The Strange Way LSD Both Mimics Psychosis And Improves Mental Health

Psychedelic drugs like LSD have the power to radically alter consciousness, giving rise to a number of psychological effects that are positive, negative, mystical and just plain weird.

Research in recent decades has shown that LSD-assisted psychotherapy can potentially treat a range of mental illnesses, including depression, addiction and end-of-life anxiety. On the other hand, scientists have also used LSD to mimic the effects of psychosis.

But if LSD replicates the features of mental illness — namely, early-stage psychosis — how can it improve mental health in the long run?

New research points toward an answer. An Imperial College London study published on Feb. 5 in the journal Psychological Medicine confirms that LSD produces paradoxical effects, including psychosis-like symptoms and improved psychological well-being. These may stem from the drug’s tendency to cause “cognitive looseness,” which the researchers describe as highly enhanced mental flexibility.

“There’s probably a sweet spot to the balance of thinking between flexibility on the one hand — the ability to be adaptive and creative — and then on the other hand, to be able to focus and be organized,” Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris, a psychedelic researcher and lead author of the study, told The Huffington Post.

“Maybe to some extent, that’s what normal waking consciousness is like when you’re healthy — you inhabit this spot. Maybe psychedelics push you a little bit towards the pole of more flexibility, more creativity,” he said.

Yet if your mind is too flexible, Carhart-Harris explained, you may run the risk of psychosis: “Ideas are being entertained that don’t have a firm anchorage in reality or logic.”

Maybe psychedelics push you a little bit towards the pole of more flexibility, more creativity.”
Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris, of Imperial College London

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