Psychedelic drug could help treat alcoholism

The mind-altering hallucinogenic drug LSD could help alcoholics give up drinking, a new study has claimed.

Researchers in Norway, who analysed six previous studies of alcoholism treatment performed in the 1960s, found that LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) had a "significant beneficial effect" on alcohol abuse, which lasted several months after the drug was taken.

One of the most powerful hallucinogens ever identified, the drug appears to work by blocking a chemical in the brain called serotonin that controls functions like perception, behaviour, hunger and mood.

In the studies, which involved over 530 heavy drinkers and published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, two-thirds of the alcoholic were given LSD while others given comparison treatments.

It was found that 59 per cent of the LSD users avoided relapsing into alcohol abuse, compared with 38 per cent of the others. This effect was maintained six months after taking the hallucinogen, but it disappeared after a year. Those taking LSD also reported higher levels of abstinence, the researchers said.

"LSD worked in an entirely different way than any current psychiatric drugs," study author Teri Krebs of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology was quoted as saying by LiveScience.

"Many patients said they had gained a new appreciation for their alcohol problem and new motivation to address it."

"Alcoholism is serious and often deadly. We need new treatment options," co-researcher Pal-Orjan Johansen said, suggesting that given the evidence for a beneficial effect of the drug, "it is puzzling why this treatment approach has been largely overlooked".

Dr Richard Ries, a scientist who was not involved in the research, said the study "shakes the foundations of typical addiction treatments."

But Ries, an addiction psychiatrist at the University of Washington Department of Psychiatry, cautioned that little is known about LSD's effects.

LSD can distort the user's perceptions of reality and produce hallucinations. In large doses, the drug can cause some people to panic or become anxious, increasing their body temperature, heart rate and blood pressure.

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