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Treating Alcoholism with an Illicit Drug?

Researchers have tried many approaches to alcohol treatment programs including drug, group and individual psychological therapies with addiction specialists, but one treatment may take the cake for the most far-out option to date: LSD treatment.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, more than six independent trials were conducted to determine if the illicit drug LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) could be used to treat alcoholism. Each of these studies were small in nature, and the trials stopped for a variety of unknown reasons. Researchers now speculate that the size of each trial, troubles with trial methodology, unrealistic hopes for progress and social stigmas about the illicit drug may have influenced the heads of each trial to end the research after only a few years. Additionally, although the use as a research drug was never banned, regulatory agency red tape may have been difficult to overcome when researchers obtained the LSD for their research use.

Now, however, two researchers who are affiliated with the Department of Neuroscience at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Trondheim, Norway, have gathered all of the LSD trial data together to determine if the drug could potentially be a treatment for alcoholism. With the larger trial size available, the researchers, Teri Krebs and Pål-Ørjan Johansen, have determined that the drug may be beneficial to the treatments offered by addiction specialists at alcohol treatment programs, such as the one available at Vista Taos Renewal Center in New Mexico.

The study compiled all of the information from the six small trials, which made the data much more beneficial to science. The researchers narrowed the studies down to six, all of which used purely randomized and scientifically controlled methods. This new set of data includes 536 patients of varying backgrounds rather than the six smaller sub-100 (on average) participant studies. Each of the participants were of sound mind, with no episodes of schizophrenia or psychosis, and most participants were in-patient men at alcohol treatment programs.  

Krebs and Johansen analyzed all of the data to determine that LSD did positively impact those suffering from alcoholism. In fact, the numbers are quite remarkable: 59% of the LSD-treated patients showed improvement while only 38% of the control group were improved. Trial investigators who visited with the patients in the trial at the alcohol treatment program even touted the benefits of LSD, saying that patients in the experimental group had a new lease on life.

Investigators also reported that members of the LSD group often strongly resolved to quit drinking, reported a greater level of insight into their lives and behaviors, became more self-accepting and optimistic, and were much more open and accessible to traditional treatments. All of these combined could help addiction specialists and psychologists better treat patients at alcohol treatment programs.  

Although the experiments varied in both LSD dosage and in placebo drugs used, the data seems to support that LSD was beneficial. Remarkably, even a single dose of low-potency LSD showed improvement in addicts, and the improvement lasted for six to 12 months. This type of lengthy improvement from a single dose of a drug is unprecedented in other trials and treatments.

LSD is not known to be toxic or addictive, but the way that LSD stimulates the mind could become problematic. In high doses, the drug can cause psychedelic episodes, incoherency and intense anxiety, all of which can lead users to become a danger to themselves and to others, especially when unaware of the drug’s effects.

For that reason, LSD should never be used as a self-treatment for alcoholism. Instead, those suffering from alcohol addiction should seek the help of an addiction specialist at an alcohol treatment program. With the help of an addictions specialist, alcoholics can be treated safely and with lasting effects.

However, this study has opened scientists’ minds to the potential use of low-potency LSD as a treatment for alcoholism. As studies progress, scientists may determine a safe level of use for LSD as an additional treatment option within the current alcohol treatment program protocols.

For now, if you or a loved one are suffering from alcohol addiction, seek the assistance of an addiction specialist. It is very important to reiterate that self-treatment of any kind, and particularly self-treatment using an illicit drug like LSD, can be disastrous to an addict and their loved ones. 

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