For the first time in over 40 years, scientists are using LSD, or acid, to alleviate anxiety. LSD is a non-addictive psychedelic drug known for its hallucinogenic experiences, closed-eye visuals, and spiritual awakenings. The DEA has classified LSD as a Schedule I drug, a substance with no accepted medical value and a high potential for abuse. However, that may soon change with the help of the findings from a study published in The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease that shows how LSD has positively changed the lives of 12 terminally ill patients.

The Fear of Dying

Dr. Peter Gasser is the president of the Swiss Medical Society for Psycholytic Therapy, a group working to gain government approval for the medical use of psychedelics. Dr. Gasser hypothesized that the experiences unique to the LSD high could help patients with life-threatening diseases “obtain satisfactory emotional relief" from their unfortunate circumstances.

The 12 participants suffered from terminal cancer. According to Dr. Gasser, terminally-ill patients struggle dealing with:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Chronic pain
  • Unresolved family and relationship issues

The mental and emotional anguish that accompanies terminal diseases often persuades patients to seek psychiatric help. These patients tend to seek out support groups to help them cope with their situation.

The Effects of 200µg LSD

The high from LSD is often referred to as an 'acid trip.' And when one takes LSD, they are said to be 'tripping on acid.' This terminology most likely became popular because most users claim that LSD takes you on a spiritual journey that buries you deeply in introspective thoughts.

Performed as a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, participants were administered 200µg of LSD, two to three weeks apart, 22 times. The effects of each dose would last up to eight hours. During those times, participants were placed in a safe, quiet room. There, patients could lie down on a mattress, or sit in a chair. It is important to keep the participants contained and calm because LSD can potentially induce scary hallucinations. However, under the right conditions, LSD can provoke positive experiences and behavior.

After 22 LSD-assisted psychotherapy sessions, the group showed a positive trend in the reduction of their anxiety. It took only two sessions to start to show a change in the right direction.

New Horizons for Psychotherapy

Scientists aren't sure how LSD affects the brain because psychedelic research has been heavily banned up until now. LSD is believed to release massive amounts of serotonin, a neurotransmitter involved with mood regulation, in the brain. In theory, this over stimulates the neurons in the brain, and may cause difficulties in self awareness. Dr A. Hameed Ali explains this best as "ego death," a mental state in which you truly believe you are alone, and in turn, critically examine yourself to discover your identity. “The crucial thing with LSD is that you can explore these spaces of consciousness. I could cry or shout out loudly out of happiness," noted one participant of the study.

Comments like this suggest that LSD may be granting these terminally-ill patients happiness and emotional fulfillment in their remaining days. However, due the size and specificity of this experiment, Gasser and his team cannot, at this time, conclude that LSD helps all forms of anxiety. Because in some cases, LSD may increase anxiety due to its ability to destroy one's current understanding of life.

Dr. Gasser and his team hope to follow this experiment with a larger scale study that could potentially yield statistically valuable data. Still listed as an illegal Schedule I substance, LSD should not be self prescribed or tampered with.

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Date of original publication:

Updated: October 23, 2015