LSD, Reconsidered for TherapyPosted: March 5, 2014
Benedict Cary writes: He heard about the drug trial from a friend in Switzerland and decided it was worth volunteering, even if it meant long, painful train journeys from his native Austria and the real possibility of a mental meltdown. He didn’t have much time, after all, and traditional medicine had done nothing to relieve his degenerative spine condition.
“The effort is both political and scientific…We want to break these substances out of the mold of the counterculture and bring them back to the lab as part of a psychedelic renaissance.”
“I’d never taken the drug before, so I was feeling — well, I think the proper word for it, in English, is dread,” said Peter, 50, an Austrian social worker, in a telephone interview; he asked that his last name be omitted to protect his identity. “There was this fear that it could all go wrong, that it could turn into a bad trip.”
On Tuesday, The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease is posting online results from the first controlled trial of LSD in more than 40 years. The study, conducted in the office of a Swiss psychiatrist near Bern, tested the effects of the drug as a complement to talk therapy for 12 people nearing the end of life, including Peter.
Most of the subjects had terminal cancer, and several died within a year after the trial — but not before having a mental adventure that appeared to have eased the existential gloom of their last days.
“Their anxiety went down and stayed down,” said Dr. Peter Gasser, who conducted the therapy and followed up with his patients a year after the trial concluded.
The new publication marks the latest in a series of baby steps by a loose coalition of researchers and fund-raisers who are working to bring hallucinogens back into the fold of mainstream psychiatry. Before research was effectively banned in 1966 in the United States, doctors tested LSD’s effect for a variety of conditions, including end-of-life anxiety.
But in the past few years, psychiatrists in the United States and abroad — working with state regulators as well as ethics boards — have tested Ecstasy-assisted therapy for post-traumatic stress; and other trials with hallucinogens are in the works.
“The effort is both political and scientific,” said Rick Doblin, executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, a foundation that has financed many of the studies. “We want to break these substances out of the mold of the counterculture and bring them back to the lab as part of a psychedelic renaissance.”
Before taking LSD, the 12 patients in the Swiss study met with Dr. Gasser in his office for two or more sessions to get acquainted. The trial called for two drug-assisted courses of therapy, separated by a couple of weeks.
The drug’s effects would last up to 10 hours, after which the patient would sleep on a couch in the office, attended at all times by the therapist or an assistant. “I told them that each session would be right here, in a safe environment, and I am part of it,’” Dr. Gasser said. “I said, ‘I can’t guarantee you won’t have intense distress, but I can tell you that if you do, it will pass.’ ”
And so they did — and indeed it passed, though not always easily. Many wept, most squirmed; one 67-year-old man said he met his long-dead, estranged father somewhere out in the cosmos, nodding in approval.… Read the rest >>>
Correction: March 5, 2014
An earlier version of this article described incorrectly the circumstances under which research on LSD ended in 1966. While the drug was made illegal and research ground to a near halt, research was not banned.
- First LSD tests in decades show terminal patients gained valuable and lasting insights (rawstory.com)
- First LSD Study in 40 Years Finds Therapeutic Potential (blogs.discovermagazine.com)
- LSD Can Help Terminal Patients Face Death Study Shows (ibtimes.co.uk)
- LSD-assisted therapy may help reduce anxiety, study finds (ctvnews.ca)
- First Study of LSD’s Psychotherapeutic Benefits in Four Decades Breaks a Research Taboo (reason.com)
- LSD, Reconsidered for Therapy (drugpolicydebateradar.wordpress.com)