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It seems that now that the dust has settled from the generational wars of the Sixties, that some people are beginning to revisit LSD’s amazing possibilities to help our species.
While catching up on my back reading of Boing Boing, I came across this August 31st post which points to a recent (June 2005) article in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry "Flashback: Psychiatric Experimentation With LSD in Historical Perspective" by Erika Dyck. Although the title is a little tricky, it turns out that it isn’t about LSD flashbacks. Here is an excerpt giving some of her conclusions:
By the mid-1960s, the growing popular association of radicalized youth and psychedelic drugs further reinforced LSD’s image as a dangerous recreational drug and one, therefore, not worth serious medical attention. Despite repeated protests from certified psychiatrists, governments throughout the Western world criminalized the drug. These decisions profoundly altered the image of psychedelics in popular and medical circles. In Canada, the legal decisions stemmed from recommendations made by the Commission of Inquiry into the Non-Medical Use of Drugs (the LeDain Commission) (44). The LeDain report discounted testimony from individuals who had first-hand experiences with psychedelics. This criterion excluded psychedelic psychiatrists from contributing to debates over the legal status of LSD and, instead, privileged perspectives offered by their professional critics. Consequently, psychedelic psychiatry appeared dangerous, unscientific, and unethical by both popular and legal accounts. In 1966, the Sandoz Pharmaceutical Company (which manufactured LSD) voluntarily ended its distribution of the drug. Sandoz maintained that its legitimate supplies were not responsible for either the black market or the dangerous side effects but that the “unforeseen public reaction” necessitated the removal of Sandoz LSD (45).
Initially, LSD appealed to medical investigators as an important chemical substance in the pharmacologic revolution. The corresponding promises of biochemical disease concepts and a drug therapy that combated the depersonalization associated with pill-popping solutions made LSD an attractive medical subject. The political culture in Saskatchewan provided tremendous opportunities for initiating experimental theories and practices with political and local support for programs that reformed health care and attracted professionals to underserviced rural communities. The region supported medical research that challenged contemporary assumptions about the classification of mental disorders, about treatment modalities, about professional authority, and about institutionalization. Despite these contributions, psychedelic psychiatry also appeared as an outgrowth of more traditional influences (namely, psychoanalysis and biological psychiatry). Consequently, it emerged in an awkward methodological muddle between changing medical paradigms. MDMA research makes similar therapeutic promises to improve patients’ subjective experiences in areas of pain and memory. Perhaps the history of LSD experimentation offers valuable insight into the medical and nonmedical challenges of incorporating psychedelic drugs into today’s psychopharmacological medicine.
Its nice to see psychiatrists eager to use LSD as a medicine. But what they are missing is a potentially larger role for the drug, not as a medicine but as a tool for awakening human potential. I am fond of this 1962 statement by Aldous Huxley in his essay, "Culture and the Individual":
How should the psychedelics be administered? Under what circumstances, with what kind of preparation and follow-up? These are questions that must be answered empirically, by large-scale experiment. Man’s collective mind has a high degree of viscosity and flows from one position to another with the reluctant deliberation of an ebbing tide of sludge. But in a world of explosive population increase, of headlong technological advance and of militant nationalism, the time at our disposal is strictly limited. We must discover, and discover very soon, new energy sources for overcoming our society’s psychological inertia, better solvents for liquefyingthe sludgy stickiness of an anachronistic state of mind. On the verbal level an education in the nature and limitations, the uses and abuses of language; on the wordless level an education in mental silence and pure receptivity; and finally, through the use of harmless psychedelics, a course of chemically triggered conversion experiences or ecstasies—these, I believe, will provide all the sources of mental energy, all the solvents of conceptual sludge, that an individual requires. With their aid, he should be able to adapt himself selectively to his culture, rejecting its evils, stupidities and irrelevances, gratefully accepting all its treasures of accumulated knowledge, of rationality, human-heartedness and practical wisdom. If the number of such individuals is sufficiently great, if their quality is sufficiently high, they may be able to pass from discriminating acceptance of their culture to discriminating change and reform. Is this a hopefully utopian dream? Experiment can give us the answer, for the dream is pragmatic; the utopian hypotheses can be tested empirically. And in these oppressive times a little hope is surely no unwelcome visitant.
As opprisive as 1962 may have seemed to Huxley, by now the need to unstick the sludge has become even more pressing.
Note: picture of molecule from the Heftner Research Insitute graphic archives.