First LSD Study in 40 Years Finds Therapeutic Potential

By Carl Engelking | March 5, 2014 3:42 pm


Scientific study often opens new doors of discovery—but sometimes it reopens doors closed long ago. On Tuesday, experimental psychiatrists in Santa Cruz, California published results from the first controlled medical trial of LSD in over 40 years.

The study, published in Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease [pdf], found evidence that LSD, when administered in a medically-based therapeutic environment, lowers the anxiety experienced by individuals facing life-threatening illnesses. Although the sample size—just 12 people—was small, the findings offer compelling rationale for further study of the illegal, often stigmatized drug.

“This study is historic and marks a rebirth of investigation into LSD-assisted psychotherapy,” said Rick Doblin in a news release, executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, which sponsored the study. “The positive results and evidence of safety clearly show why additional, larger studies are needed.”

When Research Came to a Halt

That LSD—lysergic acid diethylamide—can be therapeutically beneficial has been known for decades. Studies of the chemical substance began back in 1949 as a way to simulate mental illness. But researchers soon discovered beneficial effects of the drug.

By 1965, over 1,000 studies were published that heralded the therapeutic efficacy of LSD. The substance was used to treat alcoholism, and in several studies from the 60s, the drug was found to reduce anxiety, depression and pain—when used in conjunction with counseling—in cancer patients. Similar benefits were also discovered from other psychedelics such as hallucinogenic mushrooms.

However, despite its promise, LSD research ground to a standstill after the substance was outlawed in the United States in 1966 in response to soaring recreational use.

Revisiting the Past

The new study reaffirms many of the findings from 40 years ago.

Researchers recruited 12 patients who were coping with anxiety associated with life-threatening illnesses. Eight patients were then randomly selected to receive drug-free psychotherapy sessions as well as two LSD-assisted sessions 2 to 3 weeks apart. Four participants were given a placebo during therapy and they served as the control. LSD helped stimulate a deep psychedelic state, allowing the participants to reach what they described as an emotionally intensified dream-like state.

“My LSD experience brought back some lost emotions and ability to trust, lots of psychological insights, and a timeless moment when the universe didn’t seem like a trap, but like a revelation of utter beauty,” said Peter, an Austrian subject who participated in the study.

In a follow-up two months later, researchers noted a statistically significant reduction in state anxiety—heightened emotions that develop in response to a fear or danger—faced by patients who were given LSD therapy. In contrast, state anxiety actually increased for patients in the placebo group. Further, the reductions in anxiety were sustained for a full year in the group given LSD.

A Future for LSD

The study’s authors are clear that this is just a preliminary investigation with a very small sample size. The results are far from conclusive.

Rather, when combined with the findings from other decades-old studies, the study’s authors hope to encourage other researchers to look beyond the stigma associated with LSD and explore other possible medical applications of the drug.

Photo credit: mikeledray/Shutterstock

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts
  • Aaron Mills

    Well, duh!

  • melitagnm105

    my Aunty Eva recently got a nice 12 month old Audi allroad
    Wagon by working off of a macbook… look at this site J­u­m­p­9­9­9­.­ℂ­o­m

  • Astrodwarf

    Think I have a tee-shirt about that. Wanna borrow?
    Problem in the past was that the research was associated with the wrong people (military, political,etc). Strangely, hippies seemed to have the right approach 😉

  • Timothy James Rogers

    Where do I sign up?

    • Robert Killmeyer

      Methadone saved my life

  • tseyu

    Good luck getting research off the ground. LSD’s sister drug, methysergide, has been the single best treatment for cluster and very severe migraine. Sandoz quit making it years ago, scared off by medicolegal issues. Now it is no longer make anywhere in the world. The above-board business world does not take medicolegal risks, or any risks, for that matter. Just like this study: a whopping 12 patients!

    • Derrick Schnur

      They take plenty of risks when they prescribed Prozac and PhenPhen. Normally they back the drugs that have the list of side affects including death in 2% of test patients. lol… My ex-wife was about to begin taking meds for Hepatitus C and that’s what the small print said, “Death in 2% of patients.” The funny question I had was, “How many people in the study?” 2% of 1,000 or 2% of 100,000. Not one place on the box or in the paper work could I find the number of participants, so the % was irrelevant!
      I want to do this study. I set a record at Redwood High School

      in CA. in 1988. I completed 3.25 yrs. of credits between March 8, 1988 and December 18, 1988. Dosed every day. Many doors of perception opened in my mind back then that have never closed. My son is now 24 yrs. old and just had his first baby boy January 12th, 2014. My son has never experienced anything other than cannabis four times, but he asked me the other night if the circuits/connections made in my brain could be passed on through genes. It is strange that he has the same perceptions that I do, yet he’s never experienced it. One more note: My I.Q. tested at 140 while my son’s tested at 144. This was maybe six months ago. interesting….

    • Derrick Schnur

      In the first paragraph I was being sarcastic regarding the side affects for the medication used to treat Hepatitis C. It described that death was possible in 2% of patients. I assume it meant 2% of all test subjects, but it never revealed any of the numbers of test subjects. There would be a big difference between 2% of 2,000 test subjects as an example compared to 2% of 200,000.
      The second paragraph I made mentioned of the large project I accomplished in high school while under the influence of LSD. In the remainder of the statement I wanted to bring attention to a question my twenty-four year old son asked not long ago. He asked, “Is it possible for the “connections” or “doorways” within your brain that were created as a result of experiencing LSD in your past be encoded into your DNA, allowing those traits to be passed on to your offspring?”
      I believe this to he true. My son has a few gifts that I have as a result of using LSD in my past. He understands specific analogies I use that most individuals don’t get as well as abstract thoughts/ creative ideas I have without the need to explain in lay terms, as most individuals require. I find it difficult to convey or describe the specific details here without writing a book.
      I hope what I just wrote clears up what I was referring to in the previous statements!

      • tseyu

        Thank you, Derrick. What you’ve written does really clarify what you were saying in your earlier post. I certainly do agree with you that certain studies are leading to the idea that life experience strongly influences both the direction and abundance of growth of pathways of neural transmission and the comparative strength of those pathways over other pathways of neural transmissions, in effect altering what genetics alone gave to any individual. Nurture does highly influence nature! Thanks so much for communicating your more complete thoughts with me. My 28 yo son has talked at length with me about the exact same phenomenon. Thank you again. My best, Tracy

        • Derrick Schnur

          You are very welcome Tracy. If you ever have a future study of your own, regardless of specifics, feel free to request my voluntary participation. I’m not in the fields of medicine or science, but I currently conduct experiments for my own curiosity.
          I may be able to classify one of my jobs as being in the science field.
          I work for my girlfriend as a Master Cultivator of medical cannabis in Arizona. I’ve been doing it three years. I conducted countless experiments within the first two years that resulted in two significant discoveries and numerous small lessons learned.
          My girlfriend recruited me because I was a compulsive landscaper for 22.5 years until I decided to try a differdnt career in early 2008. At age 37 I attended The Conservatory of Recording Arts & Sciences, graduating at the top of my class, only to find that the audio industry was no longer what it once was. Finding work as a freelance engineer was not generating a sustainable income. So I jumped into this field amongst 17 year veterans of an arrogant nature, and within twelve months I had surpassed them all.
          Most of my life has been a personal study in and of itself. The study of the acute and long term affects, to my psychological and physiological health in addition to intellectual, behavioral and emotional examinations related to sleep deprivation and the use of Methamphetamine. The study is in it’s 27th year. I recently began the project of documenting my technical findings, my personal thoughts and my feelings on not only this topic, but on drug use in general and the war on drugs. I understand that it will not have merit. Nevertheless, it will provide questions, answers, data and insights that can be used as a framework on which to build future long term studies. Worse case, my grandchildren will have something of interest to take to show and tell!

  • Stephen Jones

    It’s about time they revisit the potential medical benefits of LSD. Politics and the conservative, tea party movement screws up so many potential good things. Let science do their thing!

  • Aloha Henry

    Seriously, I’d like to become part of the study and explain the Benefits of combining LSD with MDMA. Please Contact Me.


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