Can Psychedelic Drugs Cure Anxiety?

Medical Reviewer

The 1960s is typified as the decade of hippy culture, free love and experimentation with drugs. LSD became known as the drug of the 60s and, for a time, was sometimes used as a therapy with conditions such as anxiety. Uncontrolled use and fears for the mental health of users ultimately brought about a ban. Effectively this slowed down (more often closed down) research into the possible benefits that drugs like LSD might have.

Despite its illegal status and the likelihood of a prison sentence, small but vocal groups continue to protest the therapeutic value of drugs such as LSD, cannabis, and more recently MDMA (ecstasy). Denis Campbell, a health correspondent with The Guardian newspaper, recently reported one such example of a 35-year-old university lecturer who takes LSD once or twice a year. After a destructive pattern of high alcohol intake and smoking she tried LSD and found it helped to stabilize her behavior. Now, 14 years on, she stays clear of alcohol and firmly believes LSD helped her achieve this.

Arran Frood, a correspondent who has written extensively on the effects of hallucinogenic drugs for media such as Nature and New Scientist fears a derailing in what he describes as, "a fledgling renaissance in legitimate research," due to the recent tragedies that resulted from illegal drug use within a 'therapeutic' context. He reports on the recent case of a group of 12 people in Berlin, Germany, who met for a weekly psychotherapy session in which drugs were made available. Two people died and the therapist, Garri Rober, now faces possible charges in connection with these deaths.

Tentative enquires in carefully controlled research is however being undertaken. Dr. John Halpern, of Harvard Medical School, has begun investigating whether 2-Bromo-LSD, a non-psychedelic version of LSD can be useful for cluster headaches. Dr. Halpern previously found that almost all the 53 patients he spoke to that suffered with cluster headaches and took LSD, obtained relief.

Professor Colin Blakemore, former chief executive of the Medical Research Council says no drug is completely safe, whether legal or illegal, "but we now have well-developed and universally respected methods of assessing the balance of benefit and harm for new medicines." Recently, the journal Neurology, reported that conventional migraine drugs were less effective in controlling cluster headaches, preventing new attacks and extending the time of remission between attacks. Various other trials are being undertaken in the use of MDMA for post-traumatic stress disorder, LSD for anxieties relating to terminal cancer and psilocybin for obsessive compulsive disorder.

One dissenter is Dr Ken Checinski, a consultant psychiatrist at St. George's Hospital, London. He states, "the benefits are short-term, and the risks are not inconsiderable. It would also give a message that people can easily get in touch with their feelings through the use of mind-altering drugs, which is not a message I would want to give."


Campbell, Denis. "Scientists study possible health benefits of LSD and ecstasy." The Guardian. 23 October 2009.

Frood, Arran. "Can mind-altering drugs have mental health benefits?." Telegraph 16 Nov 2009, Print.