Category Archives: Psychedelics

Francis Crick and LSD

I just found this obituary from the Mail on Sunday (London) via Reddit.

The author suggests that Nobel Laureate Francis Crick experimented with small quantities of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD) during his days at Cambridge, and that these experiences played a role in his discovery of the double helix.

The assertions are relatively unsubstantiated because Crick refused to go on the record about his drug use. However, Crick did publicly support of the legalization of cannabis in a 1967 advertisement in The Times. He also commented on LSD in an interview with Jeffrey Mishlove:

CRICK:…In the case of LSD, for example, you only need 150 micrograms to have all these funny experiences, you see. It’s minute. And that’s because they fit into special places, these little molecules, these drugs which you take. They fit into special places in these other molecules. They’ve been tailored to do that.

MISHLOVE: Do you have a sense of the process by which hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD, or psychedelic drugs, actually affect the brain? What is going on there?

CRICK: Well, I don’t have a detailed knowledge, no, I don’t, and I’m not sure that anybody else really knows. They have a rough idea.

MISHLOVE: We know that obviously there’s a chemical influence.

CRICK: Well, typically, different ones act in different ways. But a common thing is to see colors more vividly, for example, and often to see things move in a way when they’re not actually moving, and things of that sort. So they boost up in some way the activities of what you might call the color parts of the brain and the moving parts of the brain and so on. But the government isn’t very keen on giving money for research on that sort of thing.

In his later years, Crick moved to the Salk Institute in La Jolla, CA, where he shifted his focus from molecular biology to the architecture of the visual cortex and the nature of consciousness. There he met psychologist David Marr, who recorded their conversations in the final chapter of his seminal book Vision.

Conceptualizing the double helix must have involved substantial visual imagination, and it seems that Crick spent the second half of his career in search of the neuroscientific basis for the discoveries he made in the first half. Whether Crick’s natural faculties were augmented by use of LSD is ultimately besides the point. He was a great scholar who was interested not only in scientific discovery, but also the cognitive mechanisms that underlie it.

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Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds: Part Deux

Mindhacks reports that Swiss scientists are launching a study to test the effects of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) on treating anxiety in patients suffering from advanced-stage diseases. LSD will be administered in combination with psychotherapy sessions, and subjects will be housed on-site for the following 24 hours, where they will recuperate in the company in the company of a significant other or relative. The study hopes to confirm reports of LSD’s anxiolytic properties that were published in the 1950s and 1960s (along with a slew of other studies about psychadelics).

Since I just posted about the placebo effect, my attention was drawn to the part of the protocol where they describe the “active placebo” group. These subjects (4 out of 12) will receive 20 micrograms of LSD whereas the experimental intervention group will receive 200 micrograms. Apparently this is a common technique in the literature. Though I understand the need to control for mild side effects associated with the drug, the study may be hard to interpret in the absence of a true placebo group. To say that the high dose was more successful does not mean much, because perhaps both doses are worse than psychotherapy alone. Likewise, to say that the low dose was more successful does not mean that LSD is useless; perhaps low levels of the drug are more successful than psychotherapy alone. It seems that three groups (placebo, low dose and high dose) would be ideal.

The study is an exciting attempt to replicate decades-old results, but it seems unlikely that psychedelic-assisted therapy will enter the mainstream anytime soon.