LSD-assisted therapy refers to a type of therapy in which LSD is used as a tool to help the patient gain greater insight into their inner world and make headway in the therapeutic process. Various forms and therapy methodologies can be combined with LSD. Therapists have used LSD in clinical trials geared toward research and in unregulated underground settings. LSD-assisted therapy was used above ground before the substance was made illegal in the 1960s.
Things to Know
- LSD-assisted therapy refers to ingesting LSD in the context of therapeutic sessions before, during, and after the LSD experience
- LSD-assisted therapy was first explored in the 1950s before it became illegal under the Controlled Substances Act of 1971
- LSD therapy is currently being investigated at a number of research institutions for the treatment of addiction, depression, anxiety, and other conditions
LSD-assisted psychotherapy refers to the use of LSD in the context of a therapeutic process, led by one or two trained practitioners. It differs from personal or recreational in that it takes place within a clinical framework and is based on talk therapy between a patient and therapist. The patient typically takes a dose of LSD at the start of the session and the practitioner remains with the patient for the session’s duration.
The practice of LSD-assisted therapy is currently being investigated in clinical research settings for its potential in treating a number of mental health conditions, including depression, PTSD, and addiction. However, it is not presently approved by the FDA as a legal treatment. Nonetheless, the use of LSD for therapeutic treatments does take place in underground settings.
LSD-assisted psychotherapy emphasizes the importance of set and setting: the individual’s mindset going into a psychedelic experience, including their intentions and mental, emotional, and spiritual preparation, as well as the external factors that influence the therapeutic journey.
Sessions take place in a clinical setting, which often includes a couch where the patient can lie down. The patient is also frequently encouraged to wear an eye mask, which often helps facilitate a more internal journey. A music playlist listened to with headphones is also common.
LSD-assisted psychotherapy also may include intensive and structured sessions, including at least one preparatory therapy session in advance of the dosing session, and integration sessions that happen afterwards. The treatment offered by therapists before, during, and after the LSD experience is intended to provide support and guidance to help the individual process and benefit from their insights.
During LSD therapy, patients sometimes have an opportunity, under guided supervision, to explore shadow work, or in other words, repressed or hidden parts of themselves, within the subconscious often stemming from trauma. Because the LSD experience can be variable and often unpredictable, a patient may also have a challenging experience (colloquially called a “bad trip”), which the assistance of a therapist or trusted and skilled guide can help ease and mitigate.
Because psychedelic-assisted therapy can have a significant impact on the patient’s mental health and well-being, therapists conducting this work are trained in psychedelic-assisted therapy and other therapeutic skills. Guiding patients through a psychedelic experience is often distinctly different from other therapeutic processes and requires attention, care, training and experience.
History of LSD Therapy
LSD was initially investigated by Albert Hofmann as a drug to potentially help treat respiratory issues. In the early 1950s, pioneering psychiatrists in the U.S. and Europe recommended LSD as an adjunct to therapy, using moderate doses of LSD to facilitate the exploration of unconscious material and facilitate insights and emotional processing during a therapy session. When LSD was legal in the 1950s and 1960s, psychiatrists investigated the compound for the treatment of various conditions including anxiety, depression, alcoholism, and end-of-life care.
One of these pioneering researchers was British psychiatrist Humphry Osmond, who is credited for coining the term “psychedelic.” In 1951, Osmond moved to Saskatchewan, Canada and established a lab to study LSD’s effects, initially with schizophrenic patients and then with alcoholics. Working with, among others, Canadian biochemist, physician and psychiatrist Dr. Abram Hoffer, MD, PhD., Osmond established the high dose psychedelic treatment model—which engenders a transcendent state of consciousness. This is in contrast to a low-dose psycholytic model meant to make psychotherapy more effective through “a release of repressed psychic material, particularly in anxiety states and obsessional neurosis”.1
This research and form of therapy continued into the 1960s as LSD became more popular among some therapists, and continued to attract attention in the research community. Researchers at Harvard University became especially interested in investigating LSD, especially Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert and Ralph Metzner. Once the use of LSD became more widely used outside the therapeutic context, especially by young people, artists and social activists, the U.S. government prohibited the compound under the Controlled Substances Act, and LSD-assisted therapy was pushed into underground settings. Today scientists at institutions like Imperial College London have once again begun to investigate the therapeutic uses of LSD and have received government permission to study the compound for a variety of indications.
The last FDA-approved LSD clinical studies with humans in the U.S. were done in the 1980s . International clinical research on LSD has continued. In the early 2000s, a handful of research studies emerged that investigated the effects of LSD on various conditions. Modern study models are carefully designed to manage risk and provide for improved clinical control and safety. While initial findings are positive, this field is nascent. Recently the biotech company MindMed announced a study on LSD-assisted therapy for anxiety.
LSD as a Treatment
Even with promising research, the unpredictable impact of LSD and its historical demonization by governments and law enforcement make safety a primary concern for any future therapeutic use. Research indicates that LSD is generally well-tolerated by subjects in therapeutic settings. Today, LSD is being studied as a treatment for anxiety, mood disorders, alcoholism, and more.