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World-first LSD microdosing study set to be carried out in New Zealand


The University of Auckland is looking to study the effects of small doses of LSD on people's health and wellbeing after promising new studies were conducted overseas - 52 years after the hallucinogenic was outlawed in New Zealand.

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Auckland University associate professor Suresh Muthukumaraswamy spoke to Breakfast about the upcoming trial. Source: Breakfast

Researchers are seeking final approval from the Ministry of Health to allow it to carry out the world's first randomised, controlled trial in the country as soon as next year.

University of Auckland associate professor Suresh Muthukumaraswamy, who will lead the study, says he was prompted to undertake the study after being "involved in previous LSD research", having previously worked with large doses of the drug in the UK.

"More recently, people have been talking a lot in the general public about microdosing LSD and that this might also have positive effects on people's mood and cognition, but there are no studies, actually, to test that," he told TVNZ1's Breakfast this morning. "So we wanted to conduct studies to actually test those claims."

Mr Muthukumaraswamy explained that there "weren't any adverse outcomes" when a large body of LSD research was conducted in the 1950s and '60s, after which it was co-opted by the hippie movement.

"The research was all conducted safely and it was showing a lot of promise in treating a few disorders, but what happened was that it got out of the labs and out of the psychiatrists and got taken over by, I guess, you can call them the hippie generation," he said. "That’s when they started seeing more problematic behaviour.

"LSD was originally a research tool and was co-opted by the recreational community and then it became illegal and the research then stopped."

Mr Muthukumaraswamy previously carried out research into large doses of the drug while working in London in 2015 – the "first studies looking at large doses of LSD in healthy volunteers".

"We were putting people into brain scanners and were actually measuring the effects on brain activities, and what we found was that LSD tended to disorganise brain activities.

"The brain's normally very structured in the way that it kind of moves between its different states, and what we found is LSD kind of breaks down those states.

"People generally reported a positive experience, but we weren’t explicitly looking for those kind of mood things – we were trying to really understand how it affected brain function."

Mr Muthukumaraswamy said the upcoming study would involve a group of 40 healthy young male volunteers.

"So essentially, people will be given the doses for the first time in the lab, and then they’ll be given doses to take home, and then they'll be done under very sort of strict, controlled conditions where they take it at very precise times, and then we’ll measure the cognitive outcomes at precise times," he explained.

"Sometimes, it'll be the placebo, though, and sometimes it'll be LSD and they won't know."

He said the placebo effect might be what is happening to people who microdose, noting: "People have an amazingly strong ability to convince themselves that things are real and that things will have effects when it might just be a sugar pill.

"You can see massive effects from just the sugar. People will report unusual experiences or that they feel better, just from a sugar pill, so the human brain is very powerful at convincing yourself that things are happening when they might not be."

He said there won't be any risks to the people involved in the study.

"We're going to manage the study very carefully, and when we manage all the risks, there will be no risks."