This article challenges the dominant view that LSD plays a significant causal role in the occurance of suicide, it attacks the media double-standard around LSD and suicide, and discusses the scientific evidence that the public has been misled on the issue.
The Media Double-Standard
During the 1960s and 1970’s the right-wing US government saw that LSD use was asosciated with increasingly radical left-wing political thought and activism: they were terrified and would stop at nothing to curb its usage so as to protect their interests and agendas.
A media shitstorm of epic proportions was was unleashed with a view to demonising the drug and its users. The media at the time used a few tenuous anecdotes of LSD related suicides, amidst a vast sea of LSD users to successfully embed the idea that the drug would cause instant insanity and presented a high risk of suicide into popular consciousness where it still persists to this day.
These anecdotes prove nothing: it is likely that (the very small number of) suicides that occured under the influence of LSD occured in individuals already at risk from suicide. There is no evidence idea that LSD is likely to cause a perfectly sane and functional individual to kill themselves.
As with many claims about the harms of psychedelic or recreational drugs, this issue shows clearly how double standards are at work. How many suicides occur whilst people are under the influence of alcohol? How many suicides are caused by prescribed psychiatric mediation? Why is it that if a single individual dies under the influence of LSD it makes it to national newpapers- yet all these other suicides are ignored?
Then there are all the suicides that have nothing to do with chemicals at all. How many people are driven to suicide by monotonous, stressful and/or futile jobs? By failed or failing marriages? By money worries, poverty and debt? In fact, there are so many risk factors asosciated with suicide which are either ignored by the media or treated in a very different way to the rare occasions of a suicide that is linked to LSD use.
Given LSD’s proven use as a psychotherepeutic agent it is a fair assumption that LSD ‘might’ have actually averted suicides in some cases. Of course, such an assertion could (by its very nature) not really be proven with ease, and certainly such cases would never make it to the mainstream media.
Let’s not forget, in the background of all of this, we have an obvious double-standard: a government who would ban a chemical under the premise that it is “protecting” people, whilst asking the same people to sign up to its army, to die killing others in the name of the economy.
Where does objective the scientific research stand on this issue? According to Stafford & Golightly’s research:
“In 1960 Dr. Sidney Cohen undertook an extensive survey of psychedelic use to determine the nature of possible drawbacks. [His data] represented over 5,000 patients and 25,000 sessions covering a dosage range of from 25 mcg. to 1500 mcg.
[…] no serious physical complications were reported—even when the drugs were given to alcoholics with generally impaired health. There was also a surprisingly low incidence of major mental disturbances. Despite the profound psychic changes that occur while a subject is under the influence of LSD or mescaline, psychotic reactions lasting longer than 48 hours developed in fewer than 2/10ths of one per cent of the cases. The attempted suicide rate was just over 1/10th of one percent. Not one case of addiction was reported.”
This was research carried out on psychiatric patients, already at a higher risk of suicide than the general population.
“Among those who had simply volunteered for LSD or mescaline experiments, major or prolonged psychological complications almost never occurred. In this group, only one instance of a psychotic reaction lasting longer than two days was reported, and there were no suicides. Among the mentally ill given the drugs, however, prolonged psychotic states were induced in one out of every 550 patients. In this group, one in 830 attempted suicide, and one in 2500 carried the attempt through.”
We must keep in mind that the current overall US suicide rate is 11.8/100,000 (0.0018%), meaning there is no significant effect of LSD on suicide rates (the research above reports it was slightly over (0.0010%).
Clearly the risk of suicide has been greatly exagerated by the popular press. One of the most annoying things about this is that many LSD first-timers, whose main source of knowledge are the lies they have been spoon-fed by the mass-media, are primed into suicide-paranoia which detracts from their experience and significantly adds to the risks.
The therepeutic effect so LSD, which are established beyond reasonable doubt, are ignored by the press: would the newspapers run a story if an individual claimed that LSD had stopped them killing themselves? ‘LSD saves another life’ is not a headline I expect to see soon, but I am confident that LSD does more good than harm for the majority of individuals who use it. The fact is, we have no idea of knowing how many (if any) lives LSD has actually saved over the last 50 years.
There is a more subtle thing going on here with the issue of suicide. Having worked in mental health, one of the first things one is taught is to let go of our moralistic judgements around suicide. When I hear of individuals who have killed themselves on LSD, I interpret that series of events very differently to a story of a man who killed themselves because of their marriage or debt: the suicide has a different meaning, arguably every suicide has a different meaning.
On LSD individuals have the capacity to transcend their bodies their bodies. I can understand why, in such moments, some users feel that they no longer need the body at all. Whether this is right or wrong, delusion or not, is not my place to say. What I will say is this: self-immolation and the conscious destruction of the body has a well known historical pedigree in Buddhism and Hinduism: not just as a form of political protest (as we see in modern times), but as an expression of spiritual realisation and attainment. This is well-documented in the book ‘Burning for Buddha‘, for those short on time the wikipedia article on self-immolation may suffice.
Research demonstrates that one of LSD’s applications is in end-of-life care: it has been shown to help people to face their own death, to reduce the anxiety and fear surrounding death. Given this, it may help us understand why there might be a link between some individuals using LSD and then taking their own lives. LSD is known to reduce (or even remove) the fear of death, that might make suicide a more viable option to many. Further, individuals who (before LSD) wish to kill themselves, may use LSD as a way of achieving it in a peaceful manner.
Suicide is the third biggest killers of young men aged between 16-25, a clear indication of the spiritual bankrupcy of our age. LSD has the potential to re-awaken the forgotten aspects of our humanity and make life worth living for those who have forgotten the significance of their existence.
To summarise this article:
- A double-standard exists in the media which high-lights LSD suicides whilst ignoring myriad other causes of suicide that our society embraces or ignores.
- Scientific research provides no evidence that there is a significant link between LSD use and suicide.
- If it is true, as research consistantly indicates, that LSD has psycho-therepeutic potential, then it is reasonable to assume that LSD may have prevented suicides in some users.
- LSD may be a useful tool in addressing the high suicide-rates in our society.
- The ability for LSD to alleviate death-anxiety means it may be a tool used by the suicidal, rather than a trigger of suicide.
- We must avoid simple moralistic judgements about suicide, since history demonstrates that suicide is, in some cases, asosciated with genuine spiritual expression and attainment.
Post-Script Side Note
In many ways, the right to take one’s own life is fundamentally an issue of cognitive liberty. Afterall, what more basic expression of choice is there: than tha ability to chose to live or die?
In 1961, the British Government chose to recognise this freedom by deriminalising that act. Given that suicide is the most extreme form of self-harm/high-risk behaviour, surely it is logically inconsistant to prohibit the use of drugs on the basis that they are a risk to people’s health?