For the past five years, Dr. Erika Dyck has been unearthing some intriguing facts related to a group of pioneering psychiatrists who worked in Saskatchewan, Canada in the '50s and '60s.
Among other things, the University of Alberta history of medicine professor has found records of the psychiatrists' research that indicate a single dose of the hallucinogenic drug LSD, provided in a clinical, nurturing environment, can be an effective treatment for alcoholism.
Her findings are published this month in the journal Social History of Medicine.
After perceiving similarities in the experiences of people on LSD and people going through delirium tremens, the psychiatrists undertook a series of experiments. They noted that delirium tremens, also know as DTs, often marked a "rock bottom" or turning point in the behavior of alcoholics, and they felt LSD may be able to trigger such a turnaround without engendering the painful physical effects associated with DTs.
As it turns out, they were largely correct.
"The LSD somehow gave these people experiences that psychologically took them outside of themselves and allowed them to see their own unhealthy behavior more objectively, and then determine to change it," said Dyck, who read the researchers' published and private papers and recently interviewed some of the patients involved in the original studies--many of whom had not had a sip of alcohol since their single LSD experience 40 years earlier.
According to one study conducted in 1962, 65 per cent of the alcoholics in the experiment stopped drinking for at least a year-and-a-half (the duration of the study) after taking one dose of LSD. The controlled trial also concluded that less than 25 per cent of alcoholics quit drinking for the same period after receiving group therapy, and less than 12 per cent quit in response to traditional psychotherapy techniques commonly used at that time.