LSD, commonly known as ‘acid,’ is a hallucinogenic drug which causes users to experience distorted images, sounds and sensations.
Nowadays, it is enjoyed by those in search of a psychedelic experience – but when it was first synthesised in 1938 by Swiss scientist Albert Hoffman, it was hoped that it could be used as a treatment for psychiatric disorders. Despite its promising beginning, LSD was soon outlawed around the world due to concerns about an emerging ‘black market’ for the drug.
But one Swiss psychiatrist is determined to carry on Hoffman’s legacy by incorporating LSD into his psychotherapy practice.
Could LSD Have Medical Benefits?
Dr Peter Gasser is the only doctor in the world who is legally authorised to treat patients using LSD.
He was one of five doctors granted special permission from the Swiss Federal Office for Public Health in 1988 to research the use of LSD in treating psychiatric disorders; but the Swiss government banned the drug again in 1993. Despite this setback, Dr Gasser approached the Swiss Ministry of Health in 2007 for permission to conduct a study into the effects of the drug on patients suffering from terminal illnesses such as cancer.
According to Dr Gasser, LSD is particularly beneficial in treating ‘end of life anxiety,’ which refers to anxiety and other mental stressors experienced by those who suffer from terminal and life-threatening illnesses.
His 2007 study – which was the first controlled trial of LSD in the 21st century – involved prescribing moderate doses of LSD to 12 terminally-ill patients during two individual therapy sessions.
After taking the drug, each patient would spend time sleeping on a couch in Dr Gasser’s office while being observed. In some cases, the patients would discuss their emotional journey with the doctor, who would assist them in overcoming their fear of death.
Dr Gasser found that the drug provoked a ‘strong emotional experience’ which allowed patients to understand their existence in a broader context. The eight patients who received full doses of the drug reported a 20% improvement in their anxiety levels. Many patients left feeling ‘very satisfied’ with their sessions, and even requested further treatment.
In a recent interview, Dr Gasser explained:
‘Our concept was if someone gets a life-threatening disease, he’s really confronted with existential issues, which also may cause anxiety. To have this deep encounter with oneself—which is what an LSD experience can be—can help someone deal with these questions about life. There’s a stronger possibility of them being relaxed and accepting, which can make the anxiety lower when talking about death.’
Where to From Here?
Unfortunately, Dr Gasser’s 2007 trial was considered too small to be conclusive; but following its success, he was granted a special ‘compassion use’ permit by the Swiss government which allows him to continue treating patients using LSD.
Dr Gasser’s special permit does not confine him to treating cancer patients – but allows him to treat anyone using LSD provided he has a ‘good theory’ about how it could help.
One current patient had been severely sexually abused as a child and suffered dissociation as a result, but Dr Gasser prescribed her LSD under the belief that it could assist to have greater control over her dissociation. The patient reported benefits after taking just two treatments of the drug.
Dr Gasser is currently treating 7 patients with LSD. In each case, he carefully assesses the appropriate dosage, as well as the frequency of treatment.
He hopes that in light of his success in treating anxiety and other disorders, other governments will one day allow more doctors to treat their patients with LSD.