Letter: Experimental trip that put acid to the test

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The Independent Online
Sir: I was heartened to find that you were able to devote a whole page to an appraisal of the drug LSD on the 50th anniversary of the discovery of its effects on the mind by Albert Hofmann ('Fifty-year trip for drug that epitomised the Sixties', 16 April). It is refreshing to know that Hofmann, whose laboratory I first visited in 1951, still maintains a belief in the clinical potential of LSD. However, when Steve Connor looked into current opinion in this country about the value of LSD as a clinical tool I suggest that he asked the wrong people and I feel that the record needs to be put straight.

Assisted by a small group of colleagues I first used LSD as a means of promoting and facilitating the psychotherapeutic process in 1952 and the results were written up and first published in the Journal of Mental Science (afterwards the British Journal of Psychiatry) in 1954. This was the first of a long series of papers coming from our own hospital and also from many other psychiatrists in the UK and around the world.

New drugs that have dramatic effects tend to create a lot of noise. Our work was no exception, but the problem in those early days was to find a model that could be understood by lay people. The press plumped for The Alice-in-Wonderland model, after we described episodes in which our patients regressed to childhood and felt themselves to have shrunk in size. Psychiatrists working in mental hospitals made schizophrenia their model, not very convincingly as it happened. Religious thinkers and philosophers saw the drug as inducing mystical and religious experience.

The stir created by our work was as nothing to the noise generated by the street use of LSD in the Sixties. This has no medical interest except as a social phenomenon and for the doctor who is called on to treat one of its victims. Once this had happened there was no further possibility, in my view, of the valid therapeutic use of LSD. It may be that LSD will once again play a part in the practice of psychotherapy, but not yet.

Yours faithfully,

RONALD SANDISON

Ledbury,

Herefordshire

17 April

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