The Bright Future Of Clinical LSD Research: A Conversation With MAPS

Crushplate interviews Brad Burge of MAPS about promising results stemming from the completion of MAPS’ study into the benefits of LSD-assisted psychotherapy to treat anxiety associated with advanced-stage illness. Burge provides details about the results and design of the study, obstacles surrounding psychedelic research, and shares his optimism for future research into LSD as a catalyst for personal development, creativity, and spiritual growth. “This scientific evidence indicating that LSD can be administered safely in a controlled clinical environment with proper support will pave the way for future studies conducted by MAPS and other scientists around the world,” explains Burge.

Originally appearing here.

The Swiss scientist Albert Hoffman first synthesized LSD at a Sandoz laboratory in Switzerland in 1938. Not until five years later, after re-examining his discovery, did Hoffman learn about LSD’s more colorful and beneficial qualities.  Here’s how Hoffman described the experience after accidentally ingesting LSD during an experiment in 1943.

“I was affected by a remarkable restlessness, combined with a slight dizziness. At home I lay down and sank into a not unpleasant intoxicated  ;ike condition, characterized by an extremely stimulated imagination. In a dreamlike state, with eyes closed (I found the daylight to be unpleasantly glaring), I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors. After some two hours this condition faded away.”

The intense experience stoked Hoffman’s curiosity and when he returned to the lab the next day, he ingested 250 more micrograms of LSD.   April 19, 1943 is known as “Bicycle Day,” as Hoffman first felt feel the effects of the world’s first deliberate trip on his bicycle ride home from the lab.

In the decades after Hoffman’s discovery, Sandoz Laboratories distributed LSD to researchers and clinical studies were conducted widely on the drugs effectiveness to assist in psychotherapy and other treatments. By the mid 1960’s, more than 1,000 peer-reviewed clinical papers covering 40,000 patients had been published on LSD.  Some promising studies found significant benefits using LSD to treat anxiety associated with terminal illness, pain, cluster headaches and alcoholism. As quickly as the ball started rolling for LSD research, it stopped.

As use of LSD in counterculture movements caught the eyes politicians and governments, sentiments changed and LSD was made illegal in the United States on October 24, 1968.  Bowing to international pressures Sandoz stopped producing LSD in 1965, ending all but a few scattered clinical research studies over the next 40 years.

But all is not lost. 

Recent results from a study in Switzerland have renewed interest in both the resurgence of LSD research and LSD as a useful tool to assist in psychotherapy.

Brad Burge, Director of Communications and Marketing, at the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), was kind enough to sit down with crushplate to talk about this exciting new LSD pilot study that was published in The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. 

If you haven’t heard of MAPS you need to check them out right now.  MAPS is a non-profit organization headquartered  in Santa Cruz, California, that develops medical, legal, and cultural contexts for people to benefit from the careful uses of psychedelics and marijuana.

MAPS sponsored this latest Swiss LSD research which was a double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study in 12 subjects with advanced-stage illness that found statistically significant reductions in anxiety following two LSD-assisted psychotherapy sessions.

The recent Swiss double blind placebo-controlled pilot study that looked at of LSD-assisted psychotherapy for individuals with anxiety associated with advanced stage illness was small but promising. Can you tell us about the study and results?

We are very proud to have completed the first study of the therapeutic use of LSD in human beings since the early 1970s. Principal Investigator Dr. Peter Gasser conducted the study over the span of 4 years in Switzerland, investigating the safety and effectiveness of LSD-assisted psychotherapy in subjects with life-threatening illnesses and who experienced associated anxiety. The pilot study in 12 subjects found statistically significant reductions in anxiety associated with advanced-stage illness following two LSD-assisted psychotherapy sessions. Our results indicate that LSD can be safely administered in a controlled, clinical environment with proper therapeutic support, which is a major scientific advancement.

What did you learn from the results of the Swiss study?

The study found positive trends in the reduction of anxiety following two LSD-assisted psychotherapy sessions. Study participants who received the full 200-microgram dose of LSD in combination with psychotherapy reported a 20% reduction in anxiety associated with advanced-stage illness. The results also indicate that LSD-assisted psychotherapy can be safely administered in these subjects, justifying further research.

Do you think the Swiss study can help build momentum for future psychotherapy-assisted LSD research?

This study is historic and marks a rebirth of investigation into LSD-assisted psychotherapy. The results from this research have opened the doors for additional studies into the therapeutic potential of LSD. We are optimistic that future research into the therapeutic potential of LSD may reveal more medical conditions that can benefit from LSD-assisted psychotherapy.

What are the major roadblocks for future studies and how can scientists overcome them?

Cultural stigmas surrounding substances like LSD, MDMA, and marijuana makes our research difficult to fund, though not impossible. We have been able to significantly advance psychedelic research with the support of private donations, though we cannot accomplish all of our goals due to lack of wider support. We would be able to conduct more research in a more timely fashion if we received grants or government-funding. As the public perception of psychedelics continues to become more accepting, research and funding will likely become more abundant.

MAPS is dedicated to meeting government standards surrounding approvals for psychedelic research, so we do not cut any corners when it comes to legitimizing psychedelics such as LSD. MAPS’ completed and future research conforms to modern drug development standards, and will help guide the development of additional research into the risks and benefits of LSD-assisted psychotherapy. When MAPS conducts psychedelic research in the U.S., we work closely with government agencies including the Food and Drug Administration and the Drug Enforcement Agency, and we work with their foreign equivalents when conducting research in other countries.

Are there other research areas or disciplines that LSD research can prove useful?

There is considerable previous human experience using LSD in the context of psychotherapy. From the 1950s through the early 1970s, psychiatrists, therapists, and researchers administered LSD to thousands of people as a treatment for alcoholism, as well as for anxiety and depression in people with advanced-stage cancer. MAPS is interested in LSD for its potential to help people with a variety of conditions, focusing primarily on the treatment of anxiety associated with life-threatening illness, as well as for personal growth, creativity, and spiritual uses.

Who or where should we be looking for the next study?

This pilot study serves as a starting point for
the future of LSD-assisted psychotherapy research. This scientific evidence indicating that LSD can be administered safely in a controlled clinical environment with proper support will pave the way for future studies conducted by MAPS and other scientists around the world. In addition to this LSD research, our research into MDMA-assisted psychotherapy to treat PTSD is very promising. MAPS will continue to conduct research into the risks and benefits of LSD, MDMA, ayahuasca, marijuana, and ibogaine. MAPS is not the only entity conducting psychedelic research— our friends at the Heffter Research Institute and the Beckley Foundation are also helping the advancement of psychedelic science and medicine.