude of suggestibility enhancement under LSD was positively correlated with trait conscientiousness measured at baseline (p = 0.0005).

Conclusions

These results imply that the influence of suggestion is enhanced by LSD. Enhanced suggestibility under LSD may have implications for its use as an adjunct to psychotherapy, where suggestibility plays a major role. That cued imagery was unaffected by LSD implies that suggestions must be of a sufficient duration and level of detail to be enhanced by the drug. The results also imply that individuals with high trait conscientiousness are especially sensitive to the suggestibility-enhancing effects of LSD.

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Acknowledgments

This research received financial and intellectual support from the Beckley Foundation and was conducted as part of a wider Beckley-Imperial research programme. This report presents independent research carried out at the NIHR/Wellcome Trust Imperial Clinical Research Facility. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health. The authors are grateful to Devin Terhune, David Luke and Jamie Ward for advising on the inclusion of the MODTAS and OSIVQ and to Neiloufar Family for her help with managing the research.

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Correspondence to R. L. Carhart-Harris.

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Carhart-Harris, R.L., Kaelen, M., Whalley, M.G. et al. LSD enhances suggestibility in healthy volunteers. Psychopharmacology 232, 785–794 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-014-3714-z

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Keywords

  • Serotonin
  • Hallucinogens
  • Psychedelics
  • LSD
  • Suggestibility
  • Hypnosis