Hallucinogenic drug could be harnessed to treat autism, major study reveals

A drug traditionally known for its hallucinogenic properties could be used to treat autism and other mental health disorders, a major study has revealed.

The research, published by the McGill University in Canada, is among the first to explore the therapeutic use of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide – also known as LSD – to treat neurodivergent conditions.

People with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) typically struggle with social interactions and experience delays in acquiring verbal communication skills. They may also have the inability to read non-verbal communication cues.

But the same mechanisms that contribute to the mind-altering effect experienced when taking the drug could be used to produce a new therapeutic treatment to increase sociability.

The report says the findings could also help “unlock” potential therapeutic applications in treating certain psychiatric diseases, such as anxiety and alcohol use disorders.

To carry out the study, the researchers administered very low levels of LSD to mice over a period of seven days, resulting in an “observable increase in sociability”.

The scientists suggest, with some confidence, that the effects could be replicated in humans to increase empathy and social behaviour.

The research was also able to identify the “underlying mechanism” for the behavioural effect that “results in LSD increasing feelings of empathy”, including a “greater connection to the world and sense of being part of a large community”.

Commenting on the study, co-lead author Dr Gabriella Gobbi said: “Social interaction is a fundamental characteristic of human behaviour.

“These hallucinogenic compounds, which, at low doses, are able to increase sociability may help to better understand the pharmacology and neurobiology of social behaviour and, ultimately, to develop and discover novel and safer drugs for mental disorders.”

The paper has been published in the peer-reviewed journal, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

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