LSD in the Treatment of Alcoholics
Kurland, Savage, Pahnke, Grof, Olsson 1971
Maryland State Psychiatric Research Center, Baltimore

Reviewed by Oliver Mandrake

The article gives a short overview of prior attempts of treating alcoholics
with LSD, utilizing what was called it's psychotomimetic activity ("inducing
psychotic alteration of behavior and personality" - Miriam Webster). It was
expected to produce a delirium tremens like state. While there was no
success with this method, it was discovered that patients that had had a
positive experience under LSD did in fact show improvement. Osmond proposed
in 1956 that a "single overwhelming transcendental experience" with a
psychedelic could help alcoholics overcome their addiction. Several
controlled and uncontrolled studies followed where patients were given LSD
with little or no before and after therapy. These studies showed not much
difference between those patients given LSD and the control groups without.

The study described in this article used a different approach. Its main goal
was to achieve a "peak or transcendental experience" during the drug
session, embedded in several weeks of intensive psychotherapy before and
after the drug experience. Special attention was given to the integration of
the drug experience during the follow up sessions. The authors define this
approach as "Psychedelic Peak Therapy".

For this double blind controlled study at Spring Grove State Hospital 135
alcoholic patients were randomly divided into two groups, 90 for high dose
(450mcg), and 45 for low dose (50mcg) treatment. Both groups received on
average the same amount of pre and post drug session treatment, and all were
treated alike - the therapists did not know to which group a person
belonged. Most patients received only one LSD session, results for 18
persons that had more than one were later analyzed separate, since they
received more average hours of treatment. Comprehensive psychological tests
were administered just prior to acceptance into the program, and one week
after the LSD session. More limited tests where done at 6, 12, and 18 months
follow up sessions.

The article provides many statistics, graphs, and tables showing the
comprehensive results of these tests. The most interesting outcome was that
there was little to no longterm difference between the high and low dose
group, except at the 6 month follow up, where the high dose groups showed
better results. In regards to drinking behavior the high dose group showed
53% improvement at 6 months, vs. 33% of the low dose group. At 12 and 18
months the groups leveled out, at 18 months the high dose group showed 54%
improved, the low dose group 47%. Since the random distribution of the
patients had some flaws and not all were available for the follow up
studies, other calculations were used to show that the difference is really
only significant at the 6 month point. Further study is necessary and the
fact that the high dose group showed much better results after 6 months is

Overall the success rate was still much better than somewhat comparable
studies without the use of psychedelics. At the 18 months point over 50% of
the patients where helped, compared to only 12% in a prior study without
psychedelics at the same hospital. The fact that one single administration
of a psychedelic drug combined with dedicated therapy can have such an
impact on this hard to treat class of patients can not be ignored.

If you wish to read the entire paper on the Erowid site, click here. Here one may
read an abstract if available. To read the entire paper, click on full text in the
black box on the left-hand side. If you do not have a rapid server, it may take
some time for the PDF article to come up.

Home | About Us | Culture | Events | Links | Museum | Projects | Reviews | Science | Voices | What's New

(c) 2002