LSD in the Mental Disorder World

A psychedelic drug changes one’s thinking (cognition) or perception, most often by facilitating the use of serotonin receptors in the brain [1]. There are a number of different psychedelic drugs including mescaline, psilocybin (magic mushrooms), and lysergic acid diethylamide, which is commonly known as LSD. These drugs are known for inducing profound effects on the mind and have long had a reputation of causing emotional turmoil. Certainly, the media has fueled the notion that chronic use of these drugs can lead to mental illness. However, research has never established a clear link between chronic loose of hallucinogenic or psychedelic drugs, despite this belief. A recent large-scale study continued to support the notion that there was no association between psychedelic drug use and mental illness [2].

A Recent Reinvestigation

The researchers used a random set of over 135,000 adults in the United States including nearly 20,000 psychedelic drug users in determining a relationship between use of these drugs and mental illness [2]. The researchers adjusted for the social demographic background of the participants in the experiment, other drug use such as alcohol use and other controlled substances, and childhood mental health problems such as depression. After adjusting for these variables the researchers failed to find any independent association between psychedelic drug use and mental health issues. Moreover, there was no evidence to indicate that psychedelic drug use led to any measurable harm to the human brain or to other body organs. There was also no evidence that psychedelic drugs could cause compulsive use issues or addiction problems and that any serious issues that involved psychedelic drug use were actually extremely rare.

The researchers admit to some limitations in their findings. For example, they are unable to exclude the notion that psychedelic drug use might have a negative effect on the mental health for certain types of people or groups of people. The results of the data were based on interview data and not on formal diagnostic reports and this further limits the generalizability of the data. While the data suggested that people who used psychedelic drugs believed that this drug use led to a deeper understanding of themselves, broadened their awareness, made them more spiritual, and increased their creativity, the researchers also report that this finding is a subjective finding and the data cannot establish any cause-and-effect relationships. For example, it may be that people with these kinds of questions or outlooks are more prone to using these drugs.

Treatment Effects

One of the other interesting issues about these drugs, including LSD, is that they were once considered to have a therapeutic potential in treating mental illness such as depression [3]. This viewpoint became mildly popular in the 1960s when the use of these drugs became popular with certain fringe groups and psychiatrists who believed they might be able to expand the awareness of their patients.

Nonetheless, there is some research to indicate that the therapeutic use of LSD is being reconsidered by some researchers. For example, researchers in Norway perform a meta-analytic study of prior studies on the efficiency of LSD in treating alcoholism [4]. Meta-analysis is a statistical technique that allows researchers to combine the results of many studies together. When researchers can combine numerous studies together and analyze them the results are more convincing than the results from a single study.

The trials using LSD compared to some other treatment had taken place in the years 1966 to 1970. Most of the participants in the studies were men who had alcohol problems and receiving alcoholism treatment. The findings indicated that treatment with LSD had a positive effect on alcohol addiction and those who receive the LSD treatment were significantly less likely to relapse. The researchers suggested that LSD may be a viable, non-toxic, alternative to treatment for addiction and suggested that this research be reinstituted; however, at this time no one knows why LSD has a positive treatment effect for individuals trying to recover from alcoholism [4].

Other authors and researchers have begun to show interest in LSD as a potential treatment alternative for forms of mental illness and addiction and there are several books/articles devoted to discussing the development of research trials using LSD as a potential treatment [see 3].



[2] Johansen, P. Ø., & Krebs, T. S. (2015). Psychedelics not linked to mental health problems or suicidal behavior: A population study. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 0269881114568039.

[3] Glyde, T. (2014). Acid test: LSD, ecstasy, and the power to heal. New York: Blue Rider Press.

[4] Krebs, T. S., & Johansen, P. Ø. (2012). Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) for alcoholism: meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Psychopharmacology26(7), 994-1002.


Dr. Hatfield is a clinical neuropsychologist with extensive experience assessing and treating neurological and psychiatric disorders. His areas of expertise include neurobiology, behavior, dementia, head injury, addiction, abnormal psychology, personality disorders, statistics, rehabilitation psychology and research methodology.

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