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Revisiting LSD For Treatment Of Alcohol Dependency
February 18, 2016
Several decades ago, LSD was used by a number of clinics for the treatment of alcoholism. Due to the U.S. scheduling of Lysergic acid diethylamide, much of the research went unnoticed or deliberately ignored, despite the preliminary indications of success reported by some of the medical practitioners. Now, available in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, published by SAGE, a meta-analysis of all of the randomized controlled LSD trials shows conclusively that LSD is beneficial in the treatment of alcohol dependency.
The analysis was initiated by Pål-Ørjan Johansen and Teri Krebs of the Department of Neuroscience at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). It was during their research fellowships at Harvard Medical School that the two noticed there was a gap in the understanding of LSD as an effective treatment for alcoholism. No one had done a quantitative analysis on the studies conducted all those years ago, which could have very well been used to refute the "no currently accepted medical use" as stated by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency in 1967.
The two of them set out independently to extract as much of the discarded research data from the late 1960s and early 70s that they could find. They managed to indicate six eligible trials that could be used for the comparison. These compiled studies included 536 volunteers, many of whom were male patients that had already been enrolled in alcohol-focused treatment programs. Each trial had clearly defined dosage, placebo, and control conditions.
Although the trials varied in dosage and type of placebo administered, the LSD had positive outcomes reported in every trial. It was determined that, on average, 59 percent of the LSD patients and 38 percent of the control patients showed definitive signs of improvement in the standardized assessment of problem alcohol use. The results were similar in the assessment of maintained abstinence in individuals that had already managed to abstain but were facing difficulties. Every one of these trials along with a number of non-randomized trials concluded that this effect of LSD on alcoholic tendencies lasted at least six months and seems to fade after a year's time. "It was rather common for patients to claim significant insights into their problems, to feel that they had been given a new lease on life, and to make a strong resolution to discontinue their drinking," noted an investigator of one of the trials.
LSD is not known to be toxic or addictive to the body, but its effects on thought, imagination, perception, and memory can elicit times of intense distress and anxiety that could cause one to reach for the bottle, Krebs explained. LSD interacts with specific serotonin receptors in the brain, which can allow one to make new connections and open their perspective to new possibilities. "It was not unusual for patients following their LSD experience to become much more self-accepting, to show greater openness and accessibility, and to adopt a more positive, optimistic view of their capacities to face future problems." stated another researcher from one of the original trials.
"Given the evidence for a beneficial effect of LSD on alcoholism, it is puzzling why this treatment approach has been largely overlooked," said Johansen. The authors explain that the reason for this may have been because the individual studies did not have enough patients to show conclusive evidence, but when combined, the apparent consistency is more than sufficient to show the legitimate potential for LSD as a treatment for alcoholism. Johansen and Krebs believe that, combined with modern alcohol relapse prevention treatment, LSD administration could be perfected to determine dosage requirements and time frames between treatment sessions and provide more sustained results. The two investigators also note that plantbased psychedelics such as ayahuasca and mescaline respectively deserve their own investigation as an additional possibility for the treatment of alcoholism.