All research involving the psychoactive compound lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) was terminated globally following its prohibition more than 50 years ago, though illicit use remained fairly stable. A considerable resurgence of research interest in LSD has received considerable attention in various publications and professional fora. One of the main applications considered is LSD-assisted psychotherapy to address a number of difficulties like end-of-life anxiety, addiction/alcoholism, post-traumatic stress, and depression. However, due to the highly contradictory nature of early research findings and division in the literature, one is left uncertain as to whether psychology as a profession is currently equipped to critically evaluate these advances, let alone embrace them.
The purpose of the present study was to contribute to current psychological knowledge on long-term LSD use. A group of long-term LSD users who claimed beneficial use were the focus here. A mixed methods design was employed. 110 users completed an online survey assessing for demographics, patterns of use, and specific personality traits through three psychometric measures, Big Five Inventory (BFI), General Self Efficacy scale (GSE) and Satisfaction With Life Scale (SWLS). Eight individual interviews were also conducted and analysed by Thematic Analysis (TA).
Gaining different perspectives on reality and increasing self- awareness appeared to be essential elements of the belief system that these non-problematic long-term LSD users adopted in order to make sense of their LSD use. Qualitative findings also suggested the existence of a common set of life values, rules and the adoption of a hierarchical system between LSD users. Novices appeared to be tutored and guided by elders whose presence and input was valued and who were listened to and respected. A role for ‘wiser/elder’ users as those imparting valuable knowledge to novices was therefore also suggested. The underlying aim may possibly be an attempt to minimise risks and maximise potential benefits of LSD use. A prospective role for LSD as a deterrent of substance misuse, a ‘gateway drug to no drugs’ was also hinted and remains in need of
further investigation. Claims regarding beneficial LSD use and ‘change’ through LSD use were confirmed by the participant sample. No noteworthy differences between psychometric scores of the LSD-using group and those of the general population (as suggested by normative data comparisons) were found, possibly due to methodological limitations, especially considering the highly subjective nature of the LSD experience and its effects.
The determining role of extra-pharmacological variables or ‘set and setting’ in the outcome of LSD use suggested in earlier literature was re-validated. Knowledge on their specific components was enriched, and a potentially significant value for adopting a flexible, adaptable and solution-focused mind-set in order to better manage the effects of LSD was highlighted. Due to the highly selected nature of the participant sample, present findings should serve as suggestions for further research in order to clarify the aforementioned issues and to make explicit the mechanisms by which they operate.
The complex nature of LSD, its use and its effects have been re-confirmed here. It is imperative that the current knowledge base on the substance is enriched before LSD is introduced in a clinical psychology professional context.