First Study of LSD's Psychotherapeutic Benefits in Four Decades Breaks Research Taboo



Today The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease published results from the first study of LSD's therapeutic potential in humans to appear in more than four decades. The controlled, double-blind study, which was conducted in Switzerland under the direction of Swiss psychiatrist Peter Gasser, measured the impact of LSD-assisted psychotherapy on 12 people with life-threatening diseases (mainly terminal cancer). "The study was a success in the sense that we did not have any noteworthy adverse effects," Gasser says. "All participants reported a personal benefit from the treatment, and the effects were stable over time."

Initially eight subjects received a full 200-microgram dose of LSD while the other four got one-tenth as much. After two LSD-assisted therapy sessions two to three weeks apart, the subjects in the full-dose group experienced reductions in anxiety that averaged 20 percent, as measured by the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, while the other subjects became more anxious. When the low-dose subjects were switched to the full dose, their anxiety levels went down too. The positive effects persisted a year later. "These results indicate that when administered safely in a methodologically rigorous medically supervised psychotherapeutic setting, LSD can reduce anxiety," Gasser and his colleagues conclude, "suggesting that larger controlled studies are warranted."

One of Gasser's co-authors, Rick Doblin, executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), tells The New York Times the pilot study is "a proof of concept," since "it shows that this kind of trial can be done safely, and that it's very much worth doing." Doblin, whose organization sponsored the study, says it "marks a rebirth of investigation into LSD-assisted psychotherapy," which was the subject of more than 1,000 scholarly articles before the drug was banned in the 1960s. 

One of the subjects, a middle-aged Austrian social worker suffering from a degenerative spine condition, reports that "my LSD experience brought back some lost emotions and ability to trust, lots of psychological insights, and a timeless moment when the universe didn't seem like a trap, but like a revelation of utter beauty." He tells the Times: "I will say I have been more emotional since the study ended, and I don't mean always cheerful. But I think it's better to feel things strongly—better to be alive than to merely function."

MAPS has more information on the study here.