New Zealanders suffering from late-stage cancer will become the first to microdose lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) to alleviate mental health problems. Common mental health issues associated with terminal illness include anxiety and depression. In a new clinical trial at the University of Auckland, lead researcher and health psychologist Lisa Reynolds prepares a trial she believes can significantly improve patients’ mental health.

According to Reynolds, research into LSD could offer patients a cognitive pathway to reduce anxiety around dying and allow them to connect with what is important to them. The trial will have patients take part in talk-therapy once being administered a sub-perceptual dose of LSD, which is expected to increase cognitive flexibility without the perceptual distortions common in larger macrodoses of the compound. Good cognitive flexibility enables adaptive thinking which aids therapy processes significantly as patients are able to reframe perspectives, alter thought patterns, and formulate new ways of thinking.

“Anecdotal reports and early research suggests that LSD microdosing might make people more cognitively flexible, more open to new ideas, and better able to see things from new perspectives”

– Lisa Reynolds
A common method of microdosing recreationally involves cutting tabs into smaller doses

LSD research in the 1960s and 1970s showed great promise in the treatment of a variety of psychiatric conditions, including existential distress or “death anxiety”. The current study however, is markedly different as the dose will be around one tenth that of early studies. Participants will be given the microdoses to self-administer at home every 3 days for 7 weeks, attending psychotherapy on one of those dosing days each week. This microdose, combined with meaning-centred psychotherapy, is expected to connect patients to life purpose and meaning – feelings well documented within psychology as promoting thriving mental health.

The study will be controlled with a placibo, whereby half the participants will receive an inactive microdose. Whether or not a LSD microdose can have similar effects as the more often researched macrodose is yet to be seen, although Reynolds expects patients will be more open and receptive to therapy, aiding in speed and strength of recovery.

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