LSD: Is there an “off switch” for bad acid trips?

MindMed reports that studies have shown that administration of ketanserin prior to administration of LSD almost completely prevents the acute effects of LSD

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Illustration by francescoch/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Anyone who has ever had a bad LSD trip will tell you the same thing. All you can do is ride it out until it’s over, because there’s no way of shutting it off.

Or is there? MindMed thinks there might be. Today, the self-described “psychedelic medicine biotech company” announced the start of a study for what it calls an “LSD neutralizer”. As the company explains in a press release, this technology is “intended to shorten and stop the effects of an LSD trip during a therapy session”.

In other words, it could act as an emergency “off switch”.

Ketanserin is an antihypertensive drug that has been used in cardiac surgery. It was discovered by the Belgian firm Janssen Pharmaceuticals in 1980. In collaboration with University Hospital Basel’s Liechti Lab, MindMed is working on a clinical trial that will evaluate ketanserin’s effect on the acute response to LSD in healthy subjects.

Why ketanserin?

Why ketanserin? As MindMed explains, “LSD is thought to induce its prototypical psychedelic effects primarily via stimulation of the serotonin 5-HT2A receptor.” Ketanserin is a 5-HT2A receptor antagonist.

MindMed reports that studies of healthy volunteers have shown that administration of ketanserin prior to administration of LSD almost completely prevents the acute effects of LSD. “However, it is not clear whether an LSD experience can also be attenuated and shortened using ketanserin administration after the LSD administration, once the psychedelic effects have fully established.”

MindMed Executive President Dr. Miri Halperin Wernli said “One of the many fears and stigmas associated with psychedelics are rare happenings of ‘bad trips’. We are seeking to equip therapists and other medical professionals with the resources and technology to better control the effects of dosing LSD, and other 5-HT2A agonists such as psilocybin, in a clinical setting to improve the patient experience and outcomes.

“This advancement could pave the way for greater therapeutic applications of LSD to really allow our brain to reach states of complexity beyond that which it has ever experienced in normal daily life,” Halperin Wernli said. “We believe that this technology, when further developed, could in the future be marketed as an added feature to shorten a therapy session and stop a session if it is so chosen by the patient or the therapist. With this additional potential ‘freedom to operate’ known to the patient, it may enable the brain to function in a way beyond what anatomy usually allows.”

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