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, Laboratory for Integrative Psychiatry, Division of Alcohol and Drug Abuse, McLean Hospital, Belmont, MA and Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, 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 set out to independently extract data from previous randomized, controlled clinical trials, pooling their results. They identified six eligible trials, all carried out in the late 1960s and early 1970s. These included 536 participants, the vast majority of whom were male in-patients enrolled in alcohol-focused treatment programs. Individuals with a history of schizophrenia or psychosis were excluded from the original trials. The control conditions included low-dose LSD, stimulants, or non-drug control conditions. Each trial used clearly defined treatment-independent and standardized methods to assess outcomes on alcohol misuse.
While the experiments varied in the dosage used and the type of placebo physicians administered to patients, LSD had a beneficial effect on alcohol misuse in every trial. On average, 59 percent of LSD patients and 38 percent of control patients were improved at follow-up using standardized assessment of problem alcohol use. There was also a similar beneficial effect on maintained abstinence from alcohol. The positive effects of a single LSD dose – reported both in these and in other, non-randomized trials – lasts at least six months and appears to fade by 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”. And investigators of another trial noted, “It was not unusual for patients following their LSD experience to become much more self-accepting, to show greater openness and accessibility, and to adopt a more positive, optimistic view of their capacities to face future problems.”