Revisiting LSD as a treatment for alcoholism

Several decades ago, a number of clinics used LSD to treat alcoholism with some success. But until now, no research has pulled together the results of these trials to document exactly how effective LSD was. Now a new meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials of the drug, available in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, published by SAGE, provides evidence for a clear and consistent beneficial effect of LSD for treating alcohol dependency.

Teri Krebs and Pål-Ørjan Johansen are both affiliated with the Department of Neuroscience at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Trondheim, Norway. During research fellowships at Harvard Medical School, Boston, USA, they spotted a gap in the understanding of lysergic acid diethylamide's (LSD's) potential for alcoholism treatment. No researcher had ever performed a quantitative meta-analysis of previous clinical trials using the drug.

Krebs and Johansen have pooled their results after their studies. They identified six positive trials, all carried out in the late 1960s and early 1970s. These researches included 536 participants, most of them were male enrolled in alcohol-focused treatment programs. Patients with a history of schizophrenia or psychosis were excluded from trials. The low doses of LSD were used and each test treatment methods clearly defined.

LSD had a beneficial effect on alcohol abuse in each step of treatment. On average 59% of patients using LSD and 38% of patients controlled experienced an improvement during the treatment with standardized methods to assess outcomes on alcohol misuse. LSD also provides a beneficial effect on reducing the dependence. These effects last at least 12 months.

Regarding the lasting effects of the LSD experience in alcoholics, investigators of one trial noted "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''. They really feel a greater openness and accessibility, and allow the effects of adopting a more positive attitude, an optimistic view of their ability to confront problems.

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