What is LSD? A Look at LSD Research (1950-1980)

The article What is LSD? A Look at LSD Research (1950-1980) was originally published on Microdose.

To help celebrate Bicycle Day, Microdose is devoting the month of April to an exploration of LSD. To help answer the question of what is LSD — we take a look at the early days of LSD research. 

LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) has captivated scientists, clinicians, and the general public since its discovery by Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann in 1938. Starting in the 1950s, LSD research saw a surge of interest despite legal restrictions and social stigma. Cultural turmoil and pushback from conservative segments of society and politics led to the eventual criminalization of psychedelics like LSD in 1970 — and this relegation of LSD to the underground buried much of the promising early research. 

But LSD did have a golden era as a potential wonder drug. Throughout the 1950s, LSD was distributed to hundreds of researchers, being used in psychotherapy and experimental treatments for alcoholism, anxiety disorders, and other mental health issues. Time magazine and other mainstream platforms published many positive reports on LSD during the 50s.

Here’s a list of some major LSD studies conducted between 1950 and 1980.



LSD and Alcoholism 

The Use of LSD in Psychotherapy and Alcoholism (1967) 

A compilation of research papers edited by Dr. Harold A. Abramson that explores the potential benefits and applications of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) in psychotherapy and treating alcoholism. The book offers a comprehensive account of the early experiments, case studies, and clinical trials conducted during the 1950s and 1960s, showcasing the potential therapeutic effects of LSD in treating various mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, and addiction.

Key findings include the possible efficacy of LSD in facilitating psychological breakthroughs, promoting self-awareness, and reducing cravings in alcoholic patients. 

Abramson, H.A. (Ed.) (1967). The Use of LSD in Psychotherapy and Alcoholism. New York: Bobbs-Merrill.



Psychedelic therapy utilizing LSD in the treatment of the alcoholic patient: a preliminary report (1970)

Much of the early research on LSD focused on alcoholism, a condition that society placed unique focus on during that era. A 1970 study published in the journal Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol investigated the potential of LSD-assisted psychotherapy in treating alcoholism. The study found that LSD-assisted psychotherapy significantly reduced alcohol consumption in alcoholic patients.

Reference: Kurland, A. A., Unger, S., Shaffer, J. W., & Savage, C. (1970). Psychedelic therapy utilizing LSD in the treatment of the alcoholic patient: a preliminary report. The American Journal of Psychiatry



LSD and Creativity

The effects of LSD-25 on creativity and tolerance to regression (1967)

A 1967 study published in the journal Nature examined the effects of LSD on creativity and problem-solving. The researchers found that LSD increased the ability of participants to generate novel solutions to complex problems.

Reference: Zegans, L. S., Pollard, J. C., & Brown, D. (1967). The effects of LSD-25 on creativity and tolerance to regression. Archives of General Psychiatry, 16(6), 740-749.



LSD and Cancer Patients

LSD-assisted psychotherapy with terminal cancer (1973)

The paper describes the results of a clinical study exploring the potential of a complex psychotherapeutic program utilizing psychedelic compounds to alleviate the emotional and physical suffering of cancer patients. A total of 60 cancer patients participated in this experimental study. In 44 of these patients, LSD (200-500 μg per os) was administered as an adjunct to psychotherapy

Grof, S., Goodman, L. E., Richards, W. A., & Kurland, A. A. (1973b). LSD-assisted psychotherapy with terminal cancer. International Pharmaco psychiatry.



Other research and studies: 

Use of d-lysergic acid diethylamide in the treatment of alcoholism. Chwelos, N., Blewett, D., Smith, C. & Hoffer, A. (1959)..Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol

Hollister, L., Shelton, J. & Krieger, G. (1969) A controlled comparison of lysergic diethylamide (LSD) and dextroamphetamine in alcoholics. American Journal of Psychiatry

Jensen, S. & Ramsay, R. (1963) Treatment of chronic alcoholism with lysergic acid diethylamide. Canadian Psychiatric Association Journal




The pioneering studies conducted on LSD between 1950 and 1980 laid the groundwork for our understanding of the drug’s effects, mechanisms of action, and potential therapeutic applications. While these early studies faced numerous challenges, they contributed significantly to the field of psychedelic research and informed the renaissance of psychedelic studies that emerged in the 21st century. 


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