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Research reveals why LSD effect lasts so long

The effects of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), the most common hallucinogen and one of the most potent mood-changing chemicals, can last for a day or even longer. People who use it experience illusions and altered thought processes. Till now, researchers were not sure why the effects of LSD lasted for so long.

Now, a recent research by the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, published in Cell in January 2017, has revealed the reasons as to why the effects of LSD stay long.

The researchers tried to find out how LSD binds to a receptor in a brain cell. First, the structure had to be studied and x-ray crystallography images were required. The procedure involved “freezing” LSD that was attached to a serotonin receptor. Many complicated and unsuccessful attempts had been made in the past but crystallography x-ray was necessary. However, it is not easy to get crystals to bind to a receptor since they are always moving.

The team dissolved receptors in water and then slowly removed the water. As the water dissipated, salt molecules joined together to maintain stability and eventually crystals were formed. Serotonin receptors with LSD were packed tightly together, allowing the researchers to take x-rays of the receptors and then create crystallography images of atomic resolution.

LSD does not neutralize from the serotonin receptors in few hours

The team learned that when LSD attaches to a brain cell’s serotonin receptor, the LSD molecule is sealed into position because a portion of the receptor encompasses the LSD molecule rather like a lid on a pan and once it is on, it stays on. This allows the effects of LSD to last long.

Ultimately, some LSD molecules separate from their receptors as the lid moves around and brain cells react to the alien molecule by sucking the receptor into the cell where the cell and the LSD are degraded. The experiment showed that serotonin does not interact with the “lid” the way LSD does.

The study demonstrated for the first time that LSD does not neutralize from the serotonin receptors in a few hours.

Over a period of 20 years, first at Case Western Research University and then at UNC in 2005, lead researcher Bryan L. Roth, M.D., Ph.D., the Michael Hooker Distinguished Professor of Protein Therapeutics and Translational Proteomics in University of North Carolina School of Medicine has, and his team had been attempting to crystallize LSD attached to its receptor.

Currently, clinicians are looking at the drug as a possible treatment for conditions like cluster headaches, substance abuse and anxiety associated with life-threatening conditions.

Unlocking the structure of LSD could also contribute to the production of improved psychiatric drugs and reduced side effects. Roth said, “Though the drug has been used for a long time, we don’t know that much about it.”

Roth discovered from his patients that their first episode of schizophrenia occurred while using LSD. “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.

Seeking recovery

The groundbreaking research can help pave the way for new treatments for mental health disorders. Sovereign Health provides cutting edge treatments for mental problems and substance abuse. Technology and continuing research are for the benefit of all our patients who get state-of-the-art therapy in both individual and group sessions. Call our 24/7 helpline for further information. Our representatives will be happy to help you.

About the author

Veronica McNamara is a content writer for Sovereign Health. She is a former registered nurse who enjoys writing about the causes and treatment of addictions and behavioral health disorders. She is a proponent of further public education on the subject of mental illness which, unfortunately, still bears an unwarranted stigma. For more information and other inquiries on this article, contact the author at

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