In the midst of the “Ice Bucket Challenge” craze of going to help raise awareness for another worthy cause, psychedelic research.

I’m going to approach this article a little differently; I’m going to write this as more of a research (past and current) based summary than most typical articles. This is a subject that I am deeply fascinated with and a field that I dream of getting to work in sometime in the future. With that being said, let’s get started!

Face it; millions of people are battling addiction and alcoholism with little success as traditional methods are failing. Using psychedelic drugs, such as LSD, can help treat those who are battling addiction and alcoholism; this treatment can be a beneficial option because, psychedelic drugs can have positive impact on mood and depression which can, therefore, greatly impact treatment success.

Psychedelic drugs such as LSD, psilocybin mushrooms (aka “magic mushrooms” or “shrooms”), as well as MDMA and others, are currently Schedule I substances, meaning they have a high potential for abuse and serve no “known” medical purpose. Research started over 40 years ago and more recently could argue otherwise, however.

By 1965 alone, some 40,000 subjects were shown to respond positively to various psychedelic therapies and over 1,000 research studies were published (X.,Vollenweider, Kometer 2010, pg. 642). Of course with the popular use of psychedelics in the 1960’s, psychedelics became considered dangerous drugs of abuse. Because many of them became scheduled I controlled substances, funding was severely restricted and much of the research was abandoned in the early 1970’s.

Since then it’s become a controversial topic; psychedelic drugs have held a sense of taboo and the stigma of being “brain rotting” chemicals that make a person go insane. Many scientists, medical professionals, and organizations know this is far from the truth and they are working tirelessly to pick up where previous research left off and to prove that psychedelics do, in fact, have many positive, medicinal effects on the human body and mind.

How they work

To understand the nature of psychedelics, one must know what they do and how they work. Psychedelic substances, such as LSD and psilocybin, work by rising serotonin levels in the brain.

LSD (LSD-25) or lysergic acid diethylamide is a semisynthetic ergoline derived from ergot, a fungus that attacks rye grain. It was discovered and synthesized by Albert Hoffman in 1938. LSD (as well as psilocybin) works on 5-HT2A serotonin receptors (as well as other 5-HT receptors) and dopamine D2 receptors (X.,Vollenweider, Kometer 2010, pg. 644).

Other than the well-noted hallucinogenic properties of LSD, “LSD can enhance self-awareness and facilitate the recollection and release of emotionally loaded memories” (X.,Vollenweider, Kometer 2010, pg. 642). The first research study on LSD in humans was conducted in 1947 and the first clinic using LSD in psycho-assisted was in 1953.

Psilocybin is the naturally occurring, hallucinogenic chemical compound that comes from psilocybin mushrooms. These mushrooms consist of over 200 species and grow around the world. Like LSD, psilocybin is a serotonin antagonist that binds to 5-HT2A receptors in the brain. Psilocybin is a tryptamine compound and a pro-drug that is quickly converted to psilocin by the body.

The effects of LSD and psilocybin are very similar and both are considered non-addictive by the medical community and produce no ill or harmful long-term health effects or problems (Luscher & Ungless, 2006). Though used by humans for possibly thousands of years, the psilocybin compound was first isolated and synthesized by Albert Hoffman in 1958.

Psychedelics can treat alcoholism

Early published research on LSD showed promising results in the use of LSD as a treatment of alcoholism. In one of the most famous studies on the subject, published by Yale University and titled,

“The use of LSD-25 in the treatment of alcoholism and other psychiatric problems” from 1961, 100 patients were picked from Hollywood Hospital in British Columbia, Canada, treated with LSD and made vast improvements (MacLean, MacDonald, Byrne, & Hubbard, 1961). Of the 100 patients studied, 61 were diagnosed alcoholics said to be “difficult cases.” 36 were stated to have failed the Alcoholics Anonymous program.

The average years of uncontrolled drinking with the subjects were 14.36 years. These patients were hospitalized an average of 8.07 times for alcoholism in 3 years. Considering these facts, the research results were believed to be “unfavorable.” The other 39 patients in the study were classified as having “other psychiatric disabilities.”

Treatment included; an autobiography written by the patients, a pre-treatment interview, and bloodwork. The dosage of LSD given ranged from 400-1500 gamma; the dosage was administered by mouth and was determined by the patient’s state of mind and defense mechanisms. The closer the patient was to self-acceptance of their condition the lower the typical dose needed.

Post-treatment notes were made and the Blewett’s Psychedelic Scale A was used to rate the experience the next day. Interviews were conducted 1 and 3 weeks after each treatment. Follow-ups were conducted between 3-18 months after treatment with a 6-month questionnaire and survey completed by the patients. A psychiatric interview and appraisal were completed at the end of 1 year.

The results showed that almost all patients (81%) were improved at the end of the study, “30 of the alcoholics and 22 of the other psychiatric patients were much improved; 16 and 13 of the additional alcoholics and other showed some improvement” (MacLean, et al., 1961, pg. 44).

4 patients with alcoholism and brain damage showed no improvement. Much improved status was rated on an overall improvement in daily life, relationships, work-habits, social habits and “complete abstinence from drinking” or only one drink attempted for a period of 12 months.

Some improvement was rated as easily recognizable changes in the areas stated above and a definite reduction in the intake of alcohol compared to the previous 12 months.

The most improvement showed was in the alcoholics without complications and alcoholism with personality disturbances or non-alcoholics with personality disturbances or anxiety reaction neurosis.

One of the patients, a 44-year-old salesman, comment on the experience stating, “This experience has given me quite a bit of awakening and a real good look at myself. It seemed to clear a lot of garbage away; I can see and appreciate things about myself that I never knew existed before.

Although it’s not a ‘cure-all’, it does make you see new ways to enjoying life and accepting the idea that alcohol isn’t a necessity” (MacLean, et al., 1961).

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Amie Moses, B.Sc., B.A.

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