LSD acutely impairs fear recognition and enhances emotional empathy and sociality

This double-blind placebo-controlled study (n=40) found that LSD (100-200 μg) enhanced emotional empathy and sociality, but decreased recognition of sad/fearful faces (fear cognition).

Abstract

Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) is used recreationally and has been evaluated as an adjunct to psychotherapy to treat anxiety in patients with life-threatening illness. LSD is well-known to induce perceptual alterations, but unknown is whether LSD alters emotional processing in ways that can support psychotherapy. We investigated the acute effects of LSD on emotional processing using the Face Emotion Recognition Task (FERT) and Multifaceted Empathy Test (MET). The effects of LSD on social behavior were tested using the Social Value Orientation (SVO) test. Two similar placebo-controlled, double-blind, random-order, crossover studies were conducted using 100 μg LSD in 24 subjects and 200 μg LSD in 16 subjects. All of the subjects were healthy and mostly hallucinogen-naive 25- to 65-year-old volunteers (20 men, 20 women). LSD produced feelings of happiness, trust, closeness to others, enhanced explicit and implicit emotional empathy on the MET, and impaired the recognition of sad and fearful faces on the FERT. LSD enhanced the participants’ desire to be with other people and increased their prosocial behavior on the SVO test. These effects of LSD on emotion processing and sociality may be useful for LSD-assisted psychotherapy.

Authors: Patrick C. Dolder, Yasmin Schmid, Felix Müller, Stefan Borgwardt & Matthias E. Liechti

Notes

This paper is included in the meta-analytical review by Galvão-Coelho and colleagues (2021) that found psychedelics to improve mood (for those with mood disorders) both in the short and long-term (up to 60 days).

A further analysis of of the pharmacokinetics/dynamics is done in Dolder and colleagues (2017).

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