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LSD, madness and healing: Mystical experiences as possible link between psychosis model and therapy model

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 July 2021

Isabel Wießner*
Department of Medical Psychology and Psychiatry, School of Medical Sciences, University of Campinas, Campinas, São Paulo, Brazil Interdisciplinary Cooperation for Ayahuasca Research and Outreach (ICARO), School of Medical Sciences, University of Campinas, Campinas, São Paulo, Brazil
Marcelo Falchi
Department of Medical Psychology and Psychiatry, School of Medical Sciences, University of Campinas, Campinas, São Paulo, Brazil Interdisciplinary Cooperation for Ayahuasca Research and Outreach (ICARO), School of Medical Sciences, University of Campinas, Campinas, São Paulo, Brazil
Fernanda Palhano-Fontes
Brain Institute, Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte, Natal, Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil
Amanda Feilding
The Beckley Foundation, Beckley Park, Oxford, UK
Sidarta Ribeiro
Brain Institute, Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte, Natal, Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil
Luís Fernando Tófoli
Department of Medical Psychology and Psychiatry, School of Medical Sciences, University of Campinas, Campinas, São Paulo, Brazil Interdisciplinary Cooperation for Ayahuasca Research and Outreach (ICARO), School of Medical Sciences, University of Campinas, Campinas, São Paulo, Brazil
Author for correspondence: Isabel Wießner, E-mail:



For a century, psychedelics have been investigated as models of psychosis for demonstrating phenomenological similarities with psychotic experiences and as therapeutic models for treating depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders. This study sought to explore this paradoxical relationship connecting key parameters of the psychotic experience, psychotherapy, and psychedelic experience.


In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover design, 24 healthy volunteers received 50 μg d-lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) or inactive placebo. Psychotic experience was assessed by aberrant salience (Aberrant Salience Inventory, ASI), therapeutic potential by suggestibility (Creative Imagination Scale, CIS) and mindfulness (Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire, FFMQ; Mindful Attention Awareness Scale, MAAS; Experiences Questionnaire, EQ), and psychedelic experience by four questionnaires (Altered State of Consciousness Questionnaire, ASC; Mystical Experiences Questionnaire, MEQ; Challenging Experiences Questionnaire, CEQ; Ego-Dissolution Inventory, EDI). Relationships between LSD-induced effects were examined.


LSD induced psychedelic experiences, including alteration of consciousness, mystical experiences, ego-dissolution, and mildly challenging experiences, increased aberrant salience and suggestibility, but not mindfulness. LSD-induced aberrant salience correlated highly with complex imagery, mystical experiences, and ego-dissolution. LSD-induced suggestibility correlated with no other effects. Individual mindfulness changes correlated with aspects of aberrant salience and psychedelic experience.


The LSD state resembles a psychotic experience and offers a tool for healing. The link between psychosis model and therapeutic model seems to lie in mystical experiences. The results point to the importance of meaning attribution for the LSD psychosis model and indicate that psychedelic-assisted therapy might benefit from therapeutic suggestions fostering mystical experiences.

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Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press

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LSD, madness and healing: Mystical experiences as possible link between psychosis model and therapy model
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