LSD can cause brain damage over the long term

Just suck a little bit of blotting paper drizzled with the drug, and off you go the party: This is followed by a long trip in bright colors, with a racing heart and sometimes total loss of control. LSD is one of the most famous and strongest hallucinogenic drugs, used daily around the world.

But scientists have been puzzling for years how exactly lysergic acid diethylamide actually works in the brain - and why an LSD trip lasts so long. The pharmacologist Bryan Roth of the University of North Carolina, who traveled a lot to concerts in his youth, has pursued this question since the beginning of his scientific career.

A receptor like a Tupperware box

Now he and his colleague Daniel Wacker have in a current study published in the specialist magazine Cell, studied the binding mechanism of LSD to receptors in the brain.

The researchers were able to show that receptors in the brain, to which the messenger substance serotonin otherwise docks, literally embrace the drug and never let it go. You can imagine these receptors like a Tupperware jar, the lid of which is closed with clamps - no escape for the lunch break. Or even, transferred to the brain, for the LSD molecule.

The researchers suspect that this intimate bond, and in particular the tightly lashed lid, explains the long-lasting effects of the drug. LSD works for eight to twelve hours, sometimes even up to a day, although it can no longer be detected in the blood after hours.

Fortunately, the drug trip ends at some point. As for the reason, Roth and Wacker have two guesses. For one thing, receptors are not a static system. So it can happen that the lids of the serotonin receptors move a little for a moment and thus repeatedly allow a few LSD molecules to escape. Second, the body could remove the receptors occupied by the peculiar party molecule.

The researchers emphasize that they do not want to supply the drug factories with their results. The aim of the research is rather a fundamental understanding of the effects of LSD in the brain - so that one day, according to the authors, the drug will be rid of side effects and used as a drug for patients.