LSD Can Ease Anxiety for Dying Patients

The first clinical study of LSD as therapy in 40 years showed positive results.

Photo Credit: Zerbor / Shutterstock.com

All those flower children who said, “Dropping acid/dancing with Lucy/a dose of this stuff melts your worries away, man” weren’t (just) tripping, after all.

The results of the first clinical study of the therapeutic use of LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) in humans in more than 40 years were published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease this week. They show that LSD can promote statistically significant reductions in anxiety.

Swiss psychiatrist Peter Gasser and his colleagues conducted the double-blind, placebo-controlled study, sponsored by the non-profit Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). They tracked 12 people who were near the end of life as they attended LSD-assisted psychotherapy sessions. Eleven of the 12 subjects had never taken LSD prior to participating in the study.

"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 study participant.

The study was approved by SwissMedic, the Swiss authority responsible for authorizing and supervising all therapeutic products, in December 2007. The first subject was enrolled on April 23, 2008, and the last long-term follow-up interview was conducted on Aug. 8, 2012.

In his report, Safety and Efficacy of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide-Assisted Psychotherapy for Anxiety Associated With Life-threatening Diseases, Gasser concluded that the study subjects’ anxiety "went down and stayed down." The results also indicate that LSD-assisted psychotherapy can be safely administered in these subjects, and Gasser wrote that the results warrant further study into the potential of LSD-assisted psychotherapy.

MAPS noted in a press release that there is “considerable previous human experience using LSD in the context of psychotherapy.”

Between the 1950s and early '70s, psychiatrists, therapists and researchers administered LSD to thousands of people as a treatment for alcoholism, as well as for anxiety and depression in people with advanced-stage cancer. However, since then LSD has been strictly controlled. In the U.S. it is listed as a Schedule I substance, which indicates that it is dangerous and has no medicinal value.

"This study is historic and marks a rebirth of investigation into LSD-assisted psychotherapy,” said Rick Doblin, executive director of MAPS. "The positive results and evidence of safety clearly show why additional, larger studies are needed."

April M. Short is a freelance writer who focuses on health, wellness and social justice. She previously worked as AlterNet's drugs and health editor. 

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