PSYCHEDELIC LSD RESEARCH
By A. Kurland, W. Pahnke, S. Unger, C Savage and S. Grof.
Reviewed by Tom Huckabee
This is a concise summation of the most prominent research done in the nascent field of psychedelic psychotherapy, circa 1969. Lamenting the fact that the demise of such research might be imminent--due to LSD's growing popularity as a street drug--it is directed at the medical community, as an argument in favor of continued inquiry. Emphasizing the positive results from studies of the recent past, it also speculates on an exciting future for the field, if government restrictions can be avoided. The major areas explored are programs involving alcoholics, narcotic addicts and cancer patients.
It credits Humphry Osmond as the first to propose (in the mid 50's) that LSD might be used to treat alcoholism. Subsequently, several groups of clinicians conducted trials with alcoholics and published claims of beneficial--if enigmatic--results. In their wake, questions arose about how non-pharmacological factors affected their results.
Not until 1963, when the National Institute of Mental Health backed a double-blind study at Spring Grove Hospital, was the efficacy of LSD in the treatment of alcoholism widely publicized and accepted. The importance of set and setting was clarified at Spring Grove, as well as the essential role of psychotherapy. Other conclusions of the study were that people administering the drug and running the sessions should be highly trained and their subjects carefully chosen in order to insure favorable consequences. Interestingly enough, it is noted that the subjects who benefited the most were those that received a single high dose of LSD.
The phenomenological difference between narcotics and psychedelics is defined,
listing five major potential experiences unique to psychedelics: 1) Psychotic
2) Cognitive 3) Creative
4) Psychodynamic and 5) Cosmic. Three types of therapeutic models are described with corollary reactions expected from subjects undergoing the different approaches. They are a) psycholytic b) psychedelic-chemotherapy and c) psychedelic-peak therapy.
Regarding safety, it is noted that of the three hundred patients treated at Spring Grove, and a sister study at Maryland Psychiatric Research Center, no one experienced any long-term negative effects. Out of the entire group, there were two "post-LSD disturbances," which subsequently responded to conventional treatment.
A clinical trial on cancer patients at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore indicated that LSD was effective in lowering anxiety, depression and the fear of death--not to mention the amount of pain medication required--in two-thirds of the subjects. While not all the patients were helped, none were harmed.
The experience of a middle-aged woman suffering depression and anxiety is recounted. Her breast cancer had metastasized to the bones and rendered her unable to walk. During her first session, she confronted her deepest fears and experienced moments of joy, exclaiming: "This is one of the happiest days of my life." She left the hospital cheerful and hopeful, dedicating herself to regaining the use of her legs through physical therapy. To the surprise of her doctors, she was able a few months later to walk down the aisle at her daughter's wedding without the use of a cane.
The infamous accusation against LSD regarding chromosomal damage is disputed, citing blood tests-performed on sick and healthy individuals-which found no evidence of the claim. It is speculated that studies which indicated otherwise were performed on subjects who had taken tainted LSD and/or suffered from illnesses which caused the damage wrongly attributed to LSD.
Interviews with narcotic addicts revealed that the patients' reported a distinct difference between heroin and LSD: where heroin offered an escape from their problems, LSD forced a therapeutic confrontation.
It is acknowledged that LSD by itself is not very effective in treating mental illnesses--especially alcoholism--inferring that the conclusions of less successful studies were of this sort. Therefore, it is always advisable that psychotherapy be combined with psychedelics in order to achieve positive therapeutic results. The importance of set and setting and the proper training of project administrators are also emphasized.
In the end, the writers envision an exciting future for psychedelic therapy, listing a few types of individuals who might benefit from it: 1) creative artists experiencing "blockage" 2) elderly persons who find themselves living a vegetative existence 3) people approaching death 4) people with malignant mental illness and 5) people who are isolated from society and their natural environment due to their vocations, i.e. astronauts and polar researchers.
A substantial bibliography is cited at the end of the article.
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