Alcoholic Anonymous founder Bill Wilson put forth the controversial idea of using LSD, yes, LSD to reduce alcohol abuse. Is there any scientific evidence for this?
Published today in the Journal of Psycholpharmacology, researchers took a careful look at a wide range of studies ("meta-analysis") and concluded:
...repeated doses of LSD - for example, weekly or monthly - might elicit more sustained effects on alcohol misuse than a single dose of LSD.
Of 536 participants in six trials, 59% of people receiving LSD reported lower levels of alcohol misuse, compared to 38% of people who received a placebo. "We were surprised that the effect was so clear and consistent," says Krebs.
I certainly would not recommend using hallucinogenic drugs to help alcohol abuse, trading one addiction for another, but this result does open up interesting questions about the underlying causes of alcoholism at the neurological level. Do drugs such as LSD interact with similar sites in the brain (receptors) as does alcohol? Can brain cells become more and more resistant to such stimulation? Is the effect permanent, or can it be reversed with another drug, or better yet, by cognitive behavioral therapy, through sessions with a psychologist?
Hallucinogens are not addictive. If hallucinogens must be administered repeatedly to combat alcoholism, it's because people need to be continually reminded of the shittiness of bad habits. The only "fix" that LSD provides is insight into one's behavior, and often at a high emotional and/or psychological cost. This doctor recommends psilocybin.
Anecdotal, but most people I know who have been around people taking LSD have noted that alcohols consumption goes way down. People who have drank a twelve pack a day for years open one bottle and barely touch it during the night. The taste for alcohol seems to be blocked. When given the option many prefer water.
A lot depends on dosage.
@1: I don't think I understand the conclusion of your second sentence. I agree hallucinogens are not addictive, but how is a hallucinogenic by definition, "shitty." That seems to come from no where. I'd point out as well, from all sources I've read, Bill W's experience with LSD was rather pleasant. Similarly, his, "spiritual awakening," occurred while under the influence of belladona. Wouldn't a more likely explanation/speculation be that hallucinogenics mimic spiritual experiences and stimulating that part of the brain leads to lower alcohol usage? I mention this because, 1) Hallucinogens have been used since ancient times to stimulate pseudo-spiritual experiences. AND 2) Those in AA who report the highest rate of success are those who believe a miracle, a spiritual awakening, has happened within their lives. AA has a low success rate...but those who it does succeed with tend to believe a variety of highly spiritualistic, non-rational events have taken place in their lives.
The disease concept, as well as "tough love," and many other common knowledge ideas about alcoholism all have come from AA. An organization which is a splinter group of Buchmanism, an evangelical Christian organisation.
This is really too bad. I'd hoped to have a real conversation on this subject. The fact is AA uses one of their traditions (avoiding anonymity at the public level) to avoid truly open discussions on their program. I'd be interested in really hearing research on addiction and recovery programs free from abstinence campaign's and a religious/political agenda. As an example: If LSD works to slow or stop alcoholism, what about marijuana? My point is, it is a mild hallucinogen, but their are many chronic long term users. It may not be physically addictive, but, if a person is using a substance everyday or more days in the week than not, it must have some addictive properties. It just seems to me that in the 20th century the whole discussion of alcohol use and drug use became about the AA program and it's definitions of different terms and concepts. This is troubling because it really is a religious program which simply substituted the word, "disease" or sin or evil, but continues to engage in spiritual cures and evangelical beliefs. My point is, I believe science and rational thinking types are less biased and more capable of providing genuine answers. Scientists are not free from such problems. George Gamow for instance famously enjoyed drinking. It could be argued that Feynman suffered from "sexual addiction." I don't know that I believe either had overwhelming problems, nor do I claim to agree with terms like "sexual addiction." It seems that sometimes many of these issues are simply moral issues re-constituted with a disease label. I don't think that sort of con game helps anyone nor does it really address an issue or solve a problem. False beliefs and ideas are inherently dangerous, no matter how harmless they initially appear. Feynman definitely would have agreed with that....without it being a self-defense issue.
Here's a video of a BBC World News interview with one of the study authors:
Thanks, Jenny. I really appreciate it. The interview seemed to bring out a lot more relevant information. It is interesting that I'd heard similar things about XTC(ecstasy) back in the 80's. Essentially, psychoanalysts were claiming to help patients have major insights through the use of XTC. However, it became such a problem as a recreational drug it's classification was changed. My instructor seemed more than a little chagrined that there were various drugs which were outlawed not because they lacked value, but because they were easily misused.
The shittiness is the result from drinking alcoholically, and for many alcoholics, shitty is literally true.
AA suggests that there are two parts to alcoholism. One is the disease (physical addiction) and the other is a mental obsession with drinking. While addiction to alcohol is certainly not an allergy as written in AA, if the person is not exposed to alcohol, then the person can lead a normal life. But the mental obsession ratchets up the longer one goes without a drink. The spiritual part of the program treats the obsession. While AA began as part of the Christian Oxford Program, now it is much more diverse. A large fraction uses the AA group as their higher power, remaining agnostic. Research in cognitive neuroscience suggests that the unconscious part of the brain communicates with the conscious part by feelings, which may explain the mental obsession. Generic prayer and meditation have been shown to help the bad feelings. Drugs such as marijuana do seem to reduce drinking, AA calls it the marijuana maintenance program. The line of research using LSD may lead to better drugs that treat the mental obsession.
AA does have a low success rate, but scientific studies have to have a specific definition for success, usually abstinence for one year after going to the first meeting. People are encouraged to keep going to meetings even when they have been drinking (definitely not a success); many of these people are finally are able to abstain from alcohol for years.
Thanks Jeff for the post, and thanks Mike for your thoughtful comment.
I don't know if anyone remembers their first drink, but I bet it was pretty terrible. LSD acts like a sort of reset switch and resensitizes one to the awful taste free of subsequent conditioning.
i pretty much get that ya **** me over...but do you really have to just make up *** as you go along?
I wouldn't recommend LSD or anything else synthetic, but I definitely endorse entheogens like ayahuasca/DMT, the "spirit" molecule. :)