Microdoses of LSD change how you perceive time

A study on the effects of LSD microdosing shows some fittingly strange results.

A kaleidoscopic image of psychedelically colored clocks
Stephen Pond/Getty Images
  • A new study offers some of the first evidence that microdosing – taking tiny, regular doses of LSD – does have measurable effects.
  • Subjects taking LSD were less accurate when estimating how long an image appeared on a screen than subjects who were sober.
  • The mechanism that causes this effect remains unknown, but several ideas have been put forward.

LSD is known to severely warp not only how takers perceive what they hear and see, but also how time and space are experienced. The incredible power of psychedelic drugs to change how we experience the world at even the smallest doses has attracted the interest of both hippies and scientists for decades. One study on how mescaline affects people dates back to 1913.

Yet, despite the increasing amount of attention psychedelics have been enjoying over the last few years and the existence of a few subjective studies in the sixties, no serious, well-structured attempt to measure how acid warps the perception of time has been made – until now.

Taking LSD for science? The hippies have taken over!

In a study published in Psychopharmacology, British scientists had 48 older adults take either a placebo or a microdose of LSD and then try to measure time subjectively. The LSD doses were tiny, either 5, 10, or 20 micrograms, and most patients reported not noticing any hallucinogenic effects at all.

In this case, time was measured by looking at a blue dot on a screen, deciding how long they thought they saw it for, and then holding the space bar on a keyboard down for the same amount of time afterward. The act of pressing down the spacebar created another blue dot on the screen for comparison. The scientists looked for how accurate or inaccurate the test subjects were in their attempts to press the space bar for the same amount of time.

As you might have guessed, people on LSD were less accurate than the ones on placebo and tended to hold the spacebar down too long. This effect was negligible for the shorter tests, such as when the dot was on the screen for 1.6 seconds, but was significant when the dot was on the display for 2-4 seconds.

The study is similar to a previous one involving psilocybin, the drug in psychedelic mushrooms. Strangely, the results here were the opposite of what was found in that study, with patients consistently carrying out their task for too short of a time. The authors of this study suggest that the different mechanisms the drugs use – LSD affects both the serotonin and dopamine systems while psilocybin only affects serotonin – could have something to do with this discrepancy as could the size of the doses used in each study.

The authors mention other studies that their new research seemingly conflicts with, and suggest that further investigation into how these drugs influence time perception must be carried out to understand why these discrepancies exist.

This is groovy and all, but what are the implications? What caused these observed effects?

This is one of the first studies into the effects of microdoses of LSD, as almost all previous studies have been more interested in what the drug does at regular, psychedelic doses. If nothing else, this study demonstrates that there are statistically significant effects of microdosing which could be very different from larger, more typical doses.

Exactly what causes this time-warping effect when reproducing an image you just saw is still unknown, and this study wasn't extensive enough to determine what caused it. Was the over-reproduction caused by tripping test subjects thinking the blue dot was on the screen longer than it was when they saw it or, as suggested in a Twitter post by neuropharmacologist Manoj Doss, by the memory of how long the dot was there being influenced by the LSD?

Study co-author Devin Terhune hypothesized that the effects could be caused by acid first affecting the serotonin system and then the dopamine system, as has been observed in animals, and that the differences between this study and others could be explained by which system was being affected when the test was carried out.

The authors mention that the neurophysiological effects of microdosing LSD are largely unknown and suggest that some of the discrepancies mentioned above between this study and previous findings could be attributed to the dosage. If this idea is correct, it could lead to many new applications for microdoses of LSD and a better understanding of how the mind works.

But what does it mean for time, man? Is it all, like, in my head?

This study suggests that LSD can seriously affect how we grasp the passage of time even at doses too small to have other noticeable effects. By seriously investigating this effect and following up with more studies on how this drug warps our perception of time we could come to understand the brain processes that shape our understanding of and experience with time. Maybe someday such a study will even give us a more definitive answer on what time really is.

LSD is a potent drug with tremendous potential for both helping people and causing harm. While microdosing to help improve performance is increasingly popular, the effects of this are still largely unknown. While this study begins to examine how these small doses affect our experiences, much remains to be discovered.

Though why you would take a drug that can make the present moment last forever while you're in the office, I'll never know.

Time is a puzzle to scientists, but your brain has it all figured out

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The father of all giant sea bugs was recently discovered off the coast of Java.

A close up of Bathynomus raksasa

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Volcanoes to power bitcoin mining in El Salvador

The first nation to make bitcoin legal tender will use geothermal energy to mine it.

Credit: Aaron Thomas via Unsplash
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

In June 2021, El Salvador became the first nation in the world to make bitcoin legal tender. Soon after, President Nayib Bukele instructed a state-owned power company to provide bitcoin mining facilities with cheap, clean energy — harnessed from the country's volcanoes.

The challenge: Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency, a digital form of money and a payment system. Crypto has several advantages over physical dollars and cents — it's incredibly difficult to counterfeit, and transactions are more secure — but it also has a major downside.

Crypto transactions are recorded and new coins are added into circulation through a process called mining.

Crypto mining involves computers solving incredibly difficult mathematical puzzles. It is also incredibly energy-intensive — Cambridge University researchers estimate that bitcoin mining alone consumes more electricity every year than Argentina.

Most of that electricity is generated by carbon-emitting fossil fuels. As it stands, bitcoin mining produces an estimated 36.95 megatons of CO2 annually.

A world first: On June 9, El Salvador became the first nation to make bitcoin legal tender, meaning businesses have to accept it as payment and citizens can use it to pay taxes.

Less than a day later, Bukele tweeted that he'd instructed a state-owned geothermal electric company to put together a plan to provide bitcoin mining facilities with "very cheap, 100% clean, 100% renewable, 0 emissions energy."

Geothermal electricity is produced by capturing heat from the Earth itself. In El Salvador, that heat comes from volcanoes, and an estimated two-thirds of their energy potential is currently untapped.

Why it matters: El Salvador's decision to make bitcoin legal tender could be a win for both the crypto and the nation itself.

"(W)hat it does for bitcoin is further legitimizes its status as a potential reserve asset for sovereign and super sovereign entities," Greg King, CEO of crypto asset management firm Osprey Funds, told CBS News of the legislation.

Meanwhile, El Salvador is one of the poorest nations in North America, and bitcoin miners — the people who own and operate the computers doing the mining — receive bitcoins as a reward for their efforts.

"This is going to evolve fast!"
NAYIB BUKELE

If El Salvador begins operating bitcoin mining facilities powered by clean, cheap geothermal energy, it could become a global hub for mining — and receive a much-needed economic boost in the process.

The next steps: It remains to be seen whether Salvadorans will fully embrace bitcoin — which is notoriously volatile — or continue business-as-usual with the nation's other legal tender, the U.S. dollar.

Only time will tell if Bukele's plan for volcano-powered bitcoin mining facilities comes to fruition, too — but based on the speed of things so far, we won't have to wait long to find out.

Less than three hours after tweeting about the idea, Bukele followed up with another tweet claiming that the nation's geothermal energy company had already dug a new well and was designing a "mining hub" around it.

"This is going to evolve fast!" the president promised.

How Pfizer and BioNTech made history with their vaccine

How were mRNA vaccines developed? Pfizer's Dr Bill Gruber explains the science behind this record-breaking achievement and how it was developed without compromising safety.

How Pfizer and BioNTech made history with their vaccine
Sponsored by Pfizer
  • Wondering how Pfizer and partner BioNTech developed a COVID-19 vaccine in record time without compromising safety? Dr Bill Gruber, SVP of Pfizer Vaccine Clinical Research and Development, explains the process from start to finish.
  • "I told my team, at first we were inspired by hope and now we're inspired by reality," Dr Gruber said. "If you bring critical science together, talented team members together, government, academia, industry, public health officials—you can achieve what was previously the unachievable."
  • The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine has not been approved or licensed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but has been authorized for emergency use by FDA under an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to prevent COVID-19 for use in individuals 12 years of age and older. The emergency use of this product is only authorized for the duration of the emergency declaration unless ended sooner. See Fact Sheet: cvdvaccine-us.com/recipients.

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