A small study suggests that the drug lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) may help reduce anxiety in patients with life-threatening diseases.
The study, published Tuesday in The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, is the first to assess therapeutic use of LSD in over 40 years.
LSD is a semisynthetic psychedelic drug that produces a number of psychological effects, such as synesthesia, increased sensory perception and enhanced mental imagery. Made illegal in the U.S. in 1966, LSD is considered a controlled substance under Canada's Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
For the study, researchers examined 12 participants who had a number of illnesses including Parkinson's disease, terminal cancer and Celiac disease. Over two supervised sessions the patients were given LSD. Eight received a higher dose of the drug while four received a lower dose.
The results of the study showed a significant anxiety reduction after two psychotherapy sessions that involved LSD. Two months following the therapy sessions, anxiety levels in patients who received the full dose had improved by around 20 percent. Anxiety levels among patients who received the lower dosage of the drug had grown worse. The results lasted for up to a year after the sessions.
According to the study's lead author Dr. Peter Gasser, the results show that LSD can be safely administered in supervised therapy.
"The study was a success in the sense that we did not have any noteworthy adverse effects," he said in a statement. "All participants reported a personal benefit from the treatment, and the effects were stable over time."
An Australian social worker named Peter, who participated in the study, had doubts about using LSD.
"I'd never taken the drug before, so I was feeling - well, I think the proper word for it, in English, is dread," he said.
After taking the drug, however, he said he began to think of childhood memories he had not talked about in years.
"I had what you would call a mystical experience, I guess, lasting for some time, and the major part was pure distress at all these memories I had successfully forgotten for decades," he said. "These painful feelings, regrets, this fear of death. I remember feeling very cold for a long time. I was shivering, even though I was sweating. It was a mental coldness, I think, a memory of neglect."
While the study may be too small to yield definite conclusions, it has opened discussion on the illegal drug.
"It's a proof of concept," said Rick Doblin, executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies and a co-author of the study. "It shows that this kind of trial can be done safely, and that it's very much worth doing."