Der Spiegel is sounding the call – psychedelics are coming back to the lab… and helping people heal:
“I would welcome it if it were easier to use psychoactive substances in therapy,” says Rolf Verres, medical director of the Department of Medical Psychology at the University of Heidelberg Hospital. “In Germany, there is simply a deficit in this respect.”
Elsewhere, however, a comeback of hallucinogens in psychotherapy seems possible. In the United States, Britain, Israel and Switzerland, a number of studies have been recently approved involving the use of Ecstasy and psilocybin, an agent derived from hallucinogenic mushrooms. The goal of the research is to determine whether these substances can help in the treatment of traumatized war veterans and patients with anxiety disorders. Some of the researchers involved in the studies say that initial results are consistently encouraging.
But before Peter Gasser embarked on his study, no researcher had dared to use LSD, the strongest and most notorious of the hallucinogenic drugs. The outcome of his study will play a key role in determining how authorities handle similar applications in the future.
Gasser, 49, ignored media inquiries from around the world for almost one-and-a-half years, so as not to jeopardize his sensitive experiment. Today, as he invites SPIEGEL to visit his practice for the first time, the first thing he does is to make one thing clear: “I am not a messiah, nor am I someone who aims to change society.” He is interested exclusively in research, not creeping legalization of the drug, says Gasser, and he wants to demonstrate that LSD can play a positive role in psychotherapy.
Within the framework of the study, Gasser is permitted to treat 12 patients suffering from anxiety disorders as a result of a severe physical illness. Eight of them receive a capsule of 200 micrograms of LSD each, in two full-day sessions spaced several weeks apart. The remaining four patients, the control group, receive a dose of 20 micrograms, which is too small to have much of an effect. “With a substance like LSD, a placebo-controlled procedure is, of course, questionable,” Gasser admits, noting that the patient quickly realizes what he or she has swallowed. But that is just the way things are done in medicament research, he says.
The three patients who have received the effective dose to date have all benefited from the treatment, says Gasser, but the study is still underway. Besides, he adds, a study group of only 12 patients is much too small to be able to make statistically valid statements. “What we hope to demonstrate in the end is that no serious incidents occurred, and that the results suggest that this is an effective treatment method.”
There’s an interview with one of Gasser’s patients at the link. He’s pretty grateful to have been in the study.