Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds: Part Deux

Mindhacks reports that Swiss scientists are launching a study to test the effects of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) on treating anxiety in patients suffering from advanced-stage diseases. LSD will be administered in combination with psychotherapy sessions, and subjects will be housed on-site for the following 24 hours, where they will recuperate in the company in the company of a significant other or relative. The study hopes to confirm reports of LSD’s anxiolytic properties that were published in the 1950s and 1960s (along with a slew of other studies about psychadelics).

Since I just posted about the placebo effect, my attention was drawn to the part of the protocol where they describe the “active placebo” group. These subjects (4 out of 12) will receive 20 micrograms of LSD whereas the experimental intervention group will receive 200 micrograms. Apparently this is a common technique in the literature. Though I understand the need to control for mild side effects associated with the drug, the study may be hard to interpret in the absence of a true placebo group. To say that the high dose was more successful does not mean much, because perhaps both doses are worse than psychotherapy alone. Likewise, to say that the low dose was more successful does not mean that LSD is useless; perhaps low levels of the drug are more successful than psychotherapy alone. It seems that three groups (placebo, low dose and high dose) would be ideal.

The study is an exciting attempt to replicate decades-old results, but it seems unlikely that psychedelic-assisted therapy will enter the mainstream anytime soon.

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