Why Some Therapists Want to Treat Patients with LSD, Explained

Why Some Therapists Want to Treat Patients with LSD, Explained

When someone tells you they’re in therapy, their taking LSD as part of that psychotherapy is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. While most of the time your instincts would be spot on, small but meaningful studies being conducted around the globe are beginning to change that. There is growing proof that the clinical use of LSD, in limited doses and for a very short period (usually 1-2 sessions), can have a tremendous positive impact on mental health.

Take for example the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Nearly one in ten Israelis have post-traumatic stress disorder, pushing therapists there to pioneer new ways to treat mental health disorders that can create lasting effects. Despite limited research to date, psychedelic drugs are proving to be an unorthodox treatment method with very promising results.

Although now its status is well outside of mainstream medical research, scientists began investigating possible benefits of psychedelic drugs as therapeutic tools in the mid-twentieth century. Initial experiments did prove worthy of further research, but at the time, social stigmas against drug use were so strong that the administration of psychedelics like LSD (or MDMA) even in a medical setting was considered scandalous. Nixon’s Controlled Substances Act of 1970 made that moral code an official state policy, and LSD (along with other drugs) was classified as a Schedule I Substance with a high potential for abuse and no acknowledged medical benefits. This was a true setback for mental health research.

Over the years, a few dedicated scientists continued to study and eventually test, therapeutic treatments that involved LSD. Today, there are researchers who administer LSD and other psychedelic substances in controlled environments and under the supervision of medical staff, making it possible to conduct studies that live up to the most rigorous research standards. Beyond blanket moral judgments associated with drug abuse, there is no reason why LSD should be treated any different than other pharmaceutical capable of interacting with your brain and body chemistry for therapeutic effect. In fact, there is much reason to believe that psychedelics can successfully treat several mental health issues, from PTSD to depression. Studies are taking place not only in clandestine labs, but also in rigorous settings in European nations, Israel and the USA.

Reinvigorating the field, researchers have investigated LSD as an alternative treatment method for a broad spectrum of psychological disorders including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Even cigarette smokers could potentially benefit from therapeutic interventions that incorporate LSD. Most researchers agree that any administration of LSD should complement another form of traditional talk therapy to enhance its efficacy and intentional use. Again, legitimate psychedelic treatment is used only on a limited basis and in a clinical setting.

The unique benefits a closely monitored, therapeutic dose of LSD can create are significant. By altering the patient’s perception of the immediate present, therapists can safely revisit trauma and approach it from a neutral, outside perspective. Having the mental space to stand back from, acknowledge and reflect on even our most difficult of experiences gives the individual an opportunity to reclaim their narrative around an event, accept it and move on.

Therapeutic use of psychedelics like LSD won’t be an intervention that interests everyone, and with its use still largely maligned, it is barely available even to those desperate for an alternative to treatments that aren’t working. But despite its political detractors, the medical community has an ethical obligation to investigate all possible treatment options to provide the care that will give patients the best quality of life.

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About Constance Scharff PhD