LSD is a potent psychedelic drug—and according to recent research, it may help people with addiction, particularly when it comes to alcohol. A growing number of clinical trials support taking LSD for alcoholism.

Addiction is notoriously difficult to treat, even after people do successfully stop drinking or using drugs. Maintaining sobriety is a separate challenge, and relapse rates for addicts are fairly high. LSD shows promise as a way to significantly reduce (or eliminate) drinking after just one or two sessions, and the reduction seems to last long-term.

Here’s what the latest clinical studies say about LSD for alcoholism, as well as an overview of how LSD works, and why researchers think it shows so much promise for treating addiction.

What is LSD?

Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) is a powerful hallucinogen and one of the “classical psychedelics”—compounds that cause sensory hallucinations and alter your perception of reality.

LSD’s psychedelic effects were first discovered by Albert Hofmann, a Swiss chemist, in 1943. Hofmann was the first person to synthesize LSD, and while he was working with it in his lab, he accidentally absorbed a few drops through his fingertips. In Dr. Hofmann’s words:

“I was affected by a remarkable restlessness, combined with a slight dizziness. At home I lay down and sank into a not unpleasant intoxicated-like condition, characterized by an extremely stimulated imagination. In a dreamlike state, with eyes closed (I found the daylight to be unpleasantly glaring), I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors.”

LSD’s effects are typically called a “trip.” They last about 10 hours, and can include: 1

  • Visual hallucinations
  • Auditory hallucinations
  • Altered perception of sounds, colors, and objects
  • Euphoria
  • Distorted sense of time
  • Ego death (a feeling of being one with the world; loss of your sense of self)
  • Intensified thoughts and emotions
  • Increased introspection
  • Anxiety
  • Dilated pupils

For many years, LSD was used primarily as a recreational drug. Recently, however, researchers have begun looking at medical applications for LSD. One of LSD’s most promising applications is for managing or treating alcoholism.

Understanding Alcoholism

Alcoholism (also called alcohol dependence or alcohol addiction) is a chronic disease characterized by uncontrolled consumption of alcohol.

Alcoholics are unable to control their drinking, due to an emotional or physical dependence on alcohol (or both).

Symptoms of alcoholism include:

  • A need or strong urge to drink alcohol
  • An inability to stop drinking, even when you want to control it
  • Continuing to drink when alcohol is having negative effects on your life
  • Withdrawal symptoms (tremors, sweating, elevated pulse, insomnia) when you don’t drink alcohol consistently

About 6% of Americans over age 12 struggle with alcohol addiction, and alcoholism is nearly twice as common in men as it is in women.2

LSD and Alcoholism Clinical Trials

Research on LSD and alcoholism dates back to the early 1960s, before LSD was made illegal in the United States. However, much of the early research on LSD and alcoholism was poorly controlled, making it difficult to draw meaningful conclusions from the studies.

However, well-conducted research on LSD and drinking does exist. A 2012 review of six randomized controlled studies found that among 536 alcoholics, LSD reduced drinking in 59% of cases, compared to 38% in the placebo group.3

More recently, a 2019 study found that 83% of alcoholics no longer met the criteria for alcohol use disorder in the months after a single dose of either LSD or psilocybin. Interestingly, 28% stated that the psychedelic experience caused a fundamental shift in their life priorities, which caused them to give up drinking.4

It’s not just LSD—psilocybin (the psychedelic compound in magic mushrooms) also shows promise in treating alcoholism. A 2022 study found that psilocybin-assisted therapy caused alcoholics to reduce heavy drinking days by more than half, compared to those who received standard therapy without psilocybin.

While the studies so far are promising, research on psychedelics and alcoholism still in its early stages. Fortunately, more studies are currently underway. If you struggle with alcohol addiction and are interested in trying LSD, you may want to consider signing up for a government-approved clinical trial.

Final Thoughts

LSD is a potent psychedelic drug that shows promise in improving or treating alcoholism. Several clinical studies have found that a single dose of LSD decreases drinking in alcoholics. Psilocybin, the active compound in psychedelic mushrooms, also shows promise in treating alcoholism.

However, research on psychedelics for alcoholism is still early, and as of this article’s publication, psychedelics are federally illegal in the United States.

If you decide to try taking a psychedelic, keep in mind the legal risks and be careful with your set and setting. And if you’re struggling with alcoholism and don’t want to take a psychedelic, consider the free alcoholism treatment resources offered by the National Institutes of Health.

References

  1. Passie T, Halpern JH, Stichtenoth DO, Emrich HM, Hintzen A. The pharmacology of lysergic acid diethylamide: a review. CNS Neurosci Ther. 2008;14(4):295-314. doi:10.1111/j.1755-5949.2008.00059.x
  2. Section 5 PE Tables – Results from the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables, SAMHSA, CBHSQ. Accessed January 17, 2023. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/reports/rpt29394/NSDUHDetailedTabs2019/NSDUHDetTabsSect5pe2019.htm
  3. Krebs TS, Johansen P-Ø. Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) for alcoholism: meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. J Psychopharmacol (Oxford). 2012;26(7):994-1002. doi:10.1177/0269881112439253
  4. Garcia-Romeu A, Davis AK, Erowid F, Erowid E, Griffiths RR, Johnson MW. Cessation and reduction in alcohol consumption and misuse after psychedelic use. J Psychopharmacol (Oxford). 2019;33(9):1088-1101. doi:10.1177/0269881119845793