Historical research shows LSD was used effectively to treat alcoholism

For the last 5 years, Erika Dyck, a professor of medical history at the University of Alberta, has been investigating the work of a pioneering group of Canadian psychiatrists who in the 1950s and 60s used LSD to treat alcoholic patients.

During that time, she has uncovered research papers describing studies in which single doses of the hallucinogenic drug were an effective effective treatment for alcoholism, and has interviewed patients who participated in the clinical trials documented in the papers. Her findings are published in this month’s issue of Social History of Medicine.

Some of the papers found by Dyck were authored by Humphry Osmond, the controversial British psychiatrist who first used the term ‘psychedelic’ at a meeting of the New York Academy of Sciences in the early 1950s, and who gave Aldous Huxley the dose of mescaline which gave the writer the inspiration for his book The Doors of Perception.

In one of the studies, conducted in 1962, 65% of alcoholic patients given a single dose of LSD stopped drinking for at least one-and-a-half years, compared to 25% of control patients who received group therapy and 12% of another control group given traditional forms of therapy which were popular at the time.

“The LSD somehow gave these people experiences that psychologically took them outside of themselves and allowed them to see their own unhealthy behavior more objectively, and then determine to change it,” says Dyck. “[It] appeared to allow the patients to go through a spiritual journey that ultimately empowered them to heal themselves, and that’s really quite an amazing therapy regimen.”

Most of the studies uncovered by Dyck were later discredited because they did not involve randomized, controlled clinical trials. Nevertheless, Dyck says that the use of LSD was not, as many people believe, on the fringes of biomedical research but instead was a legitimate branch of psychiatry which was promising and encouraging. She says that the use of LSD by members of the anti-war counterculture in the 1960s, and its subsequent criminalization by the government made research into its effects unpopular. This glut in research into psychotomimetic drugs lasted for decades, and it is only recently that biomedical research into LSD and related substances has resumed.

“Even interviewing the patients 40 years after their experience, I was surprised at how loyal they were to the doctors who treated them, and how powerful they said the experience was for them – some even felt the experience saved their lives,” continues Dyck. “I think the researchers in Saskatchewan, among others, showed the drug is unique and has some intriguing properties that need to be explored further.”


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2 thoughts on “Historical research shows LSD was used effectively to treat alcoholism

  1. Pingback: Albert Hofmann, father of drug LSD, dies in Switzerland

  2. The image displayed with this article is an image that was taken from Erowid.org and then had all of the credits removed. We generally give permission for images to be used when such requests are made, but it’s annoying (not to mention a copyright violation) to have people remove the credits. If the author of this post reads this, we would appreciate having the credits replaced on the image so it is clear that it was Erowid who created the image. Thanks. :]

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