Could a drug known for its psychedelic "acid trips" be used to treat alcoholism?
Norwegian researchers say that lysergic acid diethylamide - also known as the hallucinogenic drug LSD - was used in a few clinics in the 1960s and 1970s to help some alcoholics, and should be revisited once again as a possible treatment, according to a study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.
Teri Krebs and Pal-Orjan Johansen of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology looked back at studies from the 1960s and 1970s and identified six studies with 536 participants that examined the effect LSD had on alcoholism.
"A single dose of LSD had a significant beneficial effect on alcohol misuse at the first reported follow-up assessment, which ranged from 1 to 12 months after discharge from each treatment program," they wrote. The effect lasted about six months.
Participants from three studies reported completely abstaining from alcohol, and this effect lasted between one and three months.
Krebs and Johansen noted that one of the previous study authors stated that after taking LSD, some subjects were able "to become much more self-accepting, to show greater openness and accessibility, and to adopt a more positive, optimistic view of their capacities to face future problems."
"Given the evidence for a beneficial effect of LSD on alcoholism, it is puzzling why this treatment approach has been largely overlooked," Krebs and Johansen wrote.
They added that other studies found that the psychedelic effects of other substances, such as mescaline, psilocybin (found in magic mushrooms) and ayahuasca were "highly valued and beneficial," and indigenous groups have claimed that ayahuasca and peyote helped them stay sober.
But they acknowledged that criticism of the previous studies' reliability and the turbulent history of the infamous drug may also have made it difficult to get approval for clinical trials, which could explain why LSD had never made it to the mainstream as a treatment for alcoholism.
Dr. Ihsan Salloum, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine, is a bit more skeptical of LSD's potential to become a standard treatment option.
"It really has never been a treatment for alcoholism, and it probably would be very controversial to treat alcoholism with something that can potentially cause problems," he said.
"People have tried in the past, and there are also attempts now to give people substances that will provoke some kind of experience, and supposedly this experience changes the craving for the drug, but I think that sounds too good to be true," he said. "This is an area that is very nebulous."
There aren't many options for alcoholism treatment right now, he said. Among the standard therapies are psychotherapy and a few medications.
"We definitely need more treatments, so it would be great if someone can develop something else," Salloum said.