First Controlled Study of LSD-assisted Psychotherapy in more than 40 Years!

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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.

Also

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.

Methods:

  • 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

Safety:

There were no adverse effects often attributed to LSD such as prolonged anxiety (‘‘bad trip’’) or lasting psychotic or perceptional disorders (flashbacks)

Results:

  • 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

Limitations:

  • As a pilot study, this study had limited sample size, which reduced precision in effect size estimates and significance testing

Conclusion:

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.

 

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