LSD helps alcoholics put down the botttle

A single dose of the hallucinogenic drug LSD is an effective treatment for alcoholism - according to research led by a British doctor more than 40 years ago.

Studies on thousands of alcoholics treated with the drug in the early 1960s - before it became popular as a psychedelic street drug - showed it helped trigger a change in mental attitude leading drinkers to quit. But, in spite of its promise, the therapeutic potential of the drug has been ignored since it was banned worldwide in the late 1960s as a threat to public safety.

Now a historian who unearthed the research, led by British psychiatrist Humphrey Osmond and carried out in Canada, has interviewed the participants four decades on and says the results are dramatic.

Erika Dyck, professor of the History of Medicine at the University of Alberta, said: "The LSD somehow gave these people experiences that psychologically took them outside of themselves and allowed them to see their own unhealthy behaviour more objectively, and then determine to change it.

"Even interviewing the patients 40 years after their experience, I was surprised at how loyal they were to the doctors who treated them, and how powerful they said the experience was for them - some even felt the experience saved their lives."

The research was carried out in Saskatchewan where Humphry Osmond and his fellow British psychiatrist John Smythies had gone after they became disillusioned with the state of psychiatric research in Britain.

They reasoned that a single large dose of LSD might have the same effect as experiencing delirium tremens which they had noted often marked the turning point in a drinker's career.

In one study, two-thirds of the alcoholics stopped drinking for at least 18 months after receiving one dose of LSD, compared to 25 per cent who stopped after group therapy and 12 per cent after individual therapy.

But the 1962 study was received with scepticism by a research group in Toronto. They repeated the study on blindfolded patients in isolation, and concluded that, under these conditions, LSD was not an effective treatment for alcoholism.

Writing in the journal Social History of Medicine, Dr Dyck said: "The LSD experience appeared to allow the patients to go through a spiritual journey that ultimately empowered them to heal themselves, and that's really quite an amazing therapy regimen. We accept all sorts of drugs, but I think LSD's 'street' popularity ultimately led to its demise. That's too bad because I think the researchers in Saskatchewan, among others, showed the drug is unique and has some intriguing properties that need to be explored further."

The ban on the use of LSD in medical experiments appears to be lifting, as researchers in the UShave recently been granted permission to conduct experiments. In Britain, some psychiatrists have been calling for research projects involving LSD and similar drugs to be re-started. The Royal College of Psychiatrists discussed the use of the drugs in treatment at its annual meeting in March, for the first time in over 30 years.

The story of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide

* LSD was first produced by Swiss chemist Dr Albert Hofmann in 1938 and studied for possible medicinal applications. Its psychedelic properties were not recognised until 1943, and it remained freely available to scientists until 1966.

* In 1953 and 1954, scientists working for MI6 administered LSD to servicemen without their consent in a bid to uncover a "truth drug". Earlier this year, the servicemen were paid thousands of pounds in compensation.

* Between 1950 and 1965, research on LSD and other hallucinogens generated more than 1,000 scientific papers, six international conferences, and was prescribed as treatment to more than 40,000 patients.

* In the late 1950s, film star Cary Grant was administered LSD on a therapeutic basis in an effort to overcome the problems behind his failed marriages. In 1961, Harvard psychology professor Dr Timothy Leary used a Harvard grant to give 3,500 doses to more than 400 volunteers. Of the test subjects, 90 per cent said they would like to repeat the experience while 62 per cent said it had changed their life for the better.

* In 1966, LSD was made illegal in Britain and subsequently adopted by the counter-culture movement of the late 1960s, who found spiritual and mystical qualities in the prolonged hallucinations, which typically lasted 8 to 15 hours.

* The spread of LSD among the general population followed its association with counter-culture icons such as Ken Kesey and his "acid tests", and Paul McCartney's highly publicised admission of use in a 1967 television interview.

* In composing "Tomorrow Never Knows", the song that signalled The Beatles' dalliance with the drug, John Lennon borrowed heavily from a 1964 book, The Psychedelic Experience, by Timothy Leary.

* Roger "Syd" Barrett of Pink Floyd was also a prolific user in the 1960s. An infamous clip of him on acid has received nearly 50,000 viewings on YouTube.

* In the late 1960s, a recreational dose typically amounted to one tenth of a grain of sand, or between 100 and 200 micrograms or "mics". Jim Morrison allegedly took 10,000 mics before performing with The Doors in 1966.

* But, according to the NHS, there is no evidence to suggest LSD does any long-term damage to the body or mind.

* Possession of LSD, a Class A drug, can get you up to seven years in jail. Supplying someone can get you life in prison and an unlimited fine.

Jeremy Clarke

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

    £40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

    Guru Careers: Software Developer

    £35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

    Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

    £25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

    Day In a Page

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?