Saturday, October 24, 2009

LSD effective in treating the untreatable

Interesting report today in the Guardian about the therapeutic use of the hallucinogenic drug LSD. Amanda Feilding, director of the Beckley Foundation in Oxford, is involved with two studies, one in Switzerland on the effect of LSD on terminal anxiety (anxiety in those with terminal illness), and one in San Francisco on its effect on creativity. There is also a report that it is effective in cluster headache, which is an agonising, disabling head pain that is very dfficult to treat.

In the 60s I met Amanda fleetingly, and listened with due medical scepticism to her account of the advantages of trepanation as an aid to brain function. (the slogan was "Get Ahead, get a Hole") . I probably made the right decision in refusing to offer this as an NHS service. Later, I was working in the A/E department where a friend came in to have the bleeding controlled from his self-trepanation. Glad I didn't do it, even though they thought the less of me for being such a conservative.

More importantly, I studied psychiatry in Barrow Hospital, Bristol in the 1970s, and in the library there I found a small monograph, a report on a world conference on LSD therapy. Barrow was, I believe, one of the centres where LSD was used in psychiatric therapy. Unfortunately I have been unable to sind the monograph since, or any reference to it.

The accounts were interesting indeed. They were from all ends of the psychiatric spectrum, from the authoritarian ("Come on John, it's time for your weekly acid trip. You cannot refuse, the doctor says it's good for you....are you hallucinating? Right, now stop screaming please and tell me about your feelings about your mother") to the humanists from California, who required the doctor to try the medicine on themselves first, and who insisted that the setting for the trip be supportive. This caused the sharpest debate among the audience ("Therapy is for patients. We are doctors, we don't need therapy").

From all these different backgrounds, an interesting consensus about outcomes emerged.
1 LSD therapy was bad for people with schizophrenia.
2 It was not much good for depression.
3 It was brilliant for people diagnosed as psychopaths (now sociopaths, or antisocial personality disorder).
Given the fact that sociopathy was, and still is, effectively an un-treatable condition, that it was a major burden to psychiatry in the 1970s (I have the impression that they are now just handed over to the courts as un-treatable), and given the police, court, and prison costs that sociopathy is responsible for, you would think that this fact would have been taken on board, further researched and developed.

You would think wronly. The idiot governments banned LSD because they noticed that hippies were getting off on it. Not just banned for recreational use; banned for scientific use also. (Pause while various expletives are considered, and discarded).

So good luck and thanks to medical LSD researchers everywhere.

[Update 16.3.13 Unfortunately I read in Jon Ronson's brilliant book, the Psychopath Test, that recidivism in psychopaths treated with LSD was greater than that treated in other ways. I would still like to see confirmation of this, a breakdown of the figures and a survey of the successes, as anything that offers change in psychopathy is worth looking at.]

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