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In Swiss Clinical Tests, LSD Relieves Dying Patients’ Anxiety

LSD used in Dr. Gasser's trials. (Photo: MAPS)

LSD used in Dr. Gasser’s trials. (Photo: MAPS)

Terminally ill patients given (LSD) in conjunction with talk therapy reported decreased anxiety, along with intense cerebral adventures, in what is the first controlled trial of the powerful psychedelic drug in more than 40 years.

The LSD-assisted therapy sessions were conducted near Berne, Switzerland by Dr. Peter Gasser on 12 dying patients, most of them suffering from terminal cancer. The results, published in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, reveal the positive, yet sometimes overwhelmingly potent, effects of the banned hallucinogenic drug.

According to the study, the “results indicate that when administered safely in a methodologically rigorous medically supervised psychotherapeutic setting, LSD can reduce anxiety, suggesting that larger controlled studies are warranted.”

Before commencing LSD therapy, Dr. Gasser met with each of the 12 patients in his office for at least two sessions so they could get to know each other and feel comfortable in their setting. Eleven of the 12 test subjects had no prior experience with LSD, which to the uninitiated, alters thought, induces intense hallucinations, alters sense of time and space, and even sometimes produces synesthetic effects in which users may taste sounds, hear colors or have other seemingly incongruous sensory experiences.

Test subjects were administered capsules containing an experimental dose of 200µg (micrograms) of LSD supplied by the Swiss company Lipomed. The patients underwent two full-day supervised sessions, spaced two to three weeks apart.

“I told them that each session would be right here, in a safe environment, and I am a part of it,” Dr. Gasser told the New York Times. “I said, ‘I can’t guarantee you won’t have intense distress, but I can tell you that if you do, it will pass.'”

Patient experiences varied. Some wept. One 67-year-old man said he encountered his dead father, from who he’d been estranged, nodding in approval from somewhere out in deep space. Another patient, who only used his first name, Peter, said that since he’d never taken LSD before, he was feeling “dread.”

“There was a fear that it could all go wrong, that it could turn into a bad trip,” the 50-year-old Austrian social worker told the Times.

“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,” said Peter. “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.”

When the trip was over, the eight participants who had received full doses of LSD showed improvement of about 20 percent on standard anxiety tests. The four patients who did not take full doses got worse. In those who have survived, the results have held up for a year, although Gasser told the Times the trial was too small to be conclusive. More studies should be conducted, he said.

Brad Burge, communications and marketing director at the Santa Cruz, California-based Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), which funded, designed and helped coordinate the Swiss study, told Moral Low Ground that LSD “has immense untapped therapeutic potential.”

“The stigma against psychedelic research is finally lifting, and we’re getting concrete results showing that psychedelics can be safely and effectively used in the context of therapy,” Burge said. “Like any drug, LSD has risks as well as benefits, and we’re finding the safest and most beneficial ways to use it.”

Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) was first synthesized in Switzerland by Albert Hoffmann of Sandoz Laboratories (now Novartis) in 1938 from ergotamine, which is derived from a grain fungus. In addition to its therapeutic uses, the drug was the subject of extensive CIA study for use in mind control experiments in which unwitting test subjects were dosed, resulting in at least one mysterious death.

LSD really entered the national consciousness as a conscious-altering psychedelic drug during the 1960s, with prominent counterculture figures such as Timothy Leary urging American youth to “turn on, tune in and drop out.” Millions heeded his advice. A panicked establishment rushed to outlaw LSD despite its immense therapeutic potential, a knee-jerk reaction that would play out all over again in the 1980s with MDMA (ecstasy).

But as with ecstasy and psilocybin, the psychoactive component of “magic” mushrooms, serious researchers are now turning to LSD to study its potential for treating a wide range of afflictions.

“Before LSD was criminalized, thousands of people were legally treated with it for alcoholism as well as for anxiety and depression associated with advanced-stage illness,” Burge told Moral Low Ground. “Addiction treatment is a major area where LSD and other psychedelics are being found to have incredible potential, and we’re conducting promising research in that area as well.”

Burge also says LSD can have “uses beyond just medical,” including for “spirituality and creativity.”

“We’re hoping that in the future that will be safely and legally possible too,” he said.

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One Comment

  1. MichelleMarch 10, 2014 at 8:44 pmReply

    So what happens if this goes in reverse, and instead they go into a bad trip?

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