Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Joanna Schroeder Mocks Norwegian Study Suggesting LSD as a Treatment Option for Alcoholism

Joanna Schroeder is a contributor at The Good Men Project, a site I read for articles about men, gender issues, and other related issues. I was disappointed see her article this morning with the headline, Beer? No Thanks, I’m Sober. But Pass Me A Hit of Acid. But I read the article anyway, hoping for something serious behind the snarky headline. Yeah . . .not so much.

She is responding to the incredible attention being given to a new meta-study that looked at the use of LSD for alcoholism back before LSD research was banned by the government. It's an open access article, which is rare for Sage Publications, and if one takes a few minutes to read it, the rigorousness of their approach is obvious.

But I suspect Ms. Schroeder did not read the study itself, and was only looking to generate a few laughs with her vacuous post. Other than that, the only reason I can see for this appearing on the Good Men Project is that nearly all of the subjects in the studies were male, which in itself is interesting and worth a more serious examination. Why only men? Were men far more likely to have alcohol issues then? But none of that is mentioned or explored.

She begins (and yes, she appears to be mocking her own headline as well):
Ahh, the allure of the tantalizing headline. I wonder if the Norwegian researchers who went back to the 1960s and 70s to study whether LSD use can help treat alcoholism thought to themselves, People are gonna eat this shit up! when they went into the research archives, because this new look into old research is definitely causing headlines.
She then lists some of the reporting, all of which is from the mainstream press, who notoriously get science so wrong that it's painful to read. And upon reading that the study used 536 participants, she observes,
536 participants? Am I the only one who finds that to be a bit flimsy? Though I guess it’s sorta risky to test people with an illegal substance… Researchers aren’t exactly able to dose 5,000 people in multiple studies and create a real meta-analysis of the data on the effects of trippin’ balls.
Sound research or not, LSD to treat Alcoholism is definitely something fun to bring up at your next cocktail party.
 All of these studies were preliminary in nature, so to get a total of 536 subjects in six individual studies is pretty impressive. But the author clearly has little or no understanding of research methods and standards - and she clearly did not read the original study.

I felt compelled, maybe because my coffee was just kicking in when I read her post, to leave a comment. Here is that comment:
Did you read the study, Joanna, or just the media reports about the study? It’s open access, so there is no reason not to have read it.

If you had, you may note that the researchers found 4275 subject records from LSD trials, but narrowed the pool to 536 through their rejection of any studies that do not meet the more rigorous standards of current research. Exclusion of the other studies does not mean they were not useful or effective, only that the study design did not meet current standards (placebo controlled, double blind, etc.).

It’s also important to note that these studies were done in the period from 1966-1970. One of the leaders in that era of research was Stanislav Grof (see Grof, et al; JAMA, 1970;212(11):1856-1863), who conducted many years (beginning in the 1950s) of LSD-based research for alcoholism, narcotic addictions, and neurosis (in the old psychoanalytic sense of the word, suggesting highly rigid defense mechanisms). He created very detailed protocols for using LSD in psychotherapy, as well as how the subjects experience on the drug impact outcomes, none of which were employed in the studies included in this meta-analysis.

One is left wondering after reading the study that you dismiss as “a bit flimsy” if the outcomes would be different, i.e., more effective, if the Grof protocols were used along with more intensive therapeutic work during the sessions, and more active follow-up to integrate the insights gained while on the drug. Perhaps results could be better still if the treatment model included a mindfulness based recovery approach in the pre-drug period and in the post-drug integration period.

We are now in a place of being able to offer an integrated and integral model for these issues, but only if people are open-minded enough to look beyond their own limited paradigms. A treatment model that includes body (which can include drugs such as LSD or the shorter acting psilocybin, or yoga, tai chi, etc), psyche (mind, emotions, and spirituality), community (family and friends), and environment will likely produce much better outcomes than any one approach in isolation.

If you are going to report on science, please be responsible rather than going for the easy response (and headline) that may lure readers to the blog but offers them nothing of value once they arrive. Snark is entertaining, but knowledgeable information keeps people coming back for more.

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