LSD and ketanserin and their impact on the human autonomic nervous system

This placebo-controlled randomized, crossover study (n=17) investigated the impact of LSD (100 μg) and the counteracting influence of the 5-HT2A receptor antagonist ketanserin (40mg) on the autonomic nervous system within healthy subjects. LSD predominantly increased the sympathetic activity, while ketanserin increased the parasympathetic influence, thus antagonizing the effects of LSD on the autonomic nervous system completely. The magnitude of subjective experiences during the interventions was positively correlated with the sympathetic activity and negatively correlated with the parasympathetic activity, independent of the intervention.


“The interest in lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) has sparked again due to its supposed positive effects on psychopathological conditions. Yet, most research focuses on the actions of LSD on the central nervous system. The interaction with the autonomic nervous system (ANS) has been neglected so far. Therefore, the aim was to assess the effects of LSD and the serotonin 2A receptor antagonist ketanserin on the ANS as assessed by heart rate variability (HRV) measures and their correlation with subjective drug‐induced effects in a randomized, placebo‐controlled crossover trial. Thus, ANS activity was derived from electrocardiogram recordings after intake of placebo, LSD or ketanserin, and LSD by calculating R‐peak‐based measures of sympathetic and parasympathetic activity. Repeated measure ANOVA and partial correlation for HRV measures and subjective experience questionnaires were performed. LSD predominantly increased sympathetic activity, while ketanserin counteracted this effect on the ANS via an increase of parasympathetic tone. Sympathetic activity was positively and parasympathetic activity negatively associated with psychedelic effects of LSD. Furthermore, Placebo HRV measures predicted subjective experiences after LSD intake. The association between trait ANS activity and LSD‐induced subjective experiences may serve as a candidate biomarker set for the effectiveness of LSD in the treatment of psychopathological conditions.”

Authors: Sebastian Olbrich, Katrin H. Preller & Franz X. Vollenweider

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