The first controlled study of LSD in more than 40 years has been published.
The findings, found in The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, state that the psychedelic drug may have eased the anxiety of 12 terminally ill patients. The study, conducted in Switzerland by the psychiatrist Peter Gasser, tested the effects of the drug when taken in conjunction with talk therapy.
“Their anxiety went down and stayed down,” Gasser told the New York Times describing how LSD appeared to relieve the subjects' fears about the end of life.
Most of the patients were diagnosed with terminal cancer and died within a year after the trial. The double-blind study involved patients having two or more sessions with Gasser before being administered a 200-microgram dose of LSD or an "active placebo" of 20 micrograms of the drug. The smaller dose was meant to produce short-lived effects while the larger dose was "expected to produce the full spectrum of a typical LSD experience, without fully dissolving normal ego structures," the researchers wrote.
“These results indicate that when administered safely in a methodologically rigorous, medically supervised psychotherapeutic setting, LSD can reduce anxiety,” Gasser said, adding, “larger controlled studies are warranted.”
Patients felt the effects of the drug for up to 10 hours. After the “trip” they would sleep on a couch in the office. At all times, they were monitored by a therapist or assistant.
“I told them that each session would be right here, in a safe environment, and I am part of it,’” Gasser told the New York Times. “I said, ‘I can’t guarantee you won’t have intense distress, but I can tell you that if you do, it will pass.’ ”
LSD, lysergic acid diethylamide, is a psychedelic drug that can cause hallucinations, mood changes and delusions. It is derived from ergot, a fungus that grows on rye and other grains. Besides being used recreationally, scientists have tried therapeutic applications of the drug to treat alcoholism, anxiety and addiction.
Peter, an Australian social worker who participated in the study, had doubts about taking the drug.
“I’d never taken the drug before, so I was feeling — well, I think the proper word for it, in English, is dread,” he said. But after taking LSD, he began to reflect on childhood memories he had not spoken of in decades.
“I had what you would call a mystical experience, I guess, lasting for some time, and the major part was pure distress at all these memories I had successfully forgotten for decades,” Peter said. “These painful feelings, regrets, this fear of death. I remember feeling very cold for a long time. I was shivering, even though I was sweating. It was a mental coldness, I think, a memory of neglect.”
While the trial is too yield to make any definitive conclusions, it has opened a dialogue about the drug that has been banned for research purposes in the United States since 1966.
“It’s a proof of concept,” said Rick Doblin, executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies and a study co-author. “It shows that this kind of trial can be done safely, and that it’s very much worth doing.”