In 40-Year First, LSD Used in Therapy With FDA OK

In new study, it helped to ease anxiety symptoms

By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff

Posted Mar 6, 2014 7:00 AM CST | Updated Mar 8, 2014 7:00 PM CST

(Newser) – Researchers experimented with LSD in psychiatric treatment until such research was effectively banned in the US in 1966—but now a Swiss psychiatrist has conducted the first controlled trial of the hallucinogenic drug in more than four decades, with US FDA approval. Dr. Peter Gasser's study involved 12 people who were dying, most of terminal cancer, and suffering from "deep anxiety," the Seattle Times reports. After undergoing talk therapy, eight of the patients were given a 200-microgram dose of LSD designed to "produce the full spectrum of a typical LSD experience" on two occasions; the other four received a 20-microgram "active placebo" that wasn't expected to have an impact. They took their 10-hour "trips" in Gasser's office, and, he says, "Their anxiety went down and stayed down."

Specifically, subjects who received full doses of LSD saw a 20% improvement in their anxiety symptoms, and for those who were still alive a year later, the improvement had lasted, the New York Times reports. Those who took the placebo reported increased anxiety. It doesn't sound like a comforting experience at first: The Verge says the purpose of administering the psychedelic drug was to "facilitate discussions about the patients' fears of dying," and one patient reports that "the major part was pure distress at all these memories I had successfully forgotten for decades. These painful feelings, regrets, this fear of death." But he talked about all that with Gasser, something he'd found difficult prior to the trip; the Times refers to such distress as "therapeutically valuable," and many subjects had similar experiences. Other than that, no serious side effects were seen.

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Stock image   (Shutterstock)
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