The hallucinogenic drug LSD could be used to help alcoholics quit or reduce drinking. According to Time’s HealthLand, the data was actually collected in the 60s, but this information comes from a new analysis of the data. Norwegian scientists conducted a meta-analysis, combining the result of six randomized trials that tested the effect of a single dose of LSD for alcoholics on 536 adults. The results showed that 59% of alcoholics stopped or cut back on drinking, compared to 38%, who either took smaller doses or did some other kind of treatment. Only eight cases reported a “bad trip.”
Earlier studies showed that LSD did not effect alcoholism, but the result seems to be related to the fact that not enough study participants to demonstrate effectiveness among different groups. The authors of a new paper describing the study in Journal of Psychopharmacology said, “The effectiveness of a single dose of LSD compares well with the effectiveness of a daily dose of naltrexone (reVia, Vivitrol) acamprosate (Campral), or disfulfiram (Antabuse.)
The study found that the difference between LSD and control groups was statistically significant from two to six months after treatment, but after one year there was no longer a measurable improvement. Considering the persistence of alcoholism, the fact that a single dose was effective for six months is significant.
Using LSD to treat alcoholism is not as unconventional as it seems. According to Time, AA co-founder Bill Wilson was an early advocate of acid treatment for alcohol abuse, unlike some of his followers, Bill never believed that AA was the only way to deal with alcoholism. He took LSD himself in medically supervised experiments along with Aldous Huxley, and described a spiritual experience similar to the one that helped him stop drinking in the first place. Excited about the possibilities of this substance helping others still suffering, he said, “It is a generally acknowledged fact in spiritual development that ego reduction makes the influx of God’s grace possible. If, therefore, under LSD we can have a temporary reduction, so that we can better see what we are and where we are going-well, that might be of some help. The goal might become clearer. So I consider LSD to be of some value to some people, and practically no damage to anyone. It will never take the place of any of the existing means by which we can reduce the ego, and keep it reduced.” Spiritualism was a life-long passion for Wilson.
The rationale used in these early LSD trials with alcoholics was that the powerful drug would “break down” the alcoholic’s ego, and thereby create a spiritual awakening. Ibogaine treatment for heroin addicts is said to work much the same way, as it reduces withdrawal symptoms, it also produces and intense and emotionally exhausting trip. Ibogaine treatment was not discovered in supervised medical trials, but instead a heroin addict, Howard Lotsof, got some of the drug off the street and noticed it reduced his withdrawal symptoms and craving. After that, he stayed of heroin. patented the use of ibogaine for treatment of multiple addictions, and dedicated the rest of his life advocating for more research. Ibogaine treatment is not currently legal in the United States, but there are places where the treatment can be obtained.
Howard Lotsof mentions that when he told some of his heroin addicted friends that ibogaine helped him kick without withdrawal symptoms, many of them also tried it. They, too, reported no withdrawal symptoms, and they no longer felt the physical need for heroin. But unlike Lotsof, his friends had no desire to quit, so they kept using. Lotsof realized that addiction is much more than physical dependence, withdrawal, and craving.
The conclusion? Psychedelic experience-like all other intense life experiences-may offer the potential for growth and change. How people respond, depends on way more than the drug.