Will LSD revolutionize psychotherapy? A trip through your brain

Psychedelic drugs tangle perceptions and reveal hidden thoughts and feelings. This could bring about a revolution of psychotherapy – but for that to happen, the drugs first need to discard their poor reputation.

25. Mai 2020  13 Minuten

The morning sun is shining through the windows of a hospital room in Basel, Switzerland. Anuschka Roshani is nervous. Her family and friends called her courageous for taking part in this experiment, being 52 and in good health. The investigator hands her a vial filled with a transparent fluid. Neither of the 2 knows if it contains a placebo – or pure LSD, dissolved in alcohol. Either is possible. Over the course of the next hours, Roshani will undertake a journey through her own universe. For science. She closes her eyes, focuses on the music playing from her headphones and breathes deeply, while the substance sets out on its way to her brain.

Anuschka Roshani is an editor at the Swiss magazine »Das Magazin«. – Quelle: Anuschka Roshani copyright

Roshani took part in a study organized by the pharmacologist Matthias Liechti, as one of the first test subjects in recent scientific experiments investigating LSD. Anuschka Roshani’s report in »Das Magazin« (2019, German, Paywall) She wrote a report about her experience for the Swiss magazine »Das Magazin«, where she works as an editor.

Already in the 50s, scientists recognized the great potential of psychedelic drugs for treating people with mental health issues. At the time, research on the synthetic drug LSD and on psilocybin, the active component of magic mushrooms, was booming. Psychedelic medicine seemed within reach. Shortly after however, US president Richard Nixon declared a »war on drugs« in response to the excessive drug consumption within the hippie movement. The use of psychedelic substances was outlawed throughout the world After the US outlawed psychedelics, the UN (PDF) and virtually the rest of the world followed. Since then, the drugs are classified as Schedule I drugs: dangerous substances without known medical use. The magazine »Slate« about the »war on drugs« and the history of psychedelics in the Western world (2017) and the promising research was halted for decades.

Now things are moving again. In recent years, some countries have relaxed their strict regulations. In addition to the US and Great Britain, Switzerland is leading the way in research of psychedelics. This is not a surprise: it was in Switzerland, where Albert Hoffman first synthesized LSD in 1938 and where the first LSD trip in history took place. Evidence is accumulating that psychedelic drugs might help people with depression, fear of death, trauma, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. What do these supposed »miracle cures« do in the brain to provide relief for such diverse ailments? Is psychedelic medicine coming after all?

The psychedelic renaissance

While Anuschka Roshani impatiently waits for the drug to kick in, 80 kilometers away in Zurich, Katrin Preller is working on some brain data. The 35-year-old psychologist wants to find out how psychedelics affect the brain. As the drugs are stigmatized by society, she often struggles to find funds for her studies. »That’s why it’s so important that our research is methodologically sound and does not slip into the esoteric realm.« Each of her studies is preceded by a bureaucratic marathon. For each study, Preller’s research group needs the approval of the University of Zurich, the Swiss Medicines Agency and the Federal Office for Public Health. »We can always show that our research doesn’t harm our subjects«, Preller stresses. LSD and psilocybin have a small potential for addiction and do not cause bodily harm when administered at an appropriate dose, she assures. Moreover, she states, there is no danger of »getting stuck« on a trip, as long as the study is medically controlled. To »get stuck« on a trip means that the psychological effect of the drug remains long after the substance is no longer detectable in the body. To prevent this from happening, every study includes an intense preparation and follow-up session as well as a psychological screening: Whoever has a schizophrenic uncle or is prone to paranoia cannot take part in the study.

Mit Illustrationen von Doğu Kaya für Perspective Daily

von Iris Proff 

Iris Proff hat einen Hintergrund in Kognitionswissenschaft und arbeitet als Wissenschaftsjournalistin in Amsterdam.

Themen:  Psychologie   Gesundheit  

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