For decades, scientific exploration into the realm of psychedelic drugs has been strictly forbidden by the US government. However, recently, as a result of constant pressure from civil rights groups, scientists are finally getting the opportunity to see what these drugs are all about. LSD has been a primary focus of recent research, and study after study has shown that this substance has many beneficial uses.
One recent study conducted by a team of researchers from The University of North Carolina, Stanford University and the University of California has shown that LSD could be used to treat schizophrenia and depression.
The researchers used a process known as crystallography, in which atomic and molecular structure of certain interactions are studied. Specifically, the researchers were able to discover how LSD molecules interact with the serotonin receptors in our brain.
Professor Bryan Roth, one of the lead researchers on the team described how the process was used.
“There are different levels of understanding for how drugs like LSD work. The most fundamental level is to find out how the drug binds to a receptor on a cell. The only way to do that is to solve the structure. And to do that, you need X-ray crystallography, the gold standard,” Roth said.
“Once LSD gets in the receptor, a lid comes over the LSD, so it’s basically trapped in the receptor and can’t get out. LSD takes a really long time to get on the receptor, and then once it gets on, it doesn’t get off,” he added.
Roth specializes in schizophrenia research and was inspired to start this study after noticing that patients who he dealt with had reported their first schizophrenic break while taking acid.
“They were never the same again. Although this is rare, it has been reported. People also report flashbacks and LSD is an extremely potent drug. So for those reasons, along with its potential as part of therapeutic treatment, LSD is scientifically interesting,” Roth said.
Professor Ron Dror, another researcher, explained how he used computer imaging to find out how the drug interacts with the brain.
“There is a headache drug that binds to the same receptor as LSD. The two drugs bind in the same receptor pocket, but the shape of that binding pocket is different when one drug or the other is bound. We used computer simulations to help explain why the two drugs favor different binding pocket shapes,” Dr. Dror said.
“It has long been observed that LSD trips are long. The simulations helped explain why the receptor holds onto LSD for so long despite the fact that they have such a dynamic connection,” he added.
The researchers hope to develop a drug that could interact with serotonin receptors the same way, which could revolutionize treatment for people with depression and schizophrenia.
Another recent study from the University of Cardiff showed that LSD actually unlocks portions of the brain that are not usually used.
This study follows several others which have also found enormous therapeutic benefits possible with psychedelics. However, the persistent negative stigma surrounding even cannabis makes changes to drug policy for psychedelics — regardless of how many people could be helped — doubtful at best.