In Safety and Efficacy of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide-Assisted Psychotherapy for Anxiety Associated With Life-threatening Diseases, a new paper published in The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, a Swiss psychiatrist named Peter Gasser and his colleagues report on the first controlled trial of LSD in forty years. Gasser used LSD therapeutically to treat 12 people nearing the end of their lives, and concluded that their anxiety "went down and stayed down."
Many psychopharmacologists believe that psychedelics such as LSD have therapeutic benefits that could be realized if the strictures on them were loosened. David Nutt, the former UK government drugs czar, called the ban on psychedelics in therapeutic settings "the worst case of scientific censorship since the Catholic Church banned the works of Copernicus and Galileo". He devotes a whole chapter to psychedelics in his brilliant book on drug policy, Drugs Without the Hot Air. If you only read one book about drug policy, read that one.
Gasser's trial is positioned as a major move in the struggle to end the damage the War on Some Drugs has wrought on legitimate medicine. It used a randomized double-blind protocol to dose some dying patients (most with terminal cancer) with LSD as part of an anxiety-reduction strategy. The results were dramatic and positive. In a NYT story, some Gasser's patients relate their experiences with the therapy:
“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.”
He was also doing something with those sensations, something he had almost never done before. He was talking about them. “It surprised me,” Peter said. “I didn’t know I was talking away until Dr. Gasser made me notice.”
After about two months of weekly therapy, the eight participants who received full doses of LSD improved by about 20 percent on standard measures of anxiety, and the four subjects who took a much weaker dose got worse. (After the trial, those patients were allowed to “cross over” and try the full dose.) Those findings held up for a year in those who have survived.
LSD, Reconsidered for Therapy [Benedict Carey/NYT]