LSD Returns--For Psychotherapeutics

By Terrapinzflyer · Sep 25, 2009 · ·
  1. Terrapinzflyer
    LSD Returns--For Psychotherapeutics
    LSD makes a comeback as a possible clinical treatment

    Albert Hofmann, the discoverer of LSD, lambasted the countercultural movement for marginalizing a chemical that he asserted had potential benefits as an invaluable supplement to psychotherapy and spiritual practices such as meditation. “This joy at having fathered LSD was tarnished after more than ten years of uninterrupted scientific research and medicinal use when LSD was swept up in the huge wave of an inebriant mania that began to spread over the Western world, above all the United States, at the end of the 1950s,” Hofmann groused in his 1979 memoir LSD: My Problem Child.

    For just that reason, Hofmann was jubilant in the months before his death last year, at the age of 102, when he learned that the first scientific research on LSD in decades was just beginning in his native Switzerland. “He was very happy that, as he said, ‘a long wish finally became true,’ ” remarks Peter Gasser, the physician leading the clinical trial. “He said that the substance must be in the hands of medical doctors again.”

    The preliminary study picks up where investigators left off. It explores the possible therapeutic effects of the drug on the intense anxiety experienced by patients with life-threatening disease, such as cancer. A number of the hundreds of studies conducted on lysergic acid diethylamide-25 from the 1940s into the 1970s (many of poor quality by contemporary standards) delved into the personal insights the drug supplied that enabled patients to reconcile themselves with their own mortality. In recent years some researchers have studied psilocybin (the active ingredient in “magic mushrooms”) and MDMA (Ecstasy), among others, as possible treatments for this “existential anxiety,” but not LSD.

    Gasser, head of the Swiss Medical Society for Psycholytic Therapy, which he joined after his own therapist-administered LSD experience, has only recently begun to discuss his research, revealing the challenges of studying psychedelics. The $190,000 study approved by Swiss medical authorities, was almost entirely funded by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, a U.S. nonprofit that sponsors research toward the goal of making psychedelics and marijuana into prescription drugs. Begun in 2008, the study intends to treat 12 patients (eight who will receive LSD and four a placebo). Finding eligible candidates has been difficult—after 18 months only five patients had been recruited, and just four had gone through the trial’s regimen of a pair of all-day sessions. “Because LSD is not a usual treatment, an oncologist will not recommend it to a patient,” Gasser laments.

    The patients who received the drug found the experience aided them emotionally, and none experienced panic reactions or other untoward events. One patient, Udo Schulz, told the German weekly Der Spiegel that the therapy with LSD helped him overcome anxious feelings after being diagnosed with stomach cancer, and the experience with the drug aided his reentry into the workplace.

    The trials follow a strict protocol—“all LSD treatment sessions will begin at 11 a.m.”—and the researchers are scrupulous about avoiding mistakes that, at times, occurred during older psychedelic trials, when investigators would leave subjects alone during a drug session. Both Gasser and a female co-therapist are present throughout the eight-hour sessions that take place in quiet, darkened rooms, with emergency medical equipment close at hand. Before receiving LSD, subjects have to undergo psychological testing and preliminary psychotherapy sessions.

    Another group is also pursuing LSD research. The British-based Beckley Foundation is funding and collaborating on a 12-person pilot study at the University of California, Berkeley, that is assessing how the drug may foster creativity and what changes in neural activity go along with altered conscious experience induced by the chemical. Whether LSD will one day become the drug of choice for psychedelic psychotherapy remains in question because there may be better solutions. “We chose psilocybin over LSD because it is gentler and generally less intense,” says Charles S. Grob, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles, who conducted a trial to test psilocybin’s effects on anxiety in terminal cancer patients. Moreover, “it is associated with fewer panic reactions and less chance of paranoia and, most important, over the past half a century psilocybin has attracted far less negative publicity and carries far less cultural baggage than LSD.”

    By Gary Stix

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  1. chillinwill
    LSD's long, strange trip back into the lab

    LSD, the drug that launched the psychedelic era and became one of the resounding symbols of the counterculture movement of the '60s, is back in the labs.

    Nearly 40 years after widespread fear over recreational abuse of LSD and other hallucinogens forced dozens of scientists to abandon their work, researchers at a handful of major institutions - including UCSF and Harvard University - are reigniting studies. Scientists started looking at less controversial drugs, like ecstasy and magic mushrooms, in the late 1990s, but LSD studies only began about a year ago and are still rare.

    The study at UCSF, which is being run by a UC Berkeley graduate student, is looking into the mechanisms of LSD and how it works in the brain. The hope is that such research might support further studies into medical applications of LSD - for chronic headaches, for example - or psychiatric uses.

    "Psychedelics are in labs all over the world and there's a lot of promise," said Rick Doblin, director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies in Santa Cruz. "The situation with LSD is that because it was the quintessential symbol of the '60s, it was the last to enter the lab."

    LSD - lysergic acid diethylamide - is a synthetic psychedelic drug and one of the strongest hallucinogens in the world.

    Created in Switzerland in 1938, LSD was used primarily for psychiatric research through the next couple of decades before it burst onto the counterculture scene as a recreational drug.

    Harvard University Professor Timothy Leary, along with a handful of scientists, began promoting LSD use for the psychedelic trips. With a fairly small dose, users discovered they could experience vivid visual hallucinations and altered consciousness. But as recreational use increased, so did cases of users having negative and even dangerous experiences with the drug, especially when they mixed LSD with other drugs.
    Polarizing issue

    Researchers were using LSD to explore treatment into everything from alcoholism and drug addiction to anxiety in cancer patients. But as notoriety of the drug spread, it became a polarizing issue among serious scientists, many of whom abandoned their research.

    In 1966, the federal government made LSD illegal, and by the early 1970s, research into all psychedelic drugs in humans had come to a halt, although some scientists continued to study the drugs in animals.

    "What poisoned the well was the widespread abuse being promoted by scientists to the public," said Dr. John Mendelson, an associate professor of medicine and psychiatry at UCSF who is helping run the LSD study. "That put a lot of researchers off, and it made it very hard for researchers to justify getting back into the field. And there were no pressing health needs, no pressing treatments other than curiosity."

    Researchers at UCLA were among the first to return to hallucinogen studies, starting with the drug ecstasy about 10 years ago. Research into psychedelic drugs expanded, with prominent labs around the country studying ecstasy and natural hallucinogens like psilocybin, or magic mushrooms, and peyote.

    But LSD, still in disrepute, remained off-limits. The first studies involving LSD in human subjects started last year at Harvard University, and the UCSF study is only the second in the country. At Harvard, scientists are studying potential uses of LSD to treat cluster headaches - chronic headaches that affect sufferers during months-long cycles several times a year.

    The federal government never banned LSD outright for use in research, but for decades it was nearly impossible to get funding or federal approval.

    As research into hallucinogens has slowly picked up, private and nonprofit groups have sprung up to seek funding sources.

    It still isn't easy to get an LSD study off the ground. Researchers must get permission from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Drug Enforcement Administration plus state regulators, and they need approval from the institution they work for. Then they have to get approval for the source of the actual drug - in the case of UCSF, researchers are using LSD that was manufactured years ago in Switzerland.
    Regulatory maze

    "Getting through the regulatory maze is quite daunting. It's taken me years to build a system where the FDA and DEA and everyone are happy with how we do our work," Mendelson said. "You have to have a very safe protocol. It's a very cautious system."

    Even finding participants for the studies can be a difficult process. The UC researchers usually have to screen 100 volunteers before they can find one who meets their needs. Subjects must have done LSD at least a couple of times before, Mendelson said.

    "You don't want people who are looking for a legal way to get a first experience," he said. "This isn't fun. There's no Grateful Dead music playing. This is serious business."

    Stanislav Grof was one of the last scientists to abandon hallucinogenic research when he shut down several projects at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center in 1973 after his funding dried up. He moved to California to work at a research institute in Big Sur, where he turned to studies about how to re-create the effects of those drugs through meditation and breathing techniques.
    Mixed feelings

    Now semiretired and living in Mill Valley, Grof said he has mixed feelings about the re-emergence of hallucinogen studies. He's pleased to see some of the stigma falling away from drugs like LSD, but it bothers him that the scientific community lost decades of research.

    "I thought psychiatry and psychology really lost a major opportunity because of the abuse that happened with unsupervised research," Grof said. "These are fascinating substances - and they're very, very powerful, so they should be used with great precaution."

    By Erin Allday
    September 27, 2009
    San Francisco Chronicle
  2. enquirewithin
    Stanislaw Grof is one of the most interesting writers on hallucinogens, especially LSD, but he is a typical academic. Writers like he and Strassman seem to think that they should be the ones dispensing psychedelics and that the unwashed masses should not be allowed them. It does not seem to occur to them (or they don't want to admit it in public) that the impact of LSD on the culture of the sixties, which changed the Western world forever, may be much more important then psychologists and psychiatrists studying the chemical in hospitals and laboratories.

    LSD escaping from the laboratory was the best thing that could have happened (the CIA were already abusing it before anyone else), but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be studied. It will be interesting to see what Dr. John Mendelson's research achieves.
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