The FDA has approved a clinical trial for the use of LSD as a medication for “existential anxiety.”
For the first time in more than four decades, the drug lysergic acid diethylamide — better known as LSD — has been the experimental adjunct to psychotherapy in a controlled clinical trial approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. And a newly published study on that trial reports that the medication’s anti-anxiety effects on patients facing life-threatening illnesses were sizable, sustained — and free of worrisome side effects.
In short, everything was groovy.
In a pilot study conducted in Switzerland, 12 patients suffering deep anxiety due to serious illnesses participated in several drug-free psychotherapy sessions, and then joined a pair of therapists for two full-day psychotherapy sessions, separated by two to three weeks, under the influence of LSD. After tapering off any anti-anxiety or antidepressant medications and avoiding alcohol for at least a day, subjects in the trial were given either a 200-microgram dose of LSD or an “active placebo” of 20 micrograms of the drug.
While the placebo dose was expected to produce short-lived and detectable LSD effects, it was not expected to improve the psychotherapeutic process. The larger dose was “expected to produce the full spectrum of a typical LSD experience, without fully dissolving normal ego structures,” the researchers wrote.
Patients who got the higher dose of LSD for the two sessions reported less anxiety after their LSD trips, whereas anxiety built among the four subjects who did not get the full dose.
More important, subjects who got the full dose experienced measurable and lasting improvements in their “state” and “trait” anxiety scores, which reflect anxiety levels that are buffeted by changing circumstances (state) and those that are stable aspects of personality (trait). Eight weeks after the intervention, those who got full doses of LSD had declines in both state and trait anxiety. By contrast, trait anxiety increased for all four of those who got the placebo dose, and state anxiety rose in two of the four. . . .
In recent years, medical and public attention to patients’ end-of-life and palliative care has been on the rise. Against that backdrop, the U.S. government has begun to ease its longstanding resistance to the exploration of drugs such as LSD as a means to ease what some have called “existential anxiety.”