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LSD finds new respectability


It was the drug of choice on university campuses, the drug that spawned psychedelic culture as well as countless jail sentences and fines, but LSD actually has respectable roots—roots that a McMaster University researcher is uncovering.

"Far from being fringe medical research, trials of LSD were once a legitimate branch of psychiatric research," explains Erika Dyck, a doctoral researcher in the Department of History at McMaster. "LSD produced a "model psychosis," meaning people who took the drug exhibited symptoms of illnesses such as schizophrenia. Doctors used this as a new method for studying mental illness."

In a recent issue of the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, Dyck traces the history of LSD—and its eventual withdrawal from medical research. LSD, or d-lysergic acid diethylamide, first appeared in scientific literature in 1943. For nearly a decade, it gave psychiatrists insight into the experi-ences of schizophrenic patients and showed potential as a cure for alcoholism.

In the 1960s, as the media increasingly associated the drug with love-ins, anti-war demonstrations and the counterculture, governments intervened to criminalize LSD, restricting and then terminating medical research into its potential therapeutic effects.

Now, therapeutic uses of psychedelic drugs are resurfacing. Research groups in the United States are currently examining the usefulness of MDMA, or "ecstasy," in treating pain in medical conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and cancer.

This makes Dyck optimistic that LSD may become a valid area of research again. "Many illegal drugs are used in medical settings. Scientists who studied LSD made important contributions to psychiatry, and found it helped many people cope with mental illness."

Dyck discovered another interesting fact while researching LSD: The term "psychedelic", it turns out, was a Canadian invention – coined in Weyburn, Sask. in the 1950s.

McMaster University, named Canada’s Research University of the Year by Research InfoSource, has world-renowned faculty, and state-of-the-art research facilities. McMaster’s culture of innovation fosters a commitment to discovery and learning in teaching, research and scholarship. Based in Hamilton, the University has a student population of more than 23,000, and an alumni population of more than 115,000 in 128 countries.

Julia Thomson | EurekAlert!
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