Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Abramson's Cold Spring Harbor Questionnaire for human LSD research

“One of the serious objections to questionnaires is that the validity of individual items is doubtful. Nevertheless, there are many items whose validity cannot be pushed further than a subjective response. Unfortunately, the only way to tell whether a person has hallucinations, or a headache, for that matter, is to ask him. As our science progresses, more objective tests for these phenomena may be evolved. In the meantime, it would seem that the proper course for the scientific psychologist to follow lies somewhere between complete dependence upon verbal reports of individuals and complete rejection of such material." (Jarvik,M.E. 1955)

Many of the workers who have studied mescaline or LSD intoxication have been puzzled by the subjects' attitudes. Efforts of the investigator to involve the subject in organized activities, such as answering questions, may be answered with reluctance or frank refusal.

Even though the questionnaire technique is not always reliable, it has been valuable in connection with psychoactive drug research to assess the relative potency of LSD and LSD congeners in humans. The most common questionnaire is the Cold Spring Harbor Questionnaire, shown below.

The 59-item questionnaire has short questions like, "Do you feel unsteady?" and "Are you anxious?" In 1955, Jarvik and Abramson found that LSD led to a large number of positive responses on the Cold Spring Harbor Questionnaire, and far more positive responses than the drugs LAE-32, BOL-148, ergonovine, scopolamine, alcohol, methamphetamine (methedrine), and two placebos. The subjects were 5 nonpsychotic volunteers, who received all drugs on different occasions.

Questionnaires and physiological tests were administered during the drug effects. As shown in the results below, LSD produced the most positive responses of all the drugs tested, thus validating the usefulness of the Cold Spring Harbor questionnaire for LSD research.

“In comparing the effects of seven different chemical and two tap water placebos upon the responses to a questionnaire, it is apparent that the chemical structure of the compound ingested is of paramount importance in determining responses to these questionnaires.” (Jarvik,M.E. 1955)

An abbreviated version of the questionnaire with 47 items was used with much of Abramson's human LSD research. The Table below gives the questions and responses by 26 volunteers, at 0.5 h, 1.5 h, 2.5 h, and 3.5 h after LSD ingestion. The questions that frequently gave a "yes" answer were, "Is salivation increased?", "Do you have a funny taste in your mouth?", "Is it a bitter taste?", "Does your head ache?", "Do your hands and feet feel peculiar?", "Is there pressure in your ears?", "Is your hearing abnormal?", "Do you tremble inside?", and "Are you anxious?"

The test situation in which a subject is asked to respond to these questions has turned out to be relevant for assessing some commonalities of the LSD experience.


JARVIK M. E., H. A. ABRAMSON and M. W. HIRSCH (1955). Comparative subjective effects of seven drugs including lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD-25). Journal of Abnormal Psychology 51, 657-662. 10.1037/h0041073

Abramson H. A., M. E. Jarvik, M. R. Kaufman, C. Kornetsky, A. Levine and M. Wagner (1955). Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD-25): I. physiological and perceptual responses. Journal of Psychology 39, 3-60.

1 comment:

Minna said...

Thanks for posting this insightful piece-- it was really interesting to read the questionnaires firsthand. But understanding first-hand the acid mindset, it seems to me that it's very likely that the subjects would be influenced by the questions. Obviously, objective tests on such a subjective state present some problems. However, the results are nonetheless intriguing!