Autism ‘treated’ with LSD

I’ve just found an intriguing article on how LSD was used as an experimental treatment for children with autism during the 1960s. When I first heard about these studies I did a double take, but there were a surprising number conducted at the time.

Flashback to the 1960s: LSD in the treatment of autism.

Dev Neurorehabil. 2007 Jan-Mar;10(1):75-81.

Between 1959 and 1974, several groups of researchers issued reports on the use of d-Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD) in the treatment of children with autism. This paper reviews that literature to consider how the authors justified these studies, as well as their methods, results, and conclusions. The justification for using LSD was often based on the default logic that other treatment efforts had failed. Several positive outcomes were reported with the use of LSD, but most of these studies lacked proper experimental controls and presented largely narrative/descriptive data. Today there is renewed interest in the use of psychedelic drugs for therapeutic purposes. While this resurgence of research has not yet included children with autism, this review of the LSD studies from the 1960s and 1970s offers important lessons for future efforts to evaluate new or controversial treatments for children with autism.

Sadly I don’t have access to the full text of the paper, but I’ve discovered that the Neurodiversity website has created a list of many of the original studies and has archived the full text of most of them online.

The studies are a morbidly fascinating read and it’s interesting how some studies seem to exclusively report beneficial effects with remarkably flowery language (“They seek positive contacts with adults, approaching them with face uplifted and bright eyes…”) while others report mixed or quite unpleasant reactions (“mood swings which were sharp and rapid from extreme elation to extreme depression or anxiety”).

Link to PubMed abstract of LSD and autism paper.
Link to Neurodiversity paper archive.

16 Comments

  1. Posted July 29, 2009 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    It will be interesting to see if the psychedelic effects of the drug interact with the often-found exceptional abilities in the autistic children.

  2. Posted July 29, 2009 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

    I’m surprised this paper is omitted from the Neurodiversity archive:
    MODIFICATION OF AUTISTIC BEHAVIOR WITH LSD-25
    SIMMONS et al. Am J Psychiatry.1966; 122: 1201-1211
    No abstract is available. It is the only paper I’ve come across with O.I. Lovaas’ name on it that uses the term “autistic” or “autism” before 1971. In all of his other papers published from the late 1950s through early 1970s the children he conducted his experiments on were described as schizophrenic and/or mentally retarded.

    • Jill
      Posted November 3, 2012 at 1:55 am | Permalink

      “childhood schizophrenia” at that time was merely a synonym for autism.

  3. Posted July 18, 2010 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    I am Steve Selpal, an artist/illustrator, and graphic designer, with credentials. A lifetime of being enveloped in the autism world (unseen to you, neurological typical ) plus being enveloped in all of the self-training, and psychological therapist training and psychiatric doctor meds, to fit into the so-called real world has enabled me to survive to the age of 59, now, almost 60. All the therapy was good.
    I was born in 1950, late in the year, 11/11. I managed to be an outpatient, taking supervised psychiatric medicines most of those years. I was in psychiatric hospitals 3 times, over the years.
    I wish I could get the papers of O.I. Lovass. I am sure that by reviewing his collected data, I, could/would result in a
    comparison of his data analogous to my own observation/summary of myself. The effects of LSD for people with autism does not measurably change the states of mind or awareness and sensitivity to external phenomena. The importance of such an experiment would require one, two, or more NTs (neurotypicals, from an Aspie’s perspective). There is a good reason for this, regarding the Aspie or Autie’s progress.
    All of the NT therapist participants and the Aspie/Autie person should take the same dosage of LSD-25. This should be an adequate or large amount to cause effective hallucinations. A small dosage of LSD-25, such as 100 mcg that has been used for talk therapy, is inadequate, for all participants. It has to be a much larger dose.
    The health-giving presence of the well meaning NT therapists will reassure the Aspie subject that all is well. Everyone can relax for awhile. The progressive effects of the LSD will affect the observable conditions of the NT therapists. They will have a profound experience. Normal (NT) people cannot describe this.
    The autistic participant will realize that the NTs, his/her normal friends have entered the “normal” world of the Autie/Aspie. LSD equalizes the communication between therapists and their autistic subjects or patients. This connection of communicating between the therapists and the Autie/Aspie, is like leveling the playground. The Autie or Aspie can explain to the NT therapists what they are seeing. There are many kinds of seemingly foreign life forms that are unknown to the NT, but are common to the Autie/Aspie daily, typical perceptions.
    The mental development of the Autie/Aspie is thus advanced or improved by his/her attempt at explaining into words to the NT therapists, the experience of their typical daily environment, it’s lower life forms which is just ordinary stuff to the Autie or Asperger’s daily life. The action of explaining and chatting between the therapists and the subject Autistic person, causes image projection and an attempt at describing and experiencing a commonality. The Aspie or Autie can come out and show an authoritative role, perhaps for the first time in the subject’s life. The very actions of striving to communicate to the NTs in words, programs the Autistic person to memorize an avenue of communication, with the will to describe this other reality.
    The result of all of this experience is a progress of communication between Autistic people and internist psychologists. The results of such experimenting is beneficial to all participants.

  4. Posted July 18, 2010 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    I am hoping that more people will register and comment here.

  5. Austin
    Posted October 22, 2010 at 4:55 am | Permalink

    I experienced LSD myself the first time a couple months ago.
    I’m pretty sure I have a mild form of aspberger’s. (not diagnosed or anything just always been very very isolated and socially awkward) So far it’s helping me tremendously with social anxiety and just letting myself out into the real world and with self esteem.

    For me, Acid might be a step INTO reality. (but only if I use it RIGHT.)
    I feel like I feel things more intensely now.

    Of course, I’m only 18, so I could just be growing up.

    (this is not to refute that acid is incredibly psychologically dangerous to idiots.
    Idiots should not take acid, and idiots never know they’re idiots :P in my view this is the best reason to keep it illegal)

  6. Moshalas
    Posted November 9, 2010 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

    It turns out that the words “autism” and “psychedelic” have a strong link. A substance called bufotenin was detected in many of their urine samples. The effects are similar to LSD.

  7. Posted September 9, 2011 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    No Illegal Maahn

  8. Rauchelle
    Posted May 17, 2012 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

    I think this is a fantastic idea! This could be used in VERY, VERY small doses when the small child is first seen to have problems. We all know that LSD “wakes” up the brain and does NOT stay in the system. It can’t be detected in 24 hours. The only reason it brings on mood swings is because of how it is obsorbed into the body. This is a fantastic idea!

  9. Leon
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

    Yes it truly is amazing that those studies contain both “good” AND “bad” results. It’s almost as if they weren’t bOught off by big pharma to approve a new drug. (cuz if they were, the 70% negative would be swept under the rug as they are with most pharmaceuticals). Ironic that the drugs they do give to autistic kids kill more people in the last 10 years than LSD has ever killed. Oh well thank god for big pharma.

    • Jill
      Posted November 3, 2012 at 2:01 am | Permalink

      Sandoz promoted studies that included both positive and negative results, becase they always promoted the use of Thorazine injection in the case of a bad trip, so in a clinical setting, you can’t really have a bad trip with a reset option like that…

  10. larry
    Posted November 25, 2012 at 2:36 am | Permalink

    OK, maybe we are overdiagnosing autism as anyone exceptional with poor social skills. this is retarded. totally unscientific. LSD is not a treatment for autism though potentially is a treatment for OCD which many consider autistic (how many of us are autistic now)

  11. David
    Posted October 14, 2013 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    I come high on the aspergers scale. I’m high functioning or whatever you want to call it and have used psychedelics. For anyone saying aspergers doesn’t exist- it really, really does. A person from the outside is very different from the person on the inside. They have helped me overcome extreme anxiety and reduced it to only a little sometimes. They have also helped me understand the world around me immensely and made me much more self aware. These experiences have improved and entirely shed many autistic behaviours. I also used to be dissociated very often, but this is no longer.
    I still have aspergers but I behave in a much more “normal” way. I spent from about 13 depressed only getting more depressed as I got older, leading to the point of near suicide. I couldn’t be happier since attaining such an understanding of the world and people and self realisation/sense of self. Couldn’t thank psychedelics more. Psychedelics are for autism and related disorders, but also for anyone with any kind of issue relating to the mind. I have seen them under knowledgeable guidance drastically improve the lives of many people long term.
    You are essentially a computer, and psychedelics will enable you to re-write the code of that computer in a way that it is enhanced and refined. Current medication will get you nowhere and causes all sorts of side effects not to mention craziness.

  12. Posted October 19, 2013 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

    HAD to post a comment, im on here from yesterday’s “trip” on LSD. SKIP TO BOTTOM FOR LSD REPORT. wanted to write a short bit, every aspie is different, as every human is unique!

    24 Years old.

    Substance History:
    -Dextroamphetamine/Amphetamine (Adderall) 17 y\o
    -Oxycodone/Acetaminophen (Percocet) 18 y\o
    -Hydrocodone/Acetaminophen (Vicodin) 19-20 y\o
    -ethanol C2H5OH (Liquor/Beer) 20 y\o
    -Alprazolam (Xanax) 20 y\o
    -THC (Cannabis) 21 y\o
    -Diazepam (Valium) 23 y\o
    -Lorazepam (Ativan) 23 y\o
    -Psilocybin/Psilocin (Mushrooms) 24 y\o
    -Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) 24 y\o
    Discovered all these substances in this order.

    Started smoking Cannabis when i was 21, after a beer binge for a few months (6 pack a day, let to a 12 pack a day…and im 5’6″ weigh 125 lbs…) and really having troubles(work\relationships\family) with my “awkwardness” just failing to communicate, and selfish like behaviors….relationships fail before my eyes and id have no idea why, even with someone explaining.

    The Cannabis was helping with bits of empathy and other emotions i can’t recall experiencing for the first time, it was mostly helping me with appetite and just appreciating some very rudimentary things in life, stuff i should of known by the time i was a kid… like that plants grow because of sunshine, thats a no brainer, but up until that point it was never that important to me…just started to appreciate things a LITTLE more… outdoors became just more pleasant, wasn’t so much of a grouch….ect…

    at this point i thought THC was THE thing for me, and i felt so relived, instantly quit smoking, and started vaporizing to be health conscious, still use it to this day, very healing plant for many different things!, anyway.

    But with cannabis comes tolerance, a ceiling….or the end of some kind of road, albeit a empty sack or the very temporary like effects of THC wear off.

    22, Went to a Psychotherapist, told me i was close on the autism spectrum, not exerting enough symptoms to be an Aspie…At the time i still just, FELT different, weather it was aspergers or whatever it didn’t matter, just knew i was different, always feeling like id just piss everyone off, no matter my approach to social behavior, over analyzing everyone’s emotions without connecting their body language first. The THC had me so one foot out the door at times…it almost made everything worse, all my problems became so clear and apparent, as far as changing them, id need some help.

    23, started experimenting (never more than one a day, never mixed together.) With benzo’s like xanax, ativan, valium…. i thought these helped so amazingly, but just another fail….just led to small addiction, side effects, withdraw. once again, wears off anyways. Im smart enough to know this isnt the answer.

    24, the same person that first hinted me of aspergers when i was 22, handed me 2.5grams of some decent strength mushrooms one day. Made some mushie tea, i became a child for a few hours, rediscovering life like a small child with innocence, emotion, empathy, imagination… quite an experience… def trippy…bought an OZ of mushrooms the next day (28g) of POTENT shrooms, i was hooked on this mystery of an experience in a dream like world… Experimented successfully with different sized doses and experiences. All very positive, learned a lot about myself, and every time i could just tell, I WAS DIFFERENT, couldn’t of been more clear, the thought of someone telling me “what i have” made me just laugh, what do they know? what a book told them, but in my heart i knew what was going on, i could feel it… But when i came to being sober… still had my negative traits back….still hard to change…change what tho?..

    Few Weeks later…

    ———-LSD EXPERINCE———–

    A good friend for years, very experienced tripper, gets me a few hits of LSD on white on white blotter paper, just little white squares wrapped in foil….too creepy, ive let TV, movies, the news….all that fear in loathing shit get to my head…thinking this will be some face melting, visual, kaleidoscope of horror or happiness….. everyone either explains a very positive or negative exp…just like mushrooms too though…and i love those, this chemical is too undeniable for me to try, its molecular structure is too close to Psilocybin/Psilocin for me NOT to try…i knew i had to be in the right mindset to or else id freak(not really, just thought so at the time. at a low dose such as half\one tab, the worse you’ll experience is crying, might be good for you anyways)….next day, fuck it. going in. If i was Naive enough to think putting a gun to my head to solve my problems, why not put a gun to what i think is “reality” and shatter it.

    took a half tab for safety, dont want a 250ug first trip on accident. my friend told me 1 is fun and 2 is amazing, considering his tolerance, i figured 1 would be enough.

    30 mins in, i feel, something, not high, not trippin, but i could tell it was coming, but not strong enough to break threshold. took the other half tab. 30 mins later, i was there.

    Normally, when i “trip” taking mushrooms, i feel almost transported to a dream like version of the world i live in now.

    So i was expecting that feeling, LSD also being a psychedelic (so is cannabis, but its nothing like shrooms…) the stimulated senses started coming in, i could see better, more depth, hear better, taste better… rather than ‘rediscovering’ all those things. Even simple math and numbers became more understood (than clouded with shrooms) my brain had felt like it was operating at full capacity, perfectly, not overloaded. Problem solving, and multitasking became easier.

    suddenly i realized, i just felt… “normal” that normal ive been trying to compare myself to with everyone else that doesn’t have aspergers… instantly become emotional, start realizing all the things im really doing wrong and i FINALLY have an insight on how i can fix it….and during the trip, i have an increased bout of confidence, not OVER confidence that i achieve from alcohol(followed by a million negative other things) I feel like i have the power to change myself, first starts with just apologizing, that in itself was helping so much. later the sadness was replace with rejoice as im so hopeful that i found the perfect thing to help me, i become so curious an ambitious to go outside, see what happens when i come in contact with the one thing i fear all the time, the public. The thought of me coming down off this, perplexed me…. i didn’t feel high or trippin….just like, i was normal, but that in itself to me….was quite the trip, i was finally able to enjoy myself while around others in a public place….

    i quickly ordered some food, walked across the st, anxiously wondering how my new found social abilities will work out… knowing my pupils are blasted wide open, normally im so paranoid about my eyes even being red or someone knowing that im high…this does not bother me one bit, in fact my eye contact is off the charts, and i don’t even give a damn what anyone thinks…about my eyes, or what i took. All i know is that i was able to keep my head up, speak for myself, stand up for myself, not let others opinions take to my heart.

    later i ate, watched some movies and relaxed with my girlfriend the rest of the night, nothing trippy or twitchy, was able to just relax and be myself, was amazing, fell asleep just fine, woke up feeling great, now typing this.

    I really hope this can help at least just ONE person…..sorry for the long post, but if you’re anything like me, itl intrigue you… you’ll read the whole thing, then wonder,

    Is LSD right for me?….

    Yes, get in the mindset of wanting to help yourself, not cause you’re bored, and take a light dose, whats the worse that could happen? not feel anything?…

  13. rick
    Posted February 26, 2014 at 6:13 am | Permalink

    I find it very hard to believe that they made test on children with aspergers in the 60’s when the syndrome wasn’t discovered until mid 90’s

  14. Posted March 24, 2014 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    An interesting study is documented at http://www.hofmann.org/papers/fisher/fisher_4.htm showing the results of using lsd and psilocyn on patients that were typically non functional in society


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