Scientists Are (Finally) Studying LSD Again

Motherboard remarks on the significance of reemerging scientific research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics, showcasing results from the MAPS-sponsored study of LSD-assisted psychotherapy to treat anxiety associated with advanced stage illness. In a paper published in the <i>Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease</i>, the study author’s explain the promising results and make a call for expanded research, stating, “Further study is warranted into the potential of LSD-assisted psychotherapy.”

Originally appearing here.

The first controlled LSD study in more than 40 years was released today in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. The study, which evaluated 12 individual subjects, focused on the treatment of “anxiety, depression, as well as unresolved family and relationship issues” that accompany life-threatening illnesses. In the study, researchers found that there was a significant and lasting reduction in anxiety in the participants.

Of the dozen subjects, only one person had any prior experience with LSD. Aside from facing life-threatening illness, these were normal, otherwise healthy test subjects. Researchers excluded anyone with alcohol or drug dependence; psychological disorders (psychosis, bipolar or dissociative disorders); as well as neurocognitive impairment or women who were pregnant or nursing.

While the clinical trial—which was phase 2 double-blind, active placebo-controlled, and randomized—had a limited sample size, researchers wrote that it was “sufficient for a study primarily focused on safety and feasibility.” Researchers reported that neither the experimental dose (200 µg of LSD) nor the active placebo (20 µg of LSD) “produced any drug-related severe adverse events, that is, no panic reaction, no suicidal crisis or psychotic state, and no medical or psychiatric emergencies requiring hospitalization.” This is encouraging news for any future LSD research, which has battled decades of anti-psychedelic hysteria claiming the drug is unsafe for users.

The most common adverse events experienced by participants included: feeling cold, feeling abnormal, illusion, gait disturbance, and anxiety. However, participants experienced more anxiety with the placebo than with the LSD, which reinforces the idea that simply knowing one is taking the psychedelic drug can produce a negative psychological reaction.

“Patients with life-threatening illnesses confront an existential threat from shortened life expectancy that often causes periods of suffering, pain, and anxiety,” wrote the researchers. “Congruent with earlier studies (Pahnke et al., 1970), the results in the experimental dose group show a significant reduction in state anxiety, as experienced on a daily basis.” More importantly, the effects were stable when the team followed up with participants 12 months later. Researchers also noted that participants preferred more than two LSD sessions and a longer treatment period.

Researchers concluded that future LSD studies should include a quality of life measure that focuses on psychological well-being more so than physical aspects of quality of life in those facing life-threatening illness. Given the study’s positive findings, combined with Charles Grob’s promising study using psilocybin in 2011, the researchers stated that “further study is warranted into the potential of LSD-assisted psychotherapy” in reducing anxiety in patients facing terminal illness.

For now, less acid is (maybe) more.