Society may have changed enough to warrant a retrial of LSD: expert

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SASKATOON – Should researchers take a closer look at psychedelic drugs as the population ages? Yes, says a University of Saskatchewan medical historian.

Erika Dyck says today’s society may have “changed enough to warrant a retrial” of the psychedelic drug LSD.

In a recently published paper Medicine and society: LSD: a new treatment emerging from the past, Dyck argues that after being tainted by the abuses of mid-20th century counterculture, she could see resurgence in LSD research.

“The context in which we might consume them has changed quite a lot,” Dyck said.

READ MORE: Could LSD, magic mushrooms curb domestic violence? Research finds ‘calming’ effect

Around half a century ago, Saskatchewan was the epicenter of research into the drug. LSD, or lysergic acid diethylamide, belongs to a class of drugs called psychedelics, a term coined by British psychiatrist Humphry Osmond at the Weyburn Mental Hospital.

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Osmond and his contemporaries considered the drug a tool for intensive psychotherapy. In her paper published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), Dyck says LSD could be used in tough-to-treat mental illnesses like anxiety and depression.

She also says it could help an aging population think about how to accept death.

Over 50 years ago, English writer Aldous Huxley had his wife inject him with LSD while on his deathbed. Dyck says it could have parallels for today’s aging population.

“He describes this in a way that has become very useful for people thinking about ‘how do you accept death?’” explained Dyck, who is a Canada research chair and expert in the early days of LSD research.

“It’s not going to make you feel better, it’s not going to relieve pain, but there’s a psychological anguish that he describes, and how LSD confronts that, or encourages the individual to confront that.”

One reason Dyck feels now is the time to take a closer look at LSD are the tools available, including advancements in medical imaging techniques that would allow researchers to see what the brain is up to while a patient is encountering mind-altering experiences brought on by the drug.

She also says it’s more acceptable today to take drugs for a variety of conditions than it was 50 years ago.

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“Not because the science of psychedelics has necessarily changed what we know about them, but I think the context in which we might consume them has changed quite a lot,” Dyck said.

While she has received calls from contemporary LSD researchers looking for information and even advice on drug trial design, Dyck emphasizes that her expertise is the past.

“Perhaps it’s time to bring historians onto the research teams as we develop interdisciplinary collaborations to explore this frontier,” Dyck said.

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