‘Hitting highs at rock bottom’: LSD treatment for alcoholism, 1950–1970

This commentary paper (2006) traces the history of LSD as a treatment for alcoholism from 1950-1970.

Abstract

“In the 1950s, researchers in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan began treating alcoholics with d-lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and achieved significant rates of recovery. Psychiatrists, including Humphry Osmond who coined the term ‘psychedelic’ while working in Saskatchewan, believed that the successful treatment of alcoholism with biochemical means would scientifically prove that the condition was a disease and not the result of a weak or immoral character. Initial experiments demonstrated unprecedented rates of abstinence among alcoholics treated with LSD. The approach gained support from the provincial government, local chapters of Alcoholics Anonymous and the Bureau of Alcoholism, all of which collaborated in a public campaign that supported LSD treatments. Although Alcoholics Anonymous endorsed psychedelic therapy, the Addictions Research Foundation did not. The leading Canadian authority on addictions disputed the findings in Saskatchewan and challenged these advocates of psychedelic treatments to conduct trials with proper controls. Despite subsequent efforts to demonstrate that the success of psychedelic therapy relied on both medical and non-medical factors, the treatment failed to satisfy current medical methodology, embodied in controlled trials. By the late 1960s, LSD had become a popular recreational drug and gained media attention for its association with counter cultural youth, social disobedience and anti-authoritarian attitudes. All this served further to erode support for its clinical status.”

Author: Erika Dyck

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