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Is microdosing acid the future of pain relief?

According to a new study, LSD could be used as a non-addictive alternative to morphine and other painkillers

Over the past few years, the benefits of psychedelics have become harder to ignore. Drugs like LSD, magic mushrooms, and MDMA have been proven to inspire positive life changes, including long-term reduction of depression and alleviation of social anxiety. Just recently, researchers have outlined how psychedelics can offer relief amid coronavirus lockdown, including making you more accepting of distressing situations and providing potential treatment post-quarantine.

Now, a new study suggests that acid could be used as a method of pain relief. Published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, the research reveals that microdoses of LSD could be used as an effective, non-addictive alternative to painkillers like morphine.

Conducted by the Beckley Foundation in the UK and Maastricht University in the Netherlands, the study gave 24 volunteers a single dose of 5, 10, or 20 micrograms of LSD, or a placebo. In order to measure their pain perception while on the drug – or the placebo – participants were asked to submerge their hands in cold water (three degrees Celsius) for as long as they could.

Researchers found that those who were given 20 micrograms of acid were able to hold their hands in the water for much longer, and reported experiencing lower levels of pain, unpleasantness, and stress than those who were given the placebo. The doses of 5 or 10 micrograms didn’t have the same effect as the highest dose, but did show similar changes in pain tolerance and perception as those observed after administration of opioids, including oxycodone and morphine.

The study also found that the analgesic effects of the 20 micrograms dose were just as strong up to five hours after participants took the LSD, suggesting that the drug may have a longer-lasting effect on pain management.

Participants who took the highest dose did report a slight increase in dissociation and anxiety, though researchers assert that the psychological effects were so mild that they wouldn’t interfere with a person’s day-to-day life.

“The present data suggests low doses of LSD could constitute a useful pain management treatment option that is not only effective in patients, but is also devoid of the problematic consequences associated with current mainstay drugs, such as opiods,” Amanda Feilding, the founder and director of the Beckley Foundation, said in a statement. “Over 16 million people worldwide are currently suffering from Opiod Use Disorder, and many more will become hooked as a result of oversubscription of pain medication.”

In the late 90s, US healthcare providers began widely prescribing opioids after pharmaceutical companies reassured the medical community that patients wouldn’t become addicted to them. But, in 2017, the country was forced to declare the opioid crisis as a public health emergency, after overdoses increased by 30 per cent from the previous year, with an estimated 130 people now dying every day.

Feilding continued: “I am encouraged by these results as I have long believed that LSD may not only change the sensations of pain, but also our subjective relationship with it. We must continue to explore this 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.”

The study is the first to explore the analgesic effects of LSD since the 1960s, when full doses were tested on terminally ill patients. Lead researcher Jan Ramaekers is hopeful that this study will incite more investigation into the benefits of microdosing. He says: “These findings strongly encourage clinical trials in pain patients to assess the replicability and generalisibility of these findings.”

Last week (August 28), Dazed spoke to a handful of people who started microdosing psychedelics during lockdown, helping them cope with the pandemic and financial worries, as well as making them feel more creative. “It’s a bit like an antidepressant,” said 29-year-old tech manager Tom*, “the key difference is that I don’t experience any notable side effects. My mood is typically a lot higher on a dosse day. It’s a nice way to reconnect with myself and appreciate life.”

*Name was changed