The results of a new study suggest that repeated (but not single) low doses of the psychedelic drug LSD could potentially offer a treatment for autism and social anxiety disorder.
In the study, published here, researchers found that regular low doses (30 μg/kg) of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD, also known as ‘acid’) enhanced social behaviour in rats. The effect is mediated via a pathway that is associated with autism (ASD) and social anxiety.
While a single low dose of LSD had little effect on how the rats interacted socially, a daily low dose over seven days resulted in the rodents being more social toward unfamiliar rats.
The effects of LSD and other psychedelics are known to be caused by interactions with serotonin receptors in the prefrontal cortex.
However, the study authors also found that LSD was producing its social behaviour-boosting effects by interacting with another receptor – the AMPA receptor. This receptor is found in many parts of the brain but is also the most commonly found receptor in the nervous system.
The sensitivity of both serotonin and AMPA receptors is regulated by a protein complex known as mTORC1. A number of psychedelic drugs, including LSD, have been found to increase the activation of this protein complex, thus enhancing the activity of the receptors.
Ketamine also produces its strong antidepressant effects through the activation of mTORC1.
Dysregulation of mTORC1 is known to be linked to autism spectrum disorder and other social anxiety disorders.
Using sophisticated tools, the researchers managed to confirm that regular low doses of LSD produced an increase in mTORC1 activation in the rats’ prefrontal cortices, further establishing the compound’s role in the prosocial effects of psychedelics.
In the study, the authors point out that the positive behavioural effects were obtained with a relatively low dose of LSD. They say the results warrant future research which could lead to treatments for conditions such as autism and social anxiety.