The Pharmacology of LSD by Hintzen & Passie

Originally published in 2010 ‘The Pharmacology of LSD: A Critical Review’ by Annelie Hintzen and Torsten Passie is an invaluable source of information. A joint publication between The Beckley Foundation Press and the Oxford University Press, it is the first comprehensive review into the pharmacological effects of LSD and comes at a critical time in the re-emergence of research into psychedelic substances.

Pharmacology, being the branch of biology that examines drug action in organisms, tells us exactly which scientific literature is under consideration here.  Initially however, in chapter 1, The Pharmacology of LSD: A Critical Review sets about framing LSD and pharmacology historically, in regard to its discovery, by Albert Hofmann, its application as a psychotomimetic (i.e. mimicking psychosis,) as a psychotherapeutic tool, its involvement with intelligence agencies and the military and, finally, as a so-called psychedelic.

The term psychedelic was first coined by Humphrey Osmond in response to Aldous Huxley’s attempt at renaming hallucinogens ‘phanerothymes’. It was ‘psychedelic’ that caught on however: “With regard to scientific investigations, the psychedelic movement has stimulated the serious study of altered states of consciousness, meditation, and religious experiences” (11). All conditions that appear, on the surface at least, to have turned the tables from examining LSD as an aid to fighting ill-health into an experientially creative tool. Pharamacologically speaking, the focus has tended toward the theraputic qualities and this, of course, is the major line of flight within the book.

There are, however, still many aspects of LSD and pharmacology that have been covered by the scientific literature and I’ll provide here a very brief chapter breakdown in order to demonstrate the approach and methodology of the text, in delineating this information. Chapter 2 deals with the pharmacological effects, which includes a summarized overview and subsections looking at chemistry, pharmacodynamics, pharmacokinetics plus the toxicological and neurophysiological effects, along with tolerance/crosstolerance research. And Chapter 3 reviews the way LSD interacts with endogenous and exogenous substances.

Chapters 4 and 5 deal with psychological and neuropsychological effects respectively. Whilst Chapter 6 examines the effects of LSD on psychiatric patients, in schizophrenics and their blood relations, in autistic children, epilepsy and other mental disorders. And, finally, chapter 7 deals with the long-term and untoward effects of LSD. The final section, entitled Dependence, highlights the incongruity between the literature and the wider scientific assumptions on LSD:

“Even during the most popular period of LSD taking, with the exception of some described individuals (Blacker et al., 1968), almost all LSD consumers followed a very sporadic usage of LSD. This indicates, besides biochemical and biobehavioural data, that the dependency potential of these substances ought to be low. Despite this, the ICD-10 and DSM IV lists a psychological dependence on hallucinogens such as LSD as an entity of disease” (157).

Not having a science background myself makes it hard for me to evaluate the extent to which the text has nailed down the pharmacological literature on LSD. However, in light of its surprising novelty, in that no such review has been constructed before, it would seem that The Pharmacology of LSD: A Critical Review is destined, quite rightly, to become a staple reference text for a variety of scientific fields; as diverse as neuroscience and psychiatry. The book contains an extensive reference section and author index and I feel certain that the book will be an invaluable tool for the future of LSD research.

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