Low doses of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) increase reward-related brain activity

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2023 Jan;48(2):418-426. doi: 10.1038/s41386-022-01479-y. Epub 2022 Oct 25.


Renewed interest in classic psychedelics as treatments for psychiatric disorders warrants a deeper understanding of their neural mechanisms. Single, high doses of psychedelic drugs have shown promise in treating depressive disorders, perhaps by reversing deficits in reward processing in the brain. In addition, there are anecdotal reports that repeated ingestion of low doses of LSD, or "microdosing", improve mood, cognition, and feelings of wellbeing. However, the effects of low doses of classic psychedelics on reward processing have not been studied. The current study examined the effects of two single, low doses of LSD compared to placebo on measures of reward processing. Eighteen healthy adults completed three sessions in which they received placebo (LSD-0), 13 μg LSD (LSD-13) and 26 μg LSD (LSD-26) in a within-subject, double-blind design. Neural activity was recorded while participants completed the electrophysiological monetary incentive delay task. Event-related potentials were measured during feedback processing (Reward-Positivity: RewP, Feedback-P3: FB-P3, and Late-Positive Potential: LPP). Compared to placebo, LSD-13 increased RewP and LPP amplitudes for reward (vs. neutral) feedback, and LSD-13 and LSD-26 increased FB-P3 amplitudes for positive (vs. negative) feedback. These effects were unassociated with most subjective measures of drug effects. Thus, single, low doses of LSD (vs. placebo) increased three reward-related ERP components reflecting increased hedonic (RewP), motivational (FB-P3), and affective processing of feedback (LPP). These results constitute the first evidence that low doses of LSD increase reward-related brain activity in humans. These findings may have important implications for the treatment of depressive disorders.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Electroencephalography
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology
  • Hallucinogens* / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Lysergic Acid Diethylamide* / pharmacology
  • Reward


  • Hallucinogens
  • Lysergic Acid Diethylamide