LSD Still Worth Research

First appeared at LSD bears the stigma of controversy. Associated primarily with the ‘60s counterculture and the psychedelic music it spawned, the drug is widely considered to be of no value. LSD is generally thought to be dangerous and to imitate temporary insanity, where users hallucinate wildly and babble incoherent nonsense. While these assertions are not completely false, the truth is that LSD affects everyone differently. Under proper conditions, LSD can have profound psychological benefits. During early research in the 1950s, LSD was considered a wonder drug, a gateway to explore the functioning of the human brain in a totally new way. LSD induces a dreamlike state that transcends the phenomena of the deep subconscious. It allows people to access memories long forgotten, express creative ideas previously inaccessible, understand the world in an intellectually unusual way and it offers the possibility to penetrate the collective unconscious. Albert Hoffman, working for Sandoz Laboratories in Switzerland, first synthesized LSD in 1938, hoping to create a respiratory and circulatory stimulant. He set it aside until 1943, when he decided to take another look at it. While re-synthesizing chemicals, he accidentally absorbed some through his fingertips. Once he realized the powerful effects of the drug, he shared his discovery with other researchers and later the world. During the ‘50s and ‘60s, LSD research boomed. Scientists from many different backgrounds were eager to experiment with this new mystery drug. The psychiatrist Dr. Humphrey Osmond became very interested in hallucinogens and their relationship to mental illness. He conducted a number of successful studies treating alcoholics with LSD. These sessions produced about a 50 percent recovery rate, an unprecedented accomplishment. The CIA even began experimenting with LSD, a chapter of U.S. history both comic and tragic. The CIA explored several approaches of testing the drug. The operation was called MKULTRA. Dosing people unknowingly, combat simulations, mind control studies and interrogation methods were some of the various avenues explored. The mind control experiments were most disturbing. The CIA financed Dr. Ewen Cameron, the director of the Allen Memorial Institute at Montreal’s McGill University, who attempted to brainwash his patients using very extreme, destructive methods. Sleep deprivation, electroshock therapy, large doses of LSD and repetitious recorded messages were a few of the techniques administered to patients against their will. He wanted to wipe out all behavioral patterns, but he was horrifically unsuccessful. The experiments left patients more psychologically fractured than before. So there is the dark side to LSD research, driven by callous, totalitarian forces. But there is a virtuous side, too, driven by compassionate, open-minded spirits. And it is their research I find most significant. Stanislav Grof was one of the first psychologists who showed an interest in LSD research. He used the drug in many therapy sessions with his patients, who experienced breakthrough moments as a result. Grof’s book Realms of the Human Unconsciousness details his observations thoroughly. Before Grof used LSD in a therapy session, he developed a relationship with the patient through traditional therapy techniques. But such techniques could only go so far. Patients with severe mental blocks could not easily delve into subconscious memories. LSD changed that. During the LSD therapy session, Grof encouraged patients to break down their Condensed Experience Systems, or CODEX as he referred to it. A CODEX is a cluster of memories consisting of condensed experiences, which are interrelated to each other. The cluster of memories is grouped around one core experience, the oldest experience. This core experience, typically a repressed memory, keeps playing out in similar situations in the patient’s life, further aggravating their trauma. In many cases, patients uncovered disturbing repressed memories through the LSD therapy session. Such breakthroughs allowed patients to be free from their misguided subconscious and to understand who they really were. Unfortunately, the widespread recreational use of LSD during the ‘60s tainted the positive possibilities of the drug. In 1968, LSD was declared illegal in the US and listed as a Schedule 1 drug, which prohibits any medical use, even though stacks of research contradict this classification. Recently, Switzerland began using LSD in therapy sessions for people suffering from severe anxiety related to terminal illnesses. The LSD experiences have aided patients emotionally and offered an opportunity for them to come to terms with their mortality. This research is currently ongoing Albert Hoffman once said, “I believe that if people would learn to use LSD’s vision-inducing capability more wisely, under suitable conditions, in medical practice and in conjunction with meditation, then in the future this problem child could become a wonder child.” After years of controversy, it looks like researchers abroad are again realizing this possibility. Perhaps someday the U.S. will reconsider the use of LSD as a viable therapeutic method and allow researchers to explore the vast possibilities of this wonder drug. This article provides a concise summary of the history of LSD research, from Albert Hofmann’s discovery of its psychoactive properties in 1943 to its first uses as a treatment for alcohol addiction in the 1950s and 1960s, up to current MAPS studies of LSD-assisted psychotherapy for anxiety related to terminal illness. Once irrationally feared and condemned, LSD and other psychedelics are making a rapid comeback as effective treatments for a variety of serious illnesses.