LSD treatment for alcoholism gets new look

October 06, 2006

For the past five years, Dr. Erika Dyck has been unearthing some intriguing facts related to a group of pioneering psychiatrists who worked in Saskatchewan, Canada in the '50s and '60s.

Among other things, the University of Alberta history of medicine professor has found records of the psychiatrists' research that indicate a single dose of the hallucinogenic drug LSD, provided in a clinical, nurturing environment, can be an effective treatment for alcoholism.

Her findings are published this month in the journal Social History of Medicine.

After perceiving similarities in the experiences of people on LSD and people going through delirium tremens, the psychiatrists undertook a series of experiments. They noted that delirium tremens, also know as DTs, often marked a "rock bottom" or turning point in the behavior of alcoholics, and they felt LSD may be able to trigger such a turnaround without engendering the painful physical effects associated with DTs.

As it turns out, they were largely correct.

"The LSD somehow gave these people experiences that psychologically took them outside of themselves and allowed them to see their own unhealthy behavior more objectively, and then determine to change it," said Dyck, who read the researchers' published and private papers and recently interviewed some of the patients involved in the original studies--many of whom had not had a sip of alcohol since their single LSD experience 40 years earlier.

According to one study conducted in 1962, 65 per cent of the alcoholics in the experiment stopped drinking for at least a year-and-a-half (the duration of the study) after taking one dose of LSD. The controlled trial also concluded that less than 25 per cent of alcoholics quit drinking for the same period after receiving group therapy, and less than 12 per cent quit in response to traditional psychotherapy techniques commonly used at that time.

Published in the Quarterly Journal for Studies on Alcohol, the 1962 study was received with much skepticism. One research group in Toronto tried to replicate the results of the study, but wanted to observe the effect of LSD on the patients in isolation, so they blindfolded or tied up the patients before giving them the drug. Under such circumstances, the Toronto researchers determined LSD was not effective in treating alcoholism.

The Saskatchewan group argued that the drug needed to be provided in a nurturing environment to be effective. However, the Toronto researchers held more credibility than the Saskatchewan researchers--who were led by a controversial, British psychiatrist, Dr. Humphry Osmond--and the Saskatchewan group's research was essentially buried.

But Dyck believes there is value in the Saskatchewan group's experiments.

"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," Dyck said. "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."

In spite of the promise LSD showed as psychotherapy tool, its subsequent popularity as a street drug, and the perception of it as a threat to public safety, triggered a worldwide ban in the late 1960s--including its use in medical experiments. However, the ban on its use in medical experiments appears to be lifting, Dyck noted. A few groups of researchers in the U.S., including a team at Harvard, have recently been granted permission to conduct experiments with LSD.

"We accept all sorts of drugs, but I think LSD's 'street' popularity ultimately led to its demise," Dyck said. "And 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."
-end-
Dr. Dyck can be reached at 780-492-2572 or erika.dyck@ualberta.ca.

University of Alberta

Related Alcohol Articles from Brightsurf:

Alcohol use changed right after COVID-19 lockdown
One in four adults reported a change in alcohol use almost immediately after stay-at-home orders were issued: 14% reported drinking more alcohol and reported higher levels of stress and anxiety than those who did not drink and those whose use stayed the same.

Changes in hospitalizations for alcohol use disorder in US
Changes over nearly two decades in the rate of hospitalizations and in-hospital deaths from alcohol use disorder in the US were examined in this study.

Associations of alcohol consumption, alcohol-induced passing out with risk of dementia
The risk of future dementia associated with overall alcohol consumption and alcohol-induced loss of consciousness in a population of current drinkers was examined in this observational study with more than 131,000 adults.

New alcohol genes uncovered
Do you have what is known as problematic alcohol use?

Does estrogen influence alcohol use disorder?
A new study from researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago shows that high estrogen levels may make alcohol more rewarding to female mice.

Sobering new data on drinking and driving: 15% of US alcohol-related motor vehicle fatalities involve alcohol under the legal limit
A new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, published by Elsevier, found that motor vehicle crashes involving drivers with blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) below the legal limit of 0.08 percent accounted for 15% of alcohol-involved crash deaths in the United States.

Alcohol-induced deaths in US
National vital statistics data from 2000 to 2016 were used to examine how rates of alcohol-induced deaths (defined as those deaths due to alcohol consumption that could be avoided if alcohol weren't involved) have changed in the US and to compare the results by demographic groups including sex, race/ethnicity, age, socioeconomic status and geographic location.

Cuts in alcohol duty linked to 2000 more alcohol-related deaths in England
Government cuts to alcohol taxes have had dramatic consequences for public health, including nearly 2000 more alcohol-related deaths in England since 2012, according to new research from the University of Sheffield's School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR).

Integrated stepped alcohol treatment for people in HIV care improves both HIV & alcohol outcomes
Increasing the intensity of treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD) over time improves alcohol-related outcomes among people with HIV, according to new clinical research supported by the National Institutes of Health.

The Lancet:Targets to reduce harmful alcohol use are likely to be missed as global alcohol intake increases
Increasing rates of alcohol use suggest that the world is not on track to achieve targets against harmful alcohol use, according to a study of 189 countries' alcohol intake between 1990-2017 and estimated intake up to 2030, published in The Lancet.

Read More: Alcohol News and Alcohol Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.