Using LSD to Treat Alcoholism, An Acid Trip?
When you think about ways to treat alcoholism, options such as Alcoholics Anonymous, rehab centers, and use of the drug disulfiram (Antabuse) may come to mind. But some researchers are talking about using Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD) to treat alcoholism. Are they on an acid trip?
Is using LSD a crazy idea?
About 40 years ago, numerous studies were conducted that showed when alcoholics were given a single dose of LSD, they were less likely to relapse. Although the treatment option was intriguing and even effective, it faded from the limelight, as did the psychedelic age.
But now a Norwegian team of researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology has revisited the idea and evaluated six studies conducted on LSD and alcoholism from between 1966 and 1970.
This meta-analysis involved 536 alcoholics, most of whom were men, and all of whom were admitted to treatment for alcoholism. Their participation in each of the studies was voluntary.
All of the double-blind studies were conducted in a similar manner: the participants in each study were given the same treatment program for alcoholism, but on one day, some patients were given a single large dose of LSD while others were given either a low dose of LSD, a stimulant drug, or nothing.
All of the patients were followed-up at one to 12 months later, and the findings are given here:
- All the studies revealed that patients who had taken the full dose of LSD fared the best. On average, a clear improvement was seen in 59% of patients who took the full dose compared with 38% of patients in any other group
- Patients who took LSD were less likely to return to alcoholic drinking behavior
- Patients who took LSD had higher levels of total abstinence
- Many of the patients who took LSD said they possessed new motivation to address their drinking problems, had more faith in their ability to cope with problems in the future, and had a new appreciation for their alcoholism
How does LSD work?
Teri Krebs and Pal-Orjan Johansen, the researchers in this meta-analysis, admit “We do not yet fully know why LSD works this way.” They do note, however, that LSD is not addictive, and that it interacts with a specific type of serotonin receptor in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is involved in the regulation of mood, appetite, and sleep.
LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) is the most common hallucinogen and a powerful mood-altering chemical. The drug is made from lysergic acid, which is found in a fungus that grows on grains.
The effects of LSD depend on the individual’s personality and expectations about the drug, how much of the drug is taken, and where they use the drug. People can experience wide swings in mood and emotions, changes in their sense of time, and a heightened ability to experience colors and sounds. In large doses, people can have visual hallucinations.
On a physical level, LSD use can cause a rise in body temperature and heart rate, dry mouth, tremors, loss of appetite, sleeplessness, elevated blood pressure, and dilated pupils.
Ever since the days of Timothy Leary and the eventual ban of LSD for non-medical uses in 1971, LSD has been viewed as a drug of abuse. The National Institute of Drug Abuse noted that 779,000 Americans age 12 and older abused LSD in 2009 at least once during the year.
But LSD still has potential medicinal uses, and studies have included its use for pain, cluster headache, and in terminal cancer patients.
LSD and alcoholism: a new type of trip
Krebs and Johansen explained that “LSD may stimulate the formation of new connections and patterns, and generally seems to open an individual to an awareness of new perspective and opportunities for action.”
Although LSD can still be used as an experimental medical treatment and had promising results in the past, Krebs and Johansen said many researchers had unrealistic expectations from using a single dose of the drug and ignored its long-term effects.
In this new evaluation, which was the first quantitative analysis ever done on LSD and alcoholism, the authors noted that “the results are unambiguous.” They pointed out that “a single dose of LSD had a positive treatment effect that lasted at least six months.”
As a next step, the research team recommended treating alcoholics with periodic additional doses of LSD while they are participating in an evidence-based treatment program.
Norwegian University of Science and Technology
National Institute on Drug Abuse
The Partnership at DrugFree.org
Image: Courtesy Wikimedia Commons