So what’s so special about this study?
Well for starters, it’s the FIRST successful study done on LSD-assisted psychotherapy since the 1970s…so that’s pretty awesome.
It was a double-blind, randomized, active placebo-controlled pilot study conducted to examine safety and efficacy of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD)-assisted psychotherapy in 12 patients with anxiety associated with life-threatening diseases.
Some Background Info:
- LSD is a semi-synthetic compound first synthesized in 1938 by Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann.
- LSD’s effects on brain functioning are complex and not fully understood. LSD influences diverse neurotransmitter systems, but its psychosensory effects are mainly mediated by activation of the 5-HT2A receptors, with significant modulation by 5-HT2C and 5-HT1A receptors
- No neuro-imaging studies have been conducted with LSD, whereas neuro-imaging studies with the LSD-related substances psilocybin and dimethyltryptamine have yielded inconclusive results, presumably because of methodological challenges.
- The few congruent results throughout different studies are activation of the right hemisphere, altered thalamic functioning, and increased activity in paralimbic structures and the frontal cortex.
- “Psycholytic’’ method: used lower doses and frequent sessions to enhance the standard psycho-therapeutic process
- “Psychedelic’’ method: used higher doses in fewer sessions to induce a mystical experience and moments of intense catharsis enabling participants to work through and integrate difficult feelings and situations, thereby reducing anxiety and depression
- The target population of this study was chosen because patients with life-threatening diseases often fail to obtain satisfactory, emotional relief from current treatments.
- Participants: 11 of 12 subjects had no prior experience with LSD. All participants reported a score of greater than 40 on either the state or the trait scale of the Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI). Half of the subjects were diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
- Set: Treatment included drug-free psychotherapy sessions supplemented by two LSD-assisted psychotherapy sessions 2 to 3 weeks apart.
- Setting: The physical environment within which the experimental sessions took place was a safe, quiet, and pleasant room in a private practice office; participants advised to lie on mattress or sit comfortably in chair
- Experimental Drug: Capsules consisting of 200 micro-grams (experimental dose) and 20 micro-grams of LSD (active placebo) were prepared by Bichsel Laboratories. Usually it takes 100 micro-grams for a vivid “trip”. Capsules were of identical size, color, and shape and were bottled in sequentially numbered containers
There were no adverse effects often attributed to LSD such as prolonged anxiety (‘‘bad trip’’) or lasting psychotic or perceptional disorders (flashbacks)
- The primary outcome variable in this study was of the STAI anxiety measure. Patients with life-threatening illnesses confront an existential threat from shortened life expectancy that often causes periods of suffering, pain, and anxiety.
- Congruent with earlier studies, the results in the experimental dose group show a significant reduction in state anxiety, as experienced on a daily basis.
- The experimental dose reduced anxiety when administered in either the blinded treatment or the open-label crossover for the active placebo subjects. These results were stable over time as shown by the 12-month follow-up. A moderate dose (200 micrograms) provided a psychologically manageable first LSD experience.
- Most of the participants stated a preference for more than two LSD sessions and a longer treatment period. The results demonstrated a decrease in STAI scores most prominently after the second LSD session, suggesting that at least two LSD sessions are needed to demonstrate these effects. A longer treatment period with additional LSD sessions and larger doses may be indicated
- As a pilot study, this study had limited sample size, which reduced precision in effect size estimates and significance testing
This pilot study in participants with anxiety associated with the diagnosis of a life-threatening illness has demonstrated safety in 22 psychotherapy sessions assisted by 200 micro-grams of LSD with no drug-related severe adverse events. Group comparison results support positive trends in reduction of anxiety after two sessions of LSD-assisted psychotherapy. In view of promising historical studies with adjunctive LSD treatment in this population and a recent promising study using psilocybin, as well as the urgent need for more effective treatments of anxiety in these participants, further study is warranted into the potential of LSD-assisted psychotherapy.