[Please note that this page contains affiliate links. If you choose to purchase after clicking a link, I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you.]
Psychedelics have seen a recent resurgence in the scientific research field. Although psychedelics have been proven to help heal trauma and to help treat depression, they may also help fight against COVID-19. Furthermore, a recent study published in the journal Experimental Neurology discovered evidence of yet another benefit of taking LSD – it promotes brain plasticity by boosting cognition and memory.
To see the effects of LSD on the brain’s capability to learn and to take in new information, the research team dosed two groups of mice – one with the drug and the other receiving a saline control.
Three days later, the mice were given a novel object preference test – it is precisely what it sounds like: the mice have presented with a variety of objects, some that were new and some which were familiar, and the scientists measured which ones the rodents preferred.
It is a standard cognitive test for laboratory mice, as it is a valuable way to measure animal memory and learning. This means the better the mice’ cognition and memory, the more time the mice will spend investigating novel items – and the mice who were given LSD spent drastically more time exploring the new things.
This same effect of boosting cognition and memory was also discovered when the researchers tested people: 25 healthy participants who previously had used LSD – but not within two weeks before the study – were put into a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study where they were given 50 μg of LSD, and 50 μg of a placebo, over two separate sessions. As all volunteers were given one dose, their order was randomized.
The volunteers were given a visuospatial object-location test and a Rey-Osterrieth Complex Figure test – which means they reproduce a line drawing. Both are prevalent ways to assess consolidation and memory encoding required in neuroplasticity.
Again, the scientists discovered that participants who had taken LSD in the days before these tests did much better than people given the placebo – displaying that just a single hit of LSD can enhance cognition and boost neural plasticity in healthy adults. Some days after the LSD was taken.
Although the effects of psychedelics are somewhat easily studied – as they have seen, researchers can give a bunch of participants a moderate dose of LSD and see what happens – the mechanisms that cause these effects are much more mysterious. So to study what is going on at the cellular level, the scientists tested LSD on brain organoids: the tissue formed from stem cells can estimate the brain’s function and structure.
The study results confirmed something suggested from previous studies: that the effects of LSD are caused by increasing neural plasticity by boosting memory and cognition – the brain’s ability to learn, adapt and change throughout life.