Motivation and emotion/Book/2017/LSD and emotion

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Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and emotion:
What is the interaction between LSD and our emotions?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Figure 1. 3D model of LSD[Provide more detail]

The focus of this chapter is to explain the interaction between Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and our emotions. The focus is from the historical therapeutic use of LSD to its resurgence in modern research. The relationship LSD has with emotions is complex. LSD has become a socially demonised psychedelic, with many of its historical findings swept under the carpet. Take a "trip" down a chapter that may challenge how you view LSD and its ability to manipulate our emotions.

Learning outcomes
  • Understanding the relationship between LSD and our emotions.
  • Specific emotion theories and terms that relate to the effects of LSD use.
  • The findings of modern research into LSD.

What are emotions?[edit | edit source]

Emotions can be defined as our reactions to stimuli that produce feelings, arouse the body, generate motivation and change our facial expressions (Reeve, 2015).

What is LSD?[edit | edit source]

Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) is a potent mind altering psychedelic drug. See figure 1. The experience of using psychedelics can produce a feeling of catharsis, and insight into a person's psyche as well altered perception; both physically and mentally (Kaelen et al., 2015). Through the 1950's and 1960's, use of the mind altering hallucinogen was high. It was popular in both medical and recreational fields, particularly in the USA (Oram, 2006). Current research into LSD is increasing, with a resurgence in the exploration of its effects on the brain (Carhart-Harris, Kaelen et al. 2016).

LSD can be produced as white powder, capsules, tablets or most commonly impregnated into blotting paper, often called "tabs" (Australian Institute of Criminology, 2015). Commonly the tab is placed on or under the tongue, where the impregnated blotting paper begins to lose its structural integrity due to saliva, and the LSD is ingested. The effects of LSD can be felt between 30 minutes to an hour after ingestion, with effects that can last up to twelve hours (Australian Institute of Criminology, 2015).

Historical uses of LSD[edit | edit source]


Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann discovered LSD in 1943, when he tested the drug on himself and experienced the full effects; both positive and negative to a large degree (Carhart-Harris, Kaelen et al. 2016). Hofmann took 250 micrograms (a large dose) in his laboratory, and then rode his bike home as the world began to change around him as LSD took effect. This day, 19th of April 1943 has become known as Bicycle Day; See figure 2. LSD was then synthesised and began to be used in psychotherapy and the study of psychosis (Carhart-Harris, Kaelen et al. 2016).

1950's-1960's[edit | edit source]

The 1950's and and 1960's represented a time of exploration in the uses of LSD within therapeutic settings (Dyck, 2006). LSD was used in psychotherapy due to its ability to affect emotion (Kaelen et al.,2015). People experienced a state of deep emotional release of strong or repressed emotions. It brought relief to many clients, such as those suffering from depression (Kaelen et al.,2015). Within the same time period, researchers treated alcoholic patients with LSD to create a feeling of profound enlightenment that lead to sobriety (Dyck, 2006). This resulted in LSD being being used to change how the alcoholic viewed their choices and they made wiser decisions.

LSD and the law[edit | edit source]

LSD was criminalised in the 1960’s when recreational use of the drug took off within the public, and even scientific researchers were found to be taking it (Oram, 2006). It became increasingly difficult for research in the area to progress and be explored. When LSD became an illegal drug, the steps which researchers were required to take to study it, could not outweigh the benefits to the individual researcher (Nicols, 2013).  The conventional wisdom became "if you want to kill your scientific career, work on psychedelics" (Nicols, 2013). To work with LSD could give others and the scientific community impressions that the researcher may not want, through social stigma. The final result was research into LSD in the last since the 1960s years has been minimal. Fortunately for scientific research, LSD benefits are beginning to be explored again (Carhart-Harris, 2016).

Review quiz question 1[edit | edit source]

Choose the correct answer and click "Submit":

Who discovered LSD?

Robin Carhart-Harris
David Nichols
Steve Jobs
Suresh Muthukumaraswamy
Albert Hofmann

Effects of LSD on brain physiology and emotion[edit | edit source]

Emotions can serve to motivate our behaviour. In regards to LSD, the emotional responses of happiness (caused from excess serotonin) and feelings of calmness, acceptance and otherworldly experiences, are emotions that psychedelic takers enjoy. It is a way to voluntarily control our emotions as the feelings themselves change. Arousal is increased and new purpose can be found (Carhart-Harris et al., 2016). This leads to a different expression of these emotions through realisations difficult to create without the use of psychedelics.  There is also the likelihood of experiencing negative emotions such as fear, anxiety and a feeling of dissolution of ego (Carhart-Harris & Kaelen et al., 2016).

Brain Physiology[edit | edit source]

Figure 3. The human brain

Emotions have some biological causes but as LSD is an additional element that is not produced by the body naturally, neural connections can associate in ways the sober mind cannot. In 2016 Carhart-Harris showed images of the brain's connections on psilocybin, a similar hallucinogenic that is often grouped and studied in relation to LSD. A neural example of the brain's visual processing on LSD can also be seen in Carhart-Harris' TedTalk at 6:36 minutes. A link to his full lecture is below. As explained in his TedTalk, both images are of the connections in the human brain. What may surprise you is that there are the same number of connecting neural pathways in both images. What makes the difference, is the neural paths the brain takes sober and when on psychedelics. The connections in the sober brain follow quite rigid paths, where visual nodes speak to visual nodes and taste nodes speak to other taste nodes. When the brain is affected by a psychedelic, the road less travelled is taken; visual nodes speak to auditory nodes and taste nodes speak to tactile nodes See Figure 3.

Alcoholics, for example may feel they need to drink copious amounts of alcohol to cope with the daily struggles of life. When on LSD, this mindset can be challenged. New neural connections can be made and views may change. As in the early years of therapeutic uses of LSD, the emotional relationship one has with alcohol can be seen in a different light and recovery can take place (Carhart-Harris & Goodwin, 2017).

Figure 4. Chemical structure of LSD, yellow lines representing the similar bonds to serotonin
Nuvola apps kaboodle.png
Watch TedTalks TEDxWarwick video, 2016 (Youtube) :

Psychedelics: Lifting the veil | Robin Carhart-Harris

16:25 mins 

Serotonin[edit | edit source]

Figure 5. Chemical structure of serotonin

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that can reduce depression, regulate anxiety, focus thoughts and make you feel good. Serotonin was first reported in the brain in 1953 by Twarog and Page (Nichols, 2012). Only one year later, Woolley and Shaw recognised the very similar structural bonds that make up LSD [grammar?] see figure 4. and serotonin see figure 5. (Nichols, 2012). This was an important time in medicine, as it was the first inkling that brain chemistry may affect behaviour, and to a greater extent, mental illness (Nichols, 2012). LSD could aid the treatment of depression (Sweat et al.,2016). Up until this discovery, mainstream psychiatry did not know that neuro-chemical events could cause behaviour (Nichols, 2012).

The serotonin 2A receptor (5-HT2AR) is the most receptive to LSD, and its characteristic psychological effects are mediated mainly at this neurotransmitter (Carhart-Harris & Muthukumaraswamy et al., 2016). Serotonin can also trigger the sympathetic nervous system that can lead to bodily reactions of the fight or flight response, that may be experienced as pupil dilation, nausea and dizziness while on LSD (Frankel & Cunninham, 2002).

Review quiz question 2[edit | edit source]

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What neurotransmitter is LSD to most receptive to?


Theories and perspectives of the interaction between LSD and emotion[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

James-Lange Theory[edit | edit source]

Figure 6. Flow chart of James-Lange Theory

Psychologists William James and Carl Lange had very similar views on how humans process and feel emotions. Their congruent view lead to the creation of James-Lange Theory. James-Lange Theory is an emotion based hypothesis that a stimulus causes an emotional reaction within the body (Pollatos, Kirsch & Schandry, 2005). See figure 6. This is congruent with LSD, as it is the stimulus that causes a change in the body's emotional reaction. James' view was that emotions originate from the perception of bodily states (Pollatos et al., 2005). It can then be hypothesised that individual sensitivity to their internal, introspective awareness would affect the magnitude of the emotion that is felt (Pollatos et al., 2005). This appears true with LSD use, as it heightens the relationship one has with their body and external stimuli. The James-Lange Theory focuses on physiological more than psychological reasoning, which correlates well with how LSD affects the brain, body and our emotions (Pollatos et al., 2005). Part of the reason LSD is taken, is so that emotions can be felt that may not organically arise. People suffering from depression is an example of this, as LSD produces emotions within people that they may not have felt for years. Below is a quote from a participant from a recent study who has suffered from severe depression for many years, who has been resistant to conventional antidepressants and psychotherapy. This quote was said several weeks after taking psychedelics (Carhart-Harris, 2016).

Patient 7 in recent Carhart-Harris study quote

"There simply aren't words to describe the experience but I can say that the usual negative self-narration that I have had vanished completely. It was replaced by a sense of beautiful chaos, a landscape of unimaginable colour and beauty. I began to see that all of my concerns about daily living weren't relevant, that they were a result of a negative spiral." - Patient 7

Cognitive Appraisal Theory[edit | edit source]

Another way to look at how LSD affects emotion is through the Cognitive Appraisal Theory, by Lazarus (So, 2013). When someone has taken LSD, they may look upon a stimulus that may be internal; such as how they are feeling, or external; such as a beautiful painting. Whatever the stimulus is, they may look or think upon it, have a cognitive appraisal of the stimulus, and feel an emotional reaction which can lead to a bodily reaction. It may explain why people on psychedelics experience emotions so strongly. However, it does not account for the neurological stimulus of LSD that causes the change in cognitive perception. Here is an example:

Stimulus Cognitive Appraisal Emotional Response Bodily Response
Beautiful painting "This painting is the most amazing piece of art I have ever seen." A feeling of wonder Raised eyebrows, wide eyes and open mouth

Top-Down processing[edit | edit source]

Psychedelics affect the body with the use of top-down processing. This means that the body has mental, brain based reactions; in this case LSD affecting the physical cognition, that then affects the rest of the body and the way we interact with external stimuli (Carhart-Harris et al., 2012).

Broaden and Build Theory[edit | edit source]

Figure 7. The broaden and build theory.

The emotional reactions to LSD are mainly and usually positive (Carhart-Harris, 2017). Broaden and Build Theory explains how the upward spiral of positive emotion can occur (Garland et al., 2010). See figure 7. During an LSD experience, a person may begin to feel a positive emotion such as awe, wonder or catharsis. This emotion then broadens and is built upon until a feeling of euphoria can occur (Garland et al., 2010). This can also work in reverse, and can be seen in people who have a bad LSD experience. Paranoia can set in, and the more someone thinks about it, the worse this feeling becomes until a psychotic breakdown occurs (Garland et al., 2010).

The neuroscience perspective of emotions[edit | edit source]

It has been suggested by researchers that a large amount of what the brain does, is unconscious; up to 95% of its neurological processes occur with the individual being none the wiser (Franks, 2006). The neuroscience perspective is congruent with the fact that the LSD experience is mainly due to changes in serotonin levels. Changes in perception are unnoticed until they become quite strong (Friedman, 2016). When LSD is taken, it often produces a positive mood due to serotonin, a bodily reaction we can not control.

A Jungian framework[edit | edit source]

Carl Jung's work in the psychoanalytic field of research is well known. The Jungian Cognitive Function Theory divides mental functions into thinking, feeling, sensation and intuition (Hill, 2009). Using this type of framework can help both people on LSD, and researchers understand the different psychological effects taking place within an individual (Hill, 2009). The LSD experience has been found to be quite similar to the dreaming brain (Carhart-Harris, 2016). A Jungian framework allows for understanding of the psychedelic-induced cognitive processes in a more understandable, measurable format (Hill, 2009).

Review quiz question 3[edit | edit source]

Choose the correct answer and click "Submit":

What is an example of a cognitive appraisal?

Beautiful painting
"This painting is the most amazing piece of art I have ever seen"
A feeling of wonder
Raised eyebrows, wide eyes and open mouth

Short and long term effects of LSD[edit | edit source]

The emotional short and long term effects of LSD have been explored in greater detail in this chapter than physical. For further information on possible physical effects of LSD please see Figure 8.

Short term effects[edit | edit source]

The emotion regulation strategy of reappraisal is most salient with LSD. Emotional responses can be particularly satisfying if they are working to take away unpleasant emotions such as stress, anxiety and mental road block that prevent creativity and novel ideas (Fadiman, 2011). The short term effects of LSD include an altered state of self-awareness, hallucinations and ego-dissolution (Sweat et al., 2016). Ego-dissolution is the experience of your sense of self as an individual blurring with an increased connectivity with the world (Tagliazucchi et al., 2016). This may account for an increase in environmental conscientiousness (Forstmann and Sagioglou, 2017).

Interesting findings on environmental conscientiousness

A large scale study of 1487 Americans with a high representation of the whole US population (Forstmann and Sagioglou, 2017) explored the relationship between previous psychedelic use and nature relatedness and ecological behaviour. Self report results on activities such as water saving, recycling, eco-friendly purchases and how connected participants felt to the natural environment were assessed. The results found that past use of psychedelics did produce a long lasting increased environmental conscientiousness. This is thought to have occurred through psychedelics' ability to incorporate the natural world into self construct. The experience of being "one with the world" reported by psychedelic users appears to endure after the high is gone (Forstmann and Sagioglou, 2017).

Figure 8. Possible physical effects of lysergic acid diethylamide

A mystical-type experience may also occur; feelings such as awe, salience and comprehension of ideas that cannot be put into words (Sweat et al., 2016). The enhancement in cognitive neural connections leads to an increase in creativity and novel thought processes. If the user of LSD is in a bad environment, did not mentally prepare for the experience or felt unsafe, a whole other variety of emotions may be encountered. Panic attacks are relatively common, as are fear and paranoia (Vale, 2007).

Long term effects[edit | edit source]

Suffering with a terminal illness can causes emotions of isolation and anxiety (Grasser, Kirchner & Passie, 2015). When these individuals take psychedelics long and short term, fear of death reduces and is replaced with feelings of acceptance and calm.  For people suffering emotionally, this kind of realisation can be life changing catharsis (Grasser, Kirchner & Passie, 2014). This highlights the utility of emotion as it increases coping functions. Many people through self-report measures have stated that taking LSD was one of the most profound and notable experiences in their lives (Carhart-Harris, 2016).

Flashbacks may also occur years after LSD has been taken (Vale, 2007). This may mean that a hallucination may occur again without further ingestion of LSD. Perception may change, flashes of colour and positive after images are examples. This can be treated with medication (Vale, 2007).

Withdrawal symptoms[edit | edit source]

LSD is a drug with few physical withdrawal symptoms. The day after taking LSD is known as the "come down", where users may feel temporarily depressed and unmotivated (Vale, 2007). This is due to the lack of serotonin being produced organically by the body. This occurs due to LSD blocking re-uptake of serotonin in the brain (SSRI). Since the body's serotonin has been manipulated, it does not produce so much, leading to a deficit when LSD stops blocking its re-uptake (Vale, 2007).

Review quiz question 4[edit | edit source]

Choose the correct answer and click "Submit":

LSD can produce ego-dissolution


Modern usage and research[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

Microdosing[edit | edit source]

Microdosing is a process of ingesting 10 micrograms of LSD regularly to enhance cognitive function. It is taken once every few days to increase a "peak", "contemplation" and "rest" day cycle (Fadiman, 2016).

Dr James Fadiman Quote

"Albert Hofmann, who first synthesized LSD, said that this very low dose area had not been studied, and that he personally microdosed himself and found it was helpful for his own thinking ... One of the striking differences is that microdosing, produces none of the classic psychedelic visual effects nor does it lead to major therapeutic breakthroughs or mystical experiences. It seems, however, to improve general health." - Dr James Fadiman

Figure 9. Founder of Apple, Steve Jobs

Dr James Fadiman is an American psychologist and author of the book The Psychedelic Explorers Guide and is a spokesman for microdosing. In a podcast in 2016 he explains the emotional effect of microdosing. Taken even just once, the microdose made clients who had found anti-depressants unsuccessful, feel "human again" (Fadiman, 2016). Fadiman (2016) also states that out of five self reports from young women researchers who microdose, their normal menstrual cramps were significantly less painful than normal. This is an exciting avenue for future research into a common issue many women face every month (Fadiman, 2016). Much of the new information coming out about LSD microdosing has not been peer reviewed studies. There are individual reports of the benefits of activities such as microdosing, particularly amongst successful entrepreneurs such as Steve Jobs. See figure 9.

Steve Jobs Quote

"Taking LSD was a profound experience, one of the most important things in my life. LSD shows you that there's another side to the coin, and you can't remember it when it wears off, but you know it. It reinforced my sense of what was important—creating great things instead of making money, putting things back into the stream of history and of human consciousness as much as I could." - Steve Jobs (Isaacson, 2011)

Table of micrograms and typical effects[edit | edit source]

Table 1.

Micrograms of LSD and their effects(Fadiman 2016).

Micrograms Typical experience
400 Spiritual or mystical experience. Should be undertaken with a sober guide.
200 Personal exploration and deep insight.
100 Focused, creative out of the box thinking.
50 Enjoyable visual and audio stimuli without the risk of negative emotional space.
10 Microdose. World seems clearer, increased functional capacity, improved mood and ability to handle adversity.

Review quiz question 5[edit | edit source]

Choose the correct answer and click "Submit":

What is microdosing?

Small doses of GABA
Any drug that is taken in micrograms
10 micrograms of LSD taken every few days
Another name for LSD

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

LSD is a hallucinogen that can have many effects on emotion. LSD was used initially in psychotherapy to increase positive emotions with great success in depression sufferers. Although changes in laws halted most research into LSD for many years, there has been a recent resurgence into LSD research. Modern research confirms the historical finding of being able to increase positive effect in treatment-resistant depression sufferers. LSD affects serotonin re-uptake in the brain and changes how thoughts, feelings and visual stimuli are interpreted. LSD can create feelings of joy, wonder and profound understanding if taken responsibly, but it should be noted that improper use can lead to feelings of fear and anxiety. Microdosing is a phenomenon with self-reports of increased mental abilities and creative thinking, that sets some entrepreneurs above the rest. LSD can produce fascinating emotional responses which can affect us in profound ways.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Australian Institute of Criminology. (2015). Hallucinogens Australian Government.

Carhart-Harris, R. L., Leech, R., Williams, T. M., Erritzoe, D., Abbasi, N., Bargiotas, T., ... Nutt, D. J. (2012). Implications for psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy: Functional magnetic resonance imaging study with psilocybin. The British Journal of Psychiatry : The Journal of Mental Science, 200(3), 238-244. doi:10.1192/bjp.bp.111.103309

Carhart-Harris, R. L. [TEDx Talks]. (2016, April 14). Psychedelics: Lifting the veil Robin Carhart-Harris TEDxWarwick [Video File]. Retrieved from

Carhart-Harris, R. L., Kaelen, M., Bolstridge, M., Williams, T. M., Williams, L. T., Underwood, R., . . . Nutt, D. J. (2016). The paradoxical psychological effects of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). Psychological Medicine, 46(7), 1379.

Carhart-Harris, R. L., Muthukumaraswamy, S., Roseman, L., Kaelen, M., Droog, W., Murphy, K., . . . Nutt, D. J. (2016). Neural correlates of the LSD experience revealed by multimodal neuroimaging. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(17), 4853-4858. doi:10.1073/pnas.1518377113

Carhart-Harris, R. L., & Goodwin, G. M. (2017). The Therapeutic Potential of Psychedelic Drugs: Past, Present, and Future. Neuropsychopharmacology, 42(11), 2105-2113.

Dyck, E. (2006). 'hitting highs at rock bottom': LSD treatment for alcoholism, 1950-1970.Social History of Medicine, 19(2), 313-329. doi:10.1093/shm/hkl039

Fadiman, J. (2011). The psychedelic explorer's guide: Safe, therapeutic, and sacred journeys. Simon and Schuster.

Forstmann, M., & Sagioglou, C. (2017). Lifetime experience with (classic) psychedelics predicts pro-environmental behavior through an increase in nature relatedness. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 31(8), 975-988. doi:10.1177/0269881117714049

Frankel, P. S., & Cunningham, K. A. (2002). The hallucinogen d-lysergic acid diethylamide ( d-LSD) induces the immediate-early gene c-fos in rat forebrain. Brain Research, 958(2), 251-260. doi:10.1016/S0006-8993(02)03548-5

Garland, E. L., Fredrickson, B., Kring, A. M., Johnson, D. P., Meyer, P. S., & Penn, D. L. (2010). Upward spirals of positive emotions counter downward spirals of negativity: Insights from the broaden-and-build theory and affective neuroscience on the treatment of emotion dysfunctions and deficits in psychopathology. Clinical Psychology Review, 30(7), 849-864. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2010.03.002

Gasser, P., Kirchner, K., & Passie, T. (2015). LSD-assisted psychotherapy for anxiety associated with a life-threatening disease: A qualitative study of acute and sustained subjective effects. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 29(1), 57-68. doi:10.1177/0269881114555249

Hill, S. J. (2009). A Jungian framework for understanding psychedelic-induced psychotic states (Doctoral dissertation, California Institute of Integral Studies).

Isaacson, W. (2011). Steve Jobs. London: Little, Brown.

Kaelen, M., Barrett, F. S., Roseman, L., Lorenz, R., Family, N., Bolstridge, M., . . . Carhart-Harris, R. L. (2015). LSD enhances the emotional response to music. Psychopharmacology, 232(19), 3607-3614. doi:10.1007/s00213-015-4014-

Nichols, D. E. (2013). Serotonin, and the past and future of LSD. MAPS Bull, 23(1), 20-23.

Oram, M. (2014). Efficacy and enlightenment: LSD psychotherapy and the drug amendments of 1962. Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, 69(2), 221-250. doi:10.1093/jhmas/jrs050

Pollatos, O., Kirsch, W., & Schandry, R. (2005). On the relationship between interoceptive awareness, emotional experience, and brain processes. Cognitive Brain Research, 25(3), 948-962. doi:10.1016/j.cogbrainres.2005.09.019

Reeve, J. (2015). Understanding motivation and emotion (Sixth ed.). Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Schartner, M. M., Carhart-harris, R. L., Barrett, A. B., Seth, A. K., & Muthukumaraswamy, S. D. (2017). Increased spontaneous MEG signal diversity for psychoactive doses of ketamine, LSD and psilocybin. Scientific Reports (Nature Publisher Group), 7(1), 46421. doi:10.1038/srep46421

Smartdrugsmarts., (2016). 155: Mircodosing LSD with dr James Fadiman. Retrieved 25 October 2017, from

So, J. (2013). A further extension of the extended parallel process model (E-EPPM): Implications of cognitive appraisal theory of emotion and dispositional coping style. Health Communication, 28(1), 72-83. doi:10.1080/10410236.2012.708633

Sweat, N. W., Bates, L. W., & Hendricks, P. S. (2016). The associations of naturalistic classic psychedelic use, mystical experience, and creative problem solving. Journal of psychoactive drugs, 48(5), 344-350.

Tagliazucchi, E., Roseman, L., Kaelen, M., Orban, C., Muthukumaraswamy, S., Murphy, K., . . . Carhart-Harris, R. (2016). Increased global functional connectivity correlates with LSD-induced ego dissolution. Current Biology, 26(8), 1043-1050. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2016.02.010

Vale, A. (2007). lsd. Medicine, 35(12), 61-61. doi:10.1016/j.mpmed.2007.09.010

External links[edit | edit source]