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Monday, March 12, 2012

Bill Wilson, AA, and LSD

One of the underlying problems of categorizing addiction as a stand-alone disease is that it is so often found keeping company with all sorts of other diseases and problems.  Addicts are often found to be suffering from mental illness, depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, horrible memories, etc.  This is why therapy for these other problems can very often be beneficial, though it is best to treat them separately.

The medical community has never given up on trying to 'crack the code' of addiction, in large part because these other treatable conditions are usually co-occurring and can be confused.  Also, because of the overwhelming effects of the disease on the body and mind, doctors and medical professionals are often the 'first responders' in addictions crises.  Science wants a cure for all ailments, because science wants to understand the why and the how.  If you have those, then you generally have the cure.

So, now this article pops up on the BBC about the use of LSD in Great Britain to treat alcoholism:

Of course, this does not surprise me: the UK has a very high rate of atheism:

LSD seems like a perfectly easy way of getting a 'religious experience' without having to do more than pop a pill.  The problem with this method is that it confuses two problems: addiction and depression.

The experimentation with LSD and addiction began with AA founder Bill Wilson trying LSD in the 1950's:

However, Bill Wilson also involved himself in niacin treatments.  Bill's underlying problem was that, once out of his alcoholic activities, his underlying problems of depression came up.  Bill was as much looking for a 'spiritual experience' as he was looking for relief from his life-long battle with depression:

Despite clinical trials, no effective link between curing depression and LSD was ever established.  However, studies are introduced every so often trying it again. Bill even thought that LSD helped facilitate spiritual experiences, but neither he nor any studies ever proved a lasting benefit.

That's why this BBC article is a non-story: the main advocate is:

Prof David Nutt, who was sacked as the UK government's drugs adviser, has previously called for the laws around illegal drugs to be relaxed to enable more research.

The earlier clinical trials got nowhere with addiction.  If they had, I'm sure they would have been in use some 40 years later.

There have been advancements in understanding and treating depression, most of which are significantly less dramatic than LSD trips.  Many forms of depression are strictly physiological and thus subject to medical treatment.

But, it is important to keep in mind that addiction is not a disease in the simplistic sense of the word: it is a spiritual disorder rooted in body, soul, and spirit of the sufferer.  While contributing factors can be treated in the normal, medical sense, they are separate.

This was evident with Bill Wilson, who was able to stop drinking and yet continued to struggle with his depression.  If they were the same, then Bill's depression would have lifted with his sobriety.  That didn't happen.

At the same time, chemicals cannot be used to 'trigger' a spiritual experience.  Surely, a person who feels better because of chemicals may find it easier to pray and believe, and I am all for people taking anti-depressants so long as they work the way they are intended (over-prescription is another topic entirely).  But, no chemical can take the place of the necessary work of preparing one's self for contact with God.

LSD will never do more than give people powerful but temporary experiences that help them escape from the mundane.  As chronological distance from the LSD even builds, studies have demonstrated that whatever benefits were achieved eventually faded.  We must never think that such experiences alone are the cure.

Even the direct experience of God requires work.  We must prepare ourselves, and after the contact, we must also be prepared to be changed as well.

We cannot use chemicals to replace or even trigger the experience of God.  This is why Christianity has never turned to peyote or mushrooms.  These things just trick the mind.  Spirituality requires labor.  It is difficult, and never really amenable to short-cuts.


  1. Hi I think you have a very interesting article here, I would like to add a quote from Bill that you might find interesting.
    "[Its not] the material itself [that] actually produces these experiences. It seems to have the result of sharply reducing the forces of the ego — temporarily, of course. It is a generally acknowledged fact in spiritual development that ego reduction makes the influx of God's grace possible. If, therefore, under LSD we can have a temporary reduction, so that we can better see what we are and where we are going — well, that might be of some help. The goal might become clearer. So I consider LSD to be of some value to some people, and practically no damage to anyone. It will never take the place of any of the existing means by which we can reduce the ego, and keep it reduced."

    Chemicals can in fact help to elicit spiritual experiences through ego reduction, this has been known by various cultures for thousands of years. (See shamans and ayahuasca)
    Considering the fact that this class of chemicals are so biologically safe, it would be silly to say that they have no value.

    1. First, thanks for posting the quote. Could you provide the source? Second, LSD has proven to have significant hazards: . These types of drugs can have long-term negative effects at a statistically-significant level. Bill W. was wrong about that, but at the time there was much less knowledge about LSD's long-term drawbacks. He was a layman making an observation.
      While shaman may use them, you may notice that these drugs were used in a very limited way. They have also never demonstrated significant benefits: no peer-reviewed studies that I am aware of have indicated such.
      The whole problem is what Bill W. meant by 'ego reduction.' One thing that is dangerous about assuming that LSD is helpful is that is induces falsehoods in the form of hallucinations. LSD is known to produce these, so differentiating between a convincing falsehood and a genuine insight becomes all the more problematic, since only the 'tripper' observes the LSD's byproducts and this makes it very difficult to analyze in the way that the 12 Steps permits the addict to analyze his thoughts with the help of others.
      Again, thanks for posting your comment.

    2. This link has plenty of research showing that psychedelic drugs have medicinal value, in treating drug addiction, helping people with PTSD, helping terminally ill overcome fears of death... etc. I would say that those are some pretty good benefits wouldn't you?

    3. Not necessarily. This is an advocacy group. I'd want to see independent medical studies.