As the FDA paves the way for clinical LSD trials, scientists are exploring its medical benefits. Is acid the new Xanax? Plus, from Angelina to The Beatles, a gallery of celebrity trippers.
Bob Wold doesn't seem like your typical acid tripper. A happily married 56-year-old contractor with four kids who lives the suburbs of Chicago, he had never considered taking psychedelic drugs until about 10 years ago. At the time, he was suffering from cluster headachesknown as "suicide" headaches because they're so painfulfor 12 hours a day, and he was spending more than $20,000 a year on medication. Then he read a post on a support-group Web site from someone who said they'd found a miracle cure for their own cluster headaches: LSD.
Wold decided to try it. "Compared to brain surgery," he says, "taking a couple hits of LSD looked a lot more attractive." But ever since a bust of the country's biggest LSD lab nine years ago, the drug has become much harder to find. So Wold got his hands on the closest equivalent he could think of: psilocybin "magic" mushrooms (though he has since switched to LSD, which he says works better). The psychedelics arrived in a brown box at his doorstep from a long-distance dealer. He took one dose: about 1.5 grams. "In 15 minutes I could feel the difference," he says. "My head was clearer than it had probably been in the past 20 years. Other medications felt like they were just covering it up." But on acid, "All the pressure was gone."
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Most people with headaches aren't going to purchase an illegal drug. And soon, they may not have to. For the first time in four decades, the government is cracking open the door to studies looking into the medical benefits of LSD. If such studies bear fruitand early results are promisingpeople like Wold may someday be able to pick up an LSD pill at their local pharmacy.
The watershed moment came last September, when the FDA approved a clinical trial on the use of LSD to treat anxiety in cancer patients. According to the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (or MAPS), it was the first time since the 1960s that a medical study involving LSD was permitted by the federal government. MAPS Director Rick Doblin called it "a symbol that the psychedelic renaissance is here."