Researchers: Time to re-examine LSD as treatment for alcoholism
Neuroscientists at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology have called for research on LSD as a possible treatment for alcoholism to continue.
“There has long been a need for better treatments for addiction,” Teri Krebs and Pål-Ørjan Johansen said after reviewing previous LSD research. “We think it is time to look at the use of psychedelics in treating various conditions.”
Although most people associate the psychedelic drug with the hippie counterculture of the 1960′s, psychiatrists had been studying the use of LSD as an aid to psychological therapy before it became outlawed in the United States and other parts of the world.
Krebs and Johansen found six different studies on LSD as a treatment for alcoholism that they considered scientifically sound. The studies, which included a combined 536 participants, were conducted either in the U.S. or Canada between 1966 and 1970.
In the studies, the participants all went through the same rehabilitation program. But one group of participants received a single large dose of LSD, while another group received a low dose of LSD, a stimulant drug or placebo. After being given the substance, the participants were encouraged to reflect on their alcohol problem. Neither the participants nor the researchers knew who got what substance — a procedure known as a double-blind.
“In independent and standardized follow-up examinations, ranging from one to twelve months later, all of the studies showed that the patients who had received a full dose of LSD fared the best,” Krebs and Johansen noted. “On average, 59 per cent of full-dose patients showed a clear improvement compared with 38 per cent in the other groups.”
Their quantitative study, known as a meta-analysis, was published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.
“We do not yet fully know why LSD works this way,” the researchers admitted. “But we know that the substance is non-toxic and that it is not addictive. We also know that it has a striking effect on the imagination, perception and memories.”
Using LSD to treat alcoholism was by no means mainstream in the 1950s and 1960s, but some psychiatrist did pursue such treatments.
Back in 1966, for instance, three psychiatrists from the New Jersey Bureau of Research in Neurology and Psychiatry in Princeton — Mary Sarett, Frances Cheek, and Humphry Osmond — conducted a study to investigate the effectiveness of LSD-assisted therapy in the treatment of alcoholism.
By the time Sarett and her colleagues conducted this study the use of LSD for the treatment of alcoholism had already been studied for over ten years, but questions remained about the long-term potential of such treatments.
The researchers interviewed 15 wives of men who had received LSD-assisted treatment and compared them to 11 wives of men who had received the same treatment without LSD. For those who received LSD-assisted treatment, “over 60% were rated not only more responsible, truthful, dependable, and less wasting of money, but as more talkative and understanding, less critical of others, less resentful, changeable, or moody, as well as more accepting of themselves.”
Both groups of wives reported that the initial effects of the treatment their husbands received greatly diminished after a period of six months, suggesting that the improvements from both types of therapy were temporary. However, “at the six-month follow-up the LSD husbands still showed a marked advantage over the comparison group husbands,” according to Sarett and her colleagues.
In addition, Modern Drunkard Magazine noted William Wilson, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, had been given LSD by the British author and psychedelic advocate Aldous Huxley. At the time, it was still a legal substance.
Wilson was so impressed by the experience that he had planned to distribute LSD at all AA meetings nationwide. But he was talked out of the idea.
Many early studies on LSD, however, fail to meet the scientific standards of today.
“The earliest studies reported promising results but also had methodological problems,” Krebs and Johansen said. “Many scientists expected unrealistically good results from a single dose, and tended to ignore effects that lasted less than a year. Importantly, many of the individual studies did not have enough patients to reach a conclusion by themselves.”
“But when we combine studies that had sound methodology, the results are unambiguous. We can therefore safely conclude that a single dose of LSD had a positive treatment effect that lasted at least six months.”