LSD: Therapeutic Effects of the Psychedelic Experience
C. Savage, E. Savage, J.Fadiman, W.Harman

Psychological Reports, 1964,14,111-120

Review by Oliver Mandrake

(Note: we suggest you first read "The Psychedelic Experience - A New Concept in Psychotherapy" which we reviewed here.)

Summary from the article:
"Preliminary results of a study of psychedelic therapy are reported. Patients receive LSD and mescaline in a supportive setting following intensive preparation. Subjective questionnaire data from 113 patients reveal a high frequency of claimed benefit, low frequency of negative reaction, and a high relation between claimed benefit and reported "greater awareness of ultimate reality" through the LSD xperience. Clinical data on 74 cases including blind ratings of MMPI * profiles substantiate the claimed improvement rate. Cases in each of five improvement categories are summarized and before, 2 months after, and 6 months after MMPI data are included. Total improvement rate is above 80%. Follow-ups range from 6 months to 2 years."

This article summarizes results in LSD psychotherapy. Aside from Osmond's definition of psychedelic as "mind manifesting" the authors further define it as a "temporary expansion of consciousness due to not yet understood changes in cortical and sub-cortical functioning." It is argued that "one single psychedelic experience induced by a high dose of LSD maybe be followed by associated behavioral changes in the direction of self-actualization." It is stressed that such an experience can only be beneficial if it is conducted in a secure setting with adequate emotional support, otherwise it will result in confusion and paranoia.

Sherwood, Stolaroff, and Harman illustrate the general procedure of a high dose psychedelic experience in the article "The Psychedelic Experience - a new Concept in Psychotherapy." To give a very short summary: after careful patient screening and preparation, a dose of LSD, followed by a dose of mescaline is administered. During the all day session the patient receives emotional support, and follow up sessions and discussions are held over the following months.

The writers use data acquired during prior work with 113 patients, as well as data from then ongoing therapy. A three phase program was developed to assess this approach.
1) A questionnaire was developed and 93 of the 113 responded.
2) Ongoing assessment of current patients at 1month before, immediately after the LSD session, as well as 2 and 6 month follow ups. 74 had reached the 6 month checkpoint and were included.
3) A control study based on these experiences was designed and at the time of writing funds were sought to implement it.

Looking at the work done in the past, 15 items representing positive aspects, and 15 negative aspects were chosen from Ditman and Hayman (1962) and are presented in two tables. Both tables are discussed in greater detail with explanations and examples.

On the negative side, one patient reported mental harm based on a lack of emotional support during the session, though he has recovered at the time the article was written. Some other negative aspects were obsessive ruminations, daydreaming, and fresh martial problems. Further clinical data is given to support the information received in the questionnaire.

On the positive side 83% of the respondents claimed lasting benefits. An interesting side note: improvement rates rise over time if compared between responses given 1-3 months after the session to those given 6 months or longer after the session. Among the positive results listed are: increased ability to love, to handle hostility, communicate and understand self and others, better relations, less anxiety, increased self-esteem and a new way of looking at the world. A correlation between "greater awareness of an ultimate reality" and permanent benefits was observed.

To support the questionnaire data the authors made clinical ratings on 74 patients who had at least 6 months since their last experience. (As the study was still ongoing, this data is only offered as additional illustration.) The results were as follows: marked improvement: 12, moderate improvement: 22, minimal improvement: 26, no change: 13, worse: 1.

Six case studies are given to illustrate each of these results. They are based on non-weighted pooling of the clinical data and psychological data. The later included before and after MMPIs with blind evaluation and the Leary Interpersonal Check List, as well as an in depth two hour interview. Further detail is available in the full article which can be found at the link below.

In a final discussion four hypotheses to account for these changes are given:
1) From the psychoanalytic point of view: ego loss, loss of differentiation, release of energy, overcoming of fear, and a new world view.
2) Watts (1962) proposed: "under LSD the patient experiences both 'the special value of each organism and it's unique character' and also experience the 'direct sensation of man-and-the-universe as a single pattern of behavior."
3) Sandison proposed: "under LSD the individual contacts the archetypes of his unconscious and derives strength from them."
4) The authors themselves conclude that people live an inauthentic and alienated existence and that illness comes from the failure to see meaning in life. The psychedelic experience brings a profound liberation or enlightment, freeing one to view the world clearly with all defenses and filters lowered. This enlarges the psychic horizon allowing for a richer meaning of life and better self-understanding.

It is noted that these hypotheses are not mutually exclusive.

The article states that the psychedelic experience should not be seen as a replacement or adjunct to traditional therapy, but rather as a new and as of yet little explored avenue with possible additional benefits.

In closing the authors warn that, as with any process, idea or material, psychedelics can and have been used inappropriately in the past, and certainly will be used likewise in the future. But as adverse reactions have been relatively rare they conclude that the psychedelic experience quite possibly can open new avenues to give people hope, increased self-realization, and especially alleviate the devastating symptoms of the mentally ill.

Obviously the authors saw a great future for further studies with psychedelics and psychotherapy. The mostly very positive outcome of these sessions certainly indicates that further study should be undertaken in this field.

* MMPI = Minnesota Multiphase Personality Inventory developed by Hathaway and McKinney in 1943 at the University of Minnesota and still in use today. Please use to find further information

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.

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