LSD and psychotherapy

When LSD was first introduced in the United States in 1949, it was well received by the scientific community. Within less than a decade the drug had risen to a position of high standing among psychiatrists. LSD therapy was by no means a fad or a fly-by-night venture. More than one thousand clinical papers were written on the subject, discussing some forty thousand patients. Favorable results were reported when LSD was used to treat severely resistant psychiatric conditions, such as frigidity and other sexual aberrations. A dramatic decrease in autistic symptoms was observed in severely withdrawn children following the administration of LSD. The drug was also found to ease the physical and psychological distress of terminal cancer patients, helping them come to terms with the anguish and mystery of death. And chronic alcoholics continued to benefit from psychedelic treatment. One enthusiastic researcher went so far as to suggest that with LSD it might be possible to clean out skid row in Los Angeles.
 
“The rate of recovery or significant improvement was often higher with LSD therapy than with traditional methods. Furthermore, its risks were slim compared to the dangers of other commonly used and officially sanctioned procedures such as electroshock, lobotomy, and the so-called anti-psychotic drugs. Dr. Sidney Cohen, the man who turned on Henry and Clare Booth Luce, attested to the virtues of LSD after conducting an in-depth survey of US and Canadian psychiatrists who had used it as a therapeutic tool. Forty-four doctors replied to Cohen’s questionnaire, providing data on five thousand patients who had taken a total of more than twenty-five thousand doses of either LSD or mescaline. The most frequent complaint voiced by psychedelic therapists was ‘unmanageability.’ Only eight instances of “psychotic reaction lasting more than forty-eight hours” were reported in the twenty-five thousand cases surveyed. Not a single case of addiction was indicated, nor any deaths from toxic effects. On the basis of these finding Cohen maintained that ‘with the proper precautions psychedelics are safe when given to a selected healthy group.’
 
“By the early 1960s it appeared that LSD was destined to find a niche on the pharmacologist’s shelf. But then the fickle winds of medical policy began to shift. Spokesmen for the American Medical Association (AMA) and the Food and Drug Administration started to denounce the drug, and psychedelic therapy quickly fell into public and professional disrepute. Granted, a certain amount of intransigence arises whenever a new form of treatment threatens to steal the thunder from more conventional methods, but this alone cannot account for the sudden reversal of a promising trend that was ten years in the making.
 
“One reason the medical establishment had such a difficult time coping with the psychedelic evidence was that LSD could not be evaluated like other drugs. LSD was not a medication in the usual sense; it wasn’t guaranteed to relieve a specific symptom such as a cold or a headache. In this respect psychedelics were out of kilter with the basic assumptions of Western medicine. The FDA’s relationship with this class of chemicals became even more problematic in light of claims that LSD could help the healthy. Most doctors automatically dismissed the notion that drugs might benefit someone who was not obviously ailing.
 
“In 1962 Congress enacted regulations that required the safety and efficacy of a new drug to be proven with respect to the condition for which it was to be marketed commercially. LSD, according to the FDA, did not satisfy these criteria…”
by Martin A. Lee and Bruce Shlain
Copyright 1985
pages 89-90

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