Tuesday, January 18, 2011

LSD - The Empathy Drug?

In the 1960s, LSD and related hallucinogens captured the attention of college professors in psychology, religion, and other disciplines because of the drugs' potential to "expand" the mind, thereby helping to improve mental health, encourage empathy, change unhealthy behavior patterns (such as criminal behavior), improve outlook, and produce profoundly religious or spiritual experiences. Many artists, particularly musicians, also used LSD to stimulate the creative process. LSD was central to the hippie movement of the 1960s that focused on peace, love, and individual freedom.

"I looked up at the sky, and the moon was beaming down on me. There were two large wisps of cloud/haze that framed the moon in a perfect fractal/double-helix. I felt a surge of energy, as though I was being pulled from my body. The cold night air felt as though it was reaching right down through my head to my toes and drawing me out of my skin. I felt slightly terrified, as I though maybe I was about to die, and that is why my path had been laid out. I regained my grounding and a "voice" inside and outside me that was me and was something much greater than me spoke. As I processed the message, I felt as though I was one with the grass that was blowing on the field, the soil beneath my feet, and the roots, trunks and branches of the swaying oaks. "You are a part of us. We are a part of you. You ARE everything.  It was the profound feeling of unity that people seek through psychedelics. I was one with the universe. I felt a part of the planet, Gaia, and at the same time my field of view broadened to encompass our solar system, galaxy, and larger spaces vaster than my comprehension." - LSD testimonial

Throughout history and across cultures different hallucinogens have been used for shamanic purposes, the common theme is the connectedness to universe and communication with the higher self, or spirit/god.  Hallucinogenic use in religion and rituals pre-dates Christ.  In the middle ages use of psychedelic substances were used among witches, in some cases this was accidental poisoning by ergot, but there is much evidence that they did intentionally use other plants with psychedelic properties, such as belladonna and magic mushrooms, for ritualistic purposes.

In modern times the use of hallucinogenic drugs is still common, and although many of these are still used for shamanic and ritualistic purposes,  psychedelic drugs are now a huge part of the recreational drug industry.  Users commonly describe a feeling of connectedness, of feeling at one with the universe, having huge and life changing realisations about themselves and the universe.

"I had left my body & ego, my memories, morals and fears, and I had entered Nirvana. I was home. Flying through a multidimensional place of pure vision and thought, I saw endless arches of golden salamanders, flowing through the very fabric of space & time, their colors changing and rotating like countless kaleidoscopes, smiling and looking at me. My form and vision were shifting all the time, and I saw countless non-defined being, animals, flowers, trees, jewels and crystals, while the salamanders were telling and showing me the secret of life. Heavenly music, harp-strings and choirs ad infinitum were caressing my mental g-spot. There were no questions anymore, all was answered., and there was eternal unity. I was omnipotent. I was the universe. And the universe laughed and laughed, about itself and the joke of life it pulled on it! The most beautiful place in the universe, and I had found it! It's soooo sweat, soooo beautiful and loving, it's magic." - DMT testimonial 

It has been claimed that LSD can be used to treat headaches, alcoholism, and has potential benefits in psychiatric medicine.  So can LSD improve empathy?  In most cases users report increased feelings of empathy and love at a profound level during the trip itself, but do these feelings continue on after the drug has worn off?  Could a prescribed course improve empathy long term?  Maybe even more profound feelings of empathy, compassion and understanding could be gained from using psychedelics in their natural form, such as mushrooms, DMT, cactus (mescaline or peyote).

"I felt as if I had died, found definition in the universe and been reborn again into the life that I was already living for 20 years. My emotions had gone the full spectrum, from absolute petrified fear, to elation, to infinite understanding which provided me with overwhelming relief and happiness. I recognized feelings that I had long forgotten (the sense of security, admiration, love and dependency that I had for my parents when I was a little kid). The shroom trip gave me perspective on everything and made me understand the level to which a person changes, although everything remains a part of myself. I could not help but feel that I had been in this (tripping out) state/place before, the feeling of protection, something watching over me ensured me, c'mon dig deeper look harder, understand, it's not that scary. I was able to push through the overwhelming fear of understanding something beyond myself and was rewarded with feeling of absolute relief, joy and appreciation the likes of which I cannot express with mere words. It was as if I had reached another level." - Magic Mushroom Testimonial

From 1961-1963 a series of experiments were carried out in a maximum security facility for young offenders.  The study involved the administration of psilocybin to assist group therapy to 32 prisoners in an effort to reduce recidivism rates.  Prison records suggested that historically 64 per cent of the 32 subjects would return to prison within six months after parole. However, six months after the psilocybin tests were carried out, only 25 per cent of those on parole had returned, six for technical parole violations and two for new offenses. These results are all the more dramatic when the correctional literature is surveyed; few short-term projects with prisoners have been effective to even a minor degree. In addition, the personality test scores indicated a measurable positive change when pre-psilocybin and post-psilocybin results were compared. 

However, the results of this experiment have been largely contested by a follow-up study, citing several problems including differences in the length of time after release that the study group versus the control group were compared, and other methodology factors including the difference between subjects re-incarcerated for parole violations versus imprisoned for new crimes. This study concluded that only a statistically slight improvement could be shown. It was theorised that the key to a long-term reduction in overall recidivism rates might be the combination of the pre-release administration of psilocybin-assisted group psychotherapy with a comprehensive post-release follow-up program modeled on Alcoholics Anonymous groups to offer support to the released prisoners. The study concluded that whether a new program of psilocybin-assisted group psychotherapy and post-release programs would significantly reduce recidivism rates is an empirical question that deserves to be addressed within the context of a new experiment.

So could hallucinogens be the empathy drug? Could they be effectively used in the treatment of antisocial behavior, and other personality disorders such as MPDNPD, psycopathy, sociopathy, and maybe even in some cases of autism?  The biggest question I have is do these people want to be treated, and is it necessary if they pose no harm to others?


  1. Most likely not. LSD didn't make me more empathetic at all.

  2. the effectiveness of hallucinogenic drugs for medicinal purposes would depend on how often you took it and in what environment. most people taking it recreationally (at parties etc) would probably not have the same inner experience as someone taking it in a more controlled environment. also there are other hallucinogens which could possibly have a more profound effect than lsd, especially given the comparatively low doses that are available on the street these days. another factor to consider if if the person has any desire to feel empathy in the first place, psychological resistance would have to be a factor =)

  3. dunno about LSD making someone more empathic... I've only taken it twice and they weren't partic strong trips. ecstasy i'm sure i read improves empathy, though for me all drugs are about my change of perspective, change of sensory input calibration (if that doesn't sound too robotic!) and never made me connect with other people, only the universe! mushrooms all the way! :)

  4. People are part of the universe, though. Interesting compartmentalization.

  5. every living breathing thing has a spatial awareness of "being" part of the universe. it is the feeling of a spritual connectedness which is not apparent in the 1st dimension that i am speaking of. the proposition is that we are all part of a "one", so to show compassion towards others is ultimately compassion towards ourselves. it is proposed that it is the element of duality that causes all the abhorrent behaviours within human nature.

    interesting you bring up compartmentalisation - was going to write a post on that soon =)

    this clip is quite good