New Zealand-based LSD microdosing trial gets go-ahead

It's time to chuck Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band on the record player - for science.

Researchers at the University of Auckland have been given the go-ahead to see what effect microdoses of class A psychedelic drug LSD have on the human brain.

Microdosing involves taking about 10 or 20 micrograms of the drug - about a 10th the recreational amount, and far less than John Lennon would have been consuming while the Beatles were making their drug-fuelled masterpiece.

"Users report improvements in mood, wellbeing, improved attention and cognition, so those are the things we will be measuring," study leader Suresh Muthukumaraswamy of the University of Auckland's School of Pharmacy told Newshub.

Evidence so far of the benefits of microdosing LSD, also known as acid, is largely anecdotal. Previous studies have had serious design flaws, such as users bringing in their own drugs of varying quality, and tests being done in the lab.

"We'll be giving microdoses on very tightly controlled prescriptions to take at home - it'll be a more realistic assessment of what microdosing actually does," said Dr Muthukumaraswamy.

Suresh Muthukumaraswamy.
Suresh Muthukumaraswamy. Photo credit: Newshub/Getty.

Around 40 men will be chosen to take part, some on LSD and others on a placebo. They'll be chosen very carefully - anyone who drives a truck for living, for example, probably won't be able to take part.

Women won't be included in this particular trial because of their menstrual cycles.

"It's not because we're sexist pigs - some of the measures we're taking we know are affected by these variables," explains Dr Muthukumaraswamy. "All things going well there will be a second study down the line where we can specifically test females in a design that can control for those things a bit better." 

While MedSafe has approved the trial, the researchers still have to get a licence to prescribe the drugs, which has been banned in New Zealand since July 1967 - only a month after the Beatles dropped Sgt Pepper on the world. Luckily, MedSafe is also the one that issues the licences. 

"People get prescribed controlled drugs quite often, right, as medicines - it's using the same kind of processes as for those controlled medicines - it's just for a different drug," said Dr Muthukumaraswamy.

To help fund the study, the university has turned to crowdfunding. While it might seem a strange way to fund such important research, Dr Muthukumaraswamy says it's just a modern twist on a practise as old as universities themselves.

"Universities have always taken donations and philanthropy has always funded universities - it's just a slightly different way of doing it," he told Newshub. "It costs money to buy drugs and it costs money to run all the procedures and processes."

Newshub asked Dr Muthukumaraswamy if a microdose of LSD would make Pink Floyd sound even better.

"You might have to take part in the trial for us to tell you that."