My last few posts have looked at the history of LSD — here, here and here.

It is useful to read these entries before moving on to this final instalment in the LSD story.

LSD refuses to die, despite all the real-life mental illness and deaths associated with its use and abuse. Just as in earlier North American experiments from the late 20th century, it is still seen as a beneficial drug.

Alcoholism treatment – Norway (2012)

Most people who know something about alcoholism know that, for decades, an alcohol abuser can enter any number of hospitals for detox treatment.

This one-off treatment used to be rather onerous, albeit effective. I knew someone who went through a three-day detox with the appropriate non-hallucinogenic drugs in the 1980s. Today’s regimen sounds better, as described by a German discussing his friend who used it to effectively detox from GBL (emphases mine):

So to finally quit, he went to an hospital, told the doctors everything about his habits and they decided to put him in a detox program. He got Clomethiazol (192mg capsules), 4 times a day with decreasing dose. He was in the clinic for 5 days, the doses went down very fast. He didn’t have any withdrawal symptoms at all, only a bit of sweating in the first night. As i visited him, he was quite happy and had neither psychic nor physical problems. No craving at all. Since then, he is clean of GBL and has no intention to do it again. He is doing an ambulant therapy, where he talks to a doctor every week.

So if you have the possibility and the need of detoxing from GBL in a hospital, I can only tell you to do it this way. He told his boss he had some minor illness and only missed 3 days of work without anyone there knowing what was up (even though he went to work on GBL for several months). He didn’t have to do anything in the hospital, he was just lieing around in bed the whole day.

(FYI: The same detox is used on heavy alcoholics. Clomethiazol is used to keep your body safe in this time.)

Nonetheless, a group of Norwegian scientists wants to use LSD to treat alcoholism. Medical News Today recaps their research published in the March 8, 2012 issue of the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

Excerpts from Medical News Today‘s article follow. It begins by mentioning the experiments done from the 1950s through the 1970s. The Norwegian researchers looked at the six most promising studies from this time period:

The authors of this new study, Teri Krebs and Pål-Ørjan Johansen, researchers currently affiliated to the Department of Neuroscience at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), suggest the reason that medical interest in LSD gradually waned was probably while the earliest studies showed promising results, they also had design problems …

So they took a closer look at six published experiments that they regarded as having scientifically sound methodology and put them through a rigorous quantitative meta-analysis. Those trials had randomly assigned patients to receive either LSD or a comparison treatment.

Between them, the six studies totalled 536 volunteer patients, mostly men, who were all receiving alcoholism treatment. The trials had taken place in the US or Canada between 1966 and 1970.

Hmm. How many of them were servicemen, one wonders?

Once again, as in the 1960s, the researchers trotted out the false notion that LSD is anodyne with no side effects:

Krebs and Johansen conclude that their results unambiguously show that LSD helped patients heavily addicted to alcohol and made it less likely they would relapse: “a single dose of LSD had a positive treatment effect that lasted at least six months”, they write.

Yet, the existing non-hallucinogenic three- to five-day detox with Clomethiazol lasts a lifetime.

Never mind. The researchers from Norway made rather ambiguous statements:

“There has long been a need for better treatments for addiction. We think it is time to look at the use of psychedelics in treating various conditions,” they urge.

The authors say they don’t know how LSD works to treat alcohol addiction. They explain that we know the drug is non-toxic and non-addictive, and that it has a “striking effect on the imagination, perception and memories”.

And we know that it interacts with a particular serotonin receptor in the brain. Perhaps it stimulates the “formation of new connections and patterns”, thereby creating an “awareness of new perspectives and opportunities for action,” they speculate.

‘Opportunities for action’? What does that mean? Furthermore, they admit their ignorance on the exact interaction of LSD with the brain. Yes, that sounds like a well-researched rationale for treating alcoholics with it (irony alert).

Their argument falls further with the results achieved in these six studies. They are far from stellar and they involve continuing treatment. The researchers also advocate a ‘full’ dose, which when first performed decades ago resulted in mental illness and schizophrenia in a number of cases; American servicemen who participated in these experiments in Maryland are now attempting to find out what they were given and in what doses. Yet, the Norwegian researchers purported:

In all of the studies, the results showed that the patients who received the full LSD dose fared the best.

“On average, 59% of full-dose patients showed a clear improvement compared with 38% in the other groups,” say the authors.

The patients who received the LSD dose were less likely to relapse into problematic alcohol use, and were more likely to abstain altogether.

The greatest improvements were during the first few months of treatment. This wore off with time. Perhaps this suggests repeated doses might work better.

The mind boggles, especially when a safe detox treatment already exists.

However, it will come as no surprise that one of the principal centres of LSD experiments provided the studies to the Norwegians:

The Research Council of Norway financed the study which was conducted during a research stay at Harvard Medical School.

It was at the Harvard Psychedelic Drug Research Center where Timothy Leary and other CIA contractors, including Henry ‘Harry’ Murray worked.  Murray experimented on Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, in the early 1960s.

One can only hope the Norwegian government takes this no further. The same mistakes will no doubt be made, especially with ‘full doses’.

There is nothing new under the sun and this proves it.

Depression – UK (2014)

I have written before about Professor David Nutt from London’s Imperial College.

Nutt is the main personality from the medical world promoting drugs and condemning tobacco and alcohol, placing them next to heroin in terms of toxicity and fatality.

Nutt’s chart tells us that he considers LSD to be the safest of drugs with ketamine — often resulting in bladder replacement — coming second.

His research has been all over the UK media for several years. There are many television presenters and journalists who believe what he says and advocate illegal drugs over tobacco and alcohol on daytime programmes. One example is Matthew Wright, host of Channel 5’s morning show The Wright Stuff.

Nutt was a medical adviser to the previous Labour government until he was dismissed for spurious statements, one of them being that ecstasy was safer than horse riding.

He continues to press on with his advocacy of illicit drugs and, along with Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, hopes to restart LSD and other hallucinogenic experiments in the UK in 2015.

An Observer article dated October 5, 2014 has the story. Excerpts follow:

Next year, if all goes to plan, a dozen patients with clinical depression will be invited to a UK laboratory and given psilocybin – the psychedelic ingredient found in magic mushrooms. Over the next four or five hours, many of these volunteers will experience dream-like euphoria as colours, smells and sounds become more intense, perception of time distorts and their sense of self dissolves. Some may feel a surge of electricity through their bodies, sudden clarity of thought or hilarity. Others may experience anxiety, confusion or paranoia. These hallucinogenic effects will be short-lived, but the impact of the drug on the volunteers could be long-lasting ...

Nutt and Carhart-Harris have already used MRI scanners to study changes in the brain while 15 volunteers took psilocybin. A similar study on 20 volunteers given LSD has just finished.

This article also mentions the ‘moral panic’ that caused LSD experiments to cease in the 1960s. I feel for those participants whose lives have been ruined as a result. It was much more than ‘moral panic’ — it was irreversible mental illness and experimenting with other harmful hallucinogens which had to stop.

Nonetheless, Nutt maintains:

It led to a lot of people believing these drugs were more harmful than they were. They are not trivial drugs, but in comparison with drugs that kill thousands of people a year, like alcohol, tobacco and heroin, they have a very safe track record and, as far as we know, no one has died.

Yet, many over-50s will have read of reports from the late 1960s and early 1970s when people did die from an LSD overdose. There is a fine line between saying that, technically, the drug is not toxic and acknowledging the effect that LSD has on the brain, which can differ from day to day and dose to dose. Addiction Blog explains. Excerpts follow (although I disagree with the tone of the article which seems to put forward the idea that, essentially, LSD is safe):

Cases of fatal overdose on acid are possible, but rare. Emergency room and EMS data supports the claims that, while not often, deaths can occur when a person takes LSD. This is particularly true when it is mixed with alcohol. Cases of acid trips have been reported where overstimulation of the nervous system triggered heart attack, stroke or respiratory failure. Again, these cases are rare.

A number of deaths can be indirectly linked to ingestion of acid. The actual causes of death however are not always from the actual drug itself. Some people who take LSD die because their minds trick them into doing dangerous things. And LSD-related deaths generally occur due to suicide, accidents, and dangerous behavior. Also, there is the possibility that poisonous additives may have been mixed with the drug, amplifying its danger and unpredictability …

The question you may need to ask yourself, is it really worth the risk?

Yes — that is the essential question.

Back now to Nutt and his current studies. He and his colleagues are working with the Beckley Foundation headed by:

English aristocrat Amanda Feilding, the Countess of Wemyss and March. After taking LSD in the 1960s she became fascinated with its potential for creativity and enhancing understanding.

Her foundation supports and initiates research into psychoactive substances – including LSD, magic mushrooms and cannabis, a plant used in medicine for thousands of years. “By prohibiting research into this category of substance, because of a social misconception, we are depriving suffering ill people from a potential treatment which has a very long history,” she says.

Like the Norwegian researchers, the Imperial-Beckley Foundation people admit they do not understand how LSD works on the brain, either:

The mechanisms of LSD are still poorly understood. It seems to mimic some actions of the brain chemical serotonin, which is involved in memory formation, mood and reward, but how it triggers such powerful altering effects isn’t clear.

It is incredible, then, that they can claim it is the safest drug around — moreso than tobacco and alcohol.

The article adds:

The Imperial/Beckley MRI research showed that brains of volunteers on LSD become less organised and more chaotic, while parts of the brain that would not normally communicate with each other link up. In this disorganised dream-like state, the brain is open to new leaps of creativity and flights of fancy. Dr Carhart-Harris believes that hallucinogens may temporally “loosen” the rigid structures of the brain, which have developed as we age. An acid trip is a bit like shaking up a snow globe. This loosening could help the brain break the cycles of addiction and depression.

That sounds as if the outcome is highly unpredictable — from person to person, from trip to trip.

One also wonders whether certain parts of the brain are not meant to link up. I would also question the irresponsible use of phrases such as ‘new leaps of creativity and flights of fancy’ as well as ‘shaking up a snow globe’, both of which makes hallucinogens sound vaguely harmless.

The article goes on to discuss magic mushrooms and skunk.

Would Tobacco and Alcohol Control agree? That is the big question I would like to see answered.

What follows are comments from the few Observer readers who disagree, at least in part, with Nutt and Co.

treebear1: … In my experience it doesn’t make passive individuals. Quite the opposite.

Milesawayfromhere: … In my experience there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach in these matters – they are very good for some people and very bad for others and in most cases underlying problems that were there before the drugs are the real issues. Humans just vary massively and you can’t be generally psychologically prescriptive for all of them when it comes to psychedelics. A practitioner with experience and a well-trained eye should be able to tell who would benefit and who would not after only a few sessions of psychotherapy in advance … For example most people who take Ibogain for addiction issues are already struggling with a multitude of other issues anyway. You can either paper over the cracks with prescription drugs or face the issues full on. The latter will not always be pretty.

Vincent Tayelrand: Suffering from depressions most of my life I have followed this growing trend to treat mental illnesses with psychedelic drugs for many years and have spoken to many people who went through these (illegal) programs.

It is not a sure cure for all, especially where depressions are involved

For some it can be a life changing, even life saving, reset of the brain, but for most nothing actually changes for the better in the long run.

It would be nice for a change if we put some money into research aimed at preventing depresion related mental illnesses instead of making billions by treating these patients with dangerous drugs.

TheyCallMeMrBlack: The health benefits? I took a lot of all this s[tuff] in my twenties and I can tell you there are no health benefits. There are however a lot of health issues awaiting users.

It is incredible that we are still talking about hallucinogens as we were in the late 1960s. It is even worse that so many young users (see the rest of the comments) agree with Professor Nutt.