It might sound far out (man), but it seems LSD can treat alcohol dependency according to a meta-analysis of previous clinical trials.

Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD, or (8β)-N,N-diethyl-6-methyl-9,10-didehydroergoline-8-carboxamide to give it its systematic name, was discovered by Albert Hoffman in 1943 and you can find out more about this amazing compound in our podcast. As mentioned in the podcast, Sandoz, the firm Hoffman worked for, thought that LSD might be useful in treating alcoholism and depression but that all kind of got side-lined with the rise in use of LSD as a mind expanding drug in the 60s.

However, in the 60s and 70s some trials to investigate LSD’s use in treating alcohol dependency were carried out. Teri Krebs and Pål-Ørjan Johansen, of the Department of Neuroscience at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trodheim, Norway, identified six trials that met their criteria for experimental setup and then pooled the results. They found that 59% of patients given a single dose of LSD showed improvement, compared with 38% of the control patients. This positive effect seemed to last between six and 12 months after just a single dose.

Krebs and Johansen don’t know how LSD helps with alcoholism, whether it adjusts brain chemistry, or the trip just helps patients gain more insight into their problems (there’s that expanding the mind thing again), but again it seems that revisiting a compound that has been written off can lead to new uses. Previously, Krebs and Johansen have suggested MDMA can treat post-traumatic stress disorder and of course thalidomide is now being investigated to treat cancer. Perhaps LSD is due for a rethink as well.

The research is published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

Laura Howes

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