"Taking LSD could treat alcoholism because the resulting "trips" give people a new insight and fresh perspective on their drinking problem, researchers claim.
Although attempting to break an addiction with an illegal drug may seem counter-intuitive, a review of existing evidence suggests it can help alcoholics look at their life from a different perspective.
In the 1960s and 70s several clinics ran trials to determine whether lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD, could help alcoholics overcome their dependence with varying degrees of success.
The supervisors of one trial noted: "It was rather common for patients to claim significant insights into their problems, to feel that they had been given a new lease on life, and to make a strong resolution to discontinue their drinking."
None of the experiments featured enough patients to draw any firm conclusions, but now a reanalysis of all the data taken together, totalling 536 patients, suggests the treatment could have potential after all.
The new study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology found that LSD had a positive effect on alcohol misuse in each of the trials, with 59 per cent of patients who took the drug having improved at follow-up, compared with 38 per cent who took a placebo.
A single dose of LSD produces benefits which last between six and 12 months, and repeated doses along with modern treatments could ensure longer term results, the researchers said.
The drug, which causes hallucinations that make users experience the world in a distorted way, is not physically addictive but some experte believe users can become dependant on its effects, for example from a need to distance themselves from reality.
Pål-Ørjan Johansen, a Norwegian researcher and fellow of Harvard Medical School, who led the research, said: "Given the evidence for a beneficial effect of LSD on alcoholism, it is puzzling why this treatment approach has been largely overlooked."
Dr David Nutt, former advisor on drugs to the government, said: "I think this study is very interesting and it is a shame the last of these studies were done in the 1960s.
"I think these drugs might help people switch out of a mindset which is locked into addiction or depression and be a way of helping the brain switch back to where it should be, in a similar way that Alcoholics Anonymous programmes do."
in telegraph.co.uk on the 10th of March 2012 by Nick Collins