Medical Uses for LSD

LSD, short for lysergic acid diethylamide, got its start in a psychiatric research lab in Switzerland in 1938. Decades later it was known as the hallucinogenic party drug of the 1960s. Now it is being studied once again for possible medical applications.

Researchers at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) and Harvard University are investigating a variety of possible medical uses for LSD, such as psychiatric applications and treating chronic headaches. The studies began about a year ago. Currently, UCSF and Harvard University are the only schools in the U.S. to be running human studies on LSD.

In Switzerland, researchers are examining the possible therapeutic effects of the LSD on the intense anxiety experienced by patients with life-threatening disease, such as cancer.

The fact that researchers like Harvard professor Timothy Leary were among the proponents of recreational use of the drug in the '60s helped keep LSD blacklisted on many research campuses. According to UCSF researcher John Mendelson, M.D., that put a lot of researchers off, and it made it very hard for researchers to justify getting back into the field.

While the U.S. federal government made LSD illegal in 1966, the federal government never banned LSD for use in research. But for decades it was nearly impossible to get funding or federal approval.

In 1990, the FDA began researching possible psychedelics (including LSD and psilocybin) use for treating cluster headaches, depression, obsessive compulsion disorder, severe anxiety in cancer patients, post-traumatic stress disorder, alcoholism, and addiction.

But doing the research has not been easy with government funders still leery and drug companies not interested in the compounds they can't patent. That pretty much leaves private donors.

In the Swiss study, the patients who ingested LSD found the experience aided them emotionally, and none experienced panic reactions or other untoward events. One patient reported that the therapy with LSD helped him overcome anxious feelings after being diagnosed with stomach cancer, and the experience with the drug aided his reentry into the workplace.

Another group is also pursuing LSD research. The British-based Beckley Foundation is funding and collaborating on a 12-person pilot study at the University of California, Berkeley, that is assessing how the drug may foster creativity and what changes in neural activity go along with altered conscious experience induced by the chemical.

Whether LSD will one day become the drug of choice for psychotherapy remains in question because there may be better solutions. In the meanwhile, here are a few self-care methods recommended by Mayo Clinic staff for you to use right now if you are suffering from anxiety.

Self-Care Methods for Anxiety

  • Get daily exercise. Exercise is a powerful stress reducer, can improve your mood and can keep you healthy. It's best if you develop a regular routine and work out most days of the week. Start out slow and gradually increase the amount and intensity of exercise.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Avoid fatty, sugary and processed foods. Include foods in your diet that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and B vitamins.
  • Avoid alcohol and other sedatives. These can worsen anxiety.
  • Use relaxation techniques. Visualization techniques, meditation and yoga are examples of relaxation techniques that can ease anxiety.
  • Make sleep a priority. Do what you can to make sure you're getting enough quality sleep. If you aren't sleeping well, see your doctor.

Note: If you are suffering from chronic headaches or any of the other conditions being researched for treatment by LSD, talk to your doctor.


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"Inside LSD." Nattional Geographic Explorer. Web. 20 Apr. 2010.

Mayo Clinic Staff. "Generalized Anxiety Disorder." Mayo Web. 20 Apr. 2010.

R & D Medicines: LSD/Psilocybin for Anxiety-Related and Life-Threatening Illness." the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. Web. 20 Apr. 2010.

Stix, Gary. "LSD Returns - for Psyhotherapeutics." Scientific American. 2009 Oct. Web. 20 Apr. 2010.

Yan, Ellen. "LSD and Shrooms May Treat Cluster Headaches." The Harvard Crismon. 10 Oct. 2008. Web. 20 Apr. 2010.