Tripping Your Way to Sobriety


Oct. 16, 2006 — -- Imagine this.

You are hooked on alcohol and you want help getting off the booze.

You go to your doctor, and he or she says, "Drop some acid."

That's right. LSD, the infamous drug of choice for many hippies in the 1960s and '70s.

Lysergic acid diethylamide, the drug that caused hallucinations or "tripping," was, of course, outlawed, giving it immeasurable street cred in its time, before fading away as flower-painted bodies grew into gray-flannel suits.

So, in the 21st century, why would a respected medical doctor even consider prescribing LSD as a wonder drug to help cure alcoholism?

And will it actually happen?

The answer, like an LSD trip, is elusive, but some in the scientific and medical community are beginning to discuss the possible merits of acid for this generation.

Erika Dyck, an assistant professor at the University of Alberta, Canada, researches and teaches the history of medicine.

She raised the issue after studying a series of LSD tests of alcohol-addicted patients carried out in the 1960s in Saskatchewan. The tests were done by British psychiatrists Humphrey Osmond and John Smythies.

She tells ABC News that two-thirds of the alcoholics stopped drinking for at least 18 months after receiving one dose of LSD, compared to 25 percent who stopped after group therapy, and 12 percent after individual therapy.

According to Dyck, even Alcoholics Anonymous endorses the LSD research.

Alcoholics Anonymous "felt that one of the major obstacles to joining Alcoholics Anonymous was 'Step 2, admitting that there is a higher power.'"

Even the co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, Dyck said, "felt that LSD was the first intervention that helped many people to reach this step."

According to Rick W in the organization's New York office, one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous "was supportive in a lot of ways in all kinds of research, so he might very well have written something in support. He also experimented with LSD himself."

Dyck told the Independent newspaper of London, "The LSD somehow gave these people experiences that psychologically took them outside of themselves and allowed them to see their own unhealthy [behavior] more objectively, and then determine to change it."

But those Canadian-based experiments in the '60s were widely criticized by others as either unwise or unreliable.

Amid the growing alarm over LSD abuse by large numbers of young people, the drug, and any potential good use, was locked outside of the establishment.

Now, some scientists around the world are planning to experiment once again with the effects of LSD on psychiatric disorders, possibly even revisiting the question of whether acid can help alcoholics.

"There's a lot of renewed interest in psychedelics in general," Robin Carhart-Harris, a researcher on LSD and psychotherapy at the University of Bristol, in England, said to ABC News.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists in Britain has been discussing the possibility, and Carhart-Harris tells ABC News that Swiss doctors are planning look into LSD for psychotherapy.

"I certainly think it's an interesting subject scientifically," he said. "I think I've heard the analogy of a knife before -- you can use it for positive means, and for negative means."

Ironically, if LSD had stayed in the controlled environment of research labs in the '60s -- and never hit the streets and mixed into the social cauldron that was swirling out of control in places like San Francisco -- the drug might have evolved as a responsible medical treatment for alcoholism and psychiatric illnesses.

It is an intriguing medical issue that scientists can resume work on only if and when governments are ready to view acid as a potential solution, not just an old problem.

Alcoholic Anonymous officials have letters only for their family names. It's part of the cherished tradition at AA of protecting the identity of members.