the miracle cure
In the 1950s drug therapy was in its infancy. There was no Prozac, no anti-depressants, no anti-psychotic drugs.
But then came LSD, a drug that appeared to open up emotions, dissolve defenses, and make available much of the unconscious. It could cure alcoholics and cure mental illness. It was cheap and easy to make. It looked like another "miracle cure".
Sandoz, keen to make a profit from Prof. Hoffman's bizarre discovery, trade-named Delysid and began sending samples out to psychiatric researchers.
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By 1965, over 2,000 papers had been published describing the treatment of over 30-40,000 patients with LSD and other psychedelics.
Drug addicts, habitual criminals, sex offenders, violence-prone individuals, chronic depressives - all were being claimed to have been successfully cured by LSD therapy.
Karl Jung opposed drug therapy, declaring it a "short cut" and charging that the drug therapists "had opened the belly but had no idea what to do next."
A few practitioners, however, had extraordinary results.
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Dr. Abram Hoffer and Dr. Humphrey Osmond led pioneering studies in treating alcoholics with LSD. They gave over 2,000 alcoholics one or two guided LSD sessions and 45-50% never touched alcohol again - results that would normally take years of therapy.
The key word here is 'guided'. They had a very strict technique which relied heavily on a pleasant environment, a guiding influence from the doctor who would nudge the patient towards their own life-changing revelations.
Unfortunately, when their work was published, many of their contemporaries ignored their system.
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"They took their alcoholics and gave them 800 micrograms of LSD, which is way too high for most people," remembers Abram Hoffer.
"They were afraid they'd run away so they chained them to their beds with handcuffs. They didn't have any interaction whatever. The doctor would flit in and out making notes. That's all they did and at the end of the experience they wrote it up and said it didn't work. It was an absolutely monstrous experience. They made no attempt whatsoever to repeat the basic psychedelic methods that we had developed."
You can read their rebuttal of criticism here (long)
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After intense recreational experimentation with LSD led to a US ban in 1964, LSD psychotherapy became politically and socially out of favor.
Following the governmental agenda, many psychotherapists stepped in to discredit pioneering work or provide alarmist 'proof' of the dangers of LSD.
LSD therapy struggled on until the early 70s but then was finally outlawed. Observers and practitioners who watched its rise and fall expected LSD to disappear into the dustbin of history - another failed chemical cure-all which got out of hand.
However, recently, in the late nineties, LSD and other psychedelics have been reconsidered as medicine, and potential cures for mental illness.
Remarkably, the Federal Drugs Administration in the US have given the green light to trials of psychedelics such as DMT (dimethyltryptamine, a very pure, naturally occuring psychedelic) and ibogaine (an intriguing substance synthesised from the root of the African plant, iboga).
"In the 60s we were terrified of these drugs. We didn't know what they would do to people longterm. We didn't know what we had done to people already. In the 90s, it's very clear that there is a role for these agents in understanding how the mind works. And there's also a role for them in potential ways to help people."
Dr Curtis Wright of the FDA
Latest info on government authorized psychedelic trials in the US (NY Times, registration required)