Just like the trips they create, the history of psychedelics has been a long and winding journey.
The use of psychedelics, whether it be for religious purposes or medicinal benefits, is certain not a novel concept for humanity.
From the ancient cultures, like the Greeks, Aztecs, Mayans and Incas, to the LSD resurgence of the 50s and 60s, human beings have been using and researching psychedelics for thousands of years.
The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 abruptly halted psychedelic exploration and study. Until today.
Recently, psychedelics have had something of a reawakening. The newfound enthusiasm for loosening restrictions on psychedelics is shedding new light on their use for treating issues such as substance dependency, PTSD, depression, and anxiety, and to help with end-of-life care.
Join us on a trip down memory lane as we take an in-depth look at the history of psychedelics.
There are claims that certain Greeks from antiquity used psychedelic drugs. Every year, the cults of Demeter and Persephone had an initiation rite called the “Eleusinian Mysteries,” during which they drank a drink called “kykeon,” which was supposed to have hallucinogenic effects. According to theories, the drug was generated from the Ergot fungus, from which LSD is also derived.
An ancient Sanskrit book mentions “soma,” a plant juice consumed as a tribute to the gods during Vedic sacrificial rites in ancient India. Soma, known for its hallucinogenic characteristics, is said to have originated from Amanita muscaria or Psilocybe cubensis, psychedelic mushrooms, or Asclepias acida, a climbing plant.
Mesoamerican societies like the Aztecs, Mayans, and Incas were known to consume psychedelics like peyote, mescaline, and psilocybin mushrooms, among others. In Aztec culture, mushrooms were known as “Teonanácatl,” which translates as “god’s flesh,” and using psychedelics was a way of transforming consciousness, interacting with the gods, and being one with nature.
Ayahuasca, a beverage made from a woody vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) and the leaves of the chacruna plant (Psychotria viridis), has been drunk for spiritual and therapeutic purposes by Amazonian tribes for 1,000 years or more.
The shaman, who controls the hallucinogenic experience, is emphasized in ancient Mesoamerican and South American societies. A shaman’s role is to guide those who use psychedelic drugs into the spirit realm and through altered states of consciousness. The psychedelic experience can be overpowering and terrifying, and it is frequently accompanied by vomiting and diarrhea.
20th Century Psychedelics
Albert Hofmann, a Swiss scientist, discovered LSD by accident in 1938. While working in a lab at pharmaceutical company Sandoz, he was researching with the fungus ergot, which grows in rye kernels, when he extracted the chemical lysergic acid diethylamide—LSD.
Hofmann set aside the drug since it was useless for the project he was working on. But something about the material piqued his interest, and he returned to it five years later. He took trace amounts of the chemical while making it again and became aware of its tremendous psychedelic effects.
Hofmann purposefully swallowed a greater dosage of LSD on April 19, 1943. As Hofmann rode his bike home, he began to experience the effects of the LSD, and it became known as “Bicycle Day,” and it was the first deliberate acid trip in history.
He had visual distortions, disorientation, almost fainted, and witnessed “demonic changes.” A doctor was sent, but by the time he came, Hofmann had fallen into a “state of good fortune and appreciation,” and was experiencing kaleidoscopic pictures when he closed his eyes, he later explained. He remarked in the morning that a “sense of well-being and fresh life streamed through me.”
Hofmann went on to become a lifelong supporter of the drug, espousing its medicinal virtues and ability to raise awareness and make people more aware.
Psychiatrics & Psychedelics
While working at a clinic in Saskatchewan, Canada, psychiatrists Humphrey Osmond and Abram Hoffer pioneered the use of LSD to treat alcoholism in the early 1950s. After overseeing novelist Aldous Huxley on a mescaline trip, Osmond would later invent the word “psychedelics,” which means “mind-manifesting.” Huxley later wrote about the encounter in his book The Doors of Perception.
Osmond and Hoffer’s biochemical technique first treated two people for alcoholism with LSD; one stopped immediately and the other quit six months later. Over the next ten years, Osmond and Hoffer expanded the trial to include over 700 patients and reported identical results.
Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, Ronald Sandison was successfully treating patients with neurosis and other diseases with LSD in combination with psychotherapy. Sandison stated in one research that 60 percent of patients healed or improved with LSD medication and psychotherapy after failing to react to conventional treatments.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, LSD was studied to treat a variety of diseases, including depression, schizophrenia, autism, and terminal cancer, among others. Over 1,000 trials involving 40,000 individuals were undertaken on LSD, with minor side events.
Psychedelics & the ’60s
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the Drug Amendments of 1962 in 1962, which imposed additional limits on clinical studies and drug testing, limiting the use of LSD and other psychedelics for therapeutic purposes.
Around the same period, the hippie subculture in the United States became obsessed with LSD and other psychedelics. Changing one’s mind, expanding awareness, connecting with others, and the urge to “Turn on, tune in, and drop out,” in Timothy Leary’s words, earned LSD and other psychedelics a negative reputation.
Illicit manufacture of LSD, in particular, flourished, and the general public began to see it and other psychedelics as street drugs. Sandoz, the producer and patent holder of LSD, lost interest in producing the drug and attempted to dissociate itself from it.
As the hippie subculture protested the Vietnam War and advocated for civil, racial, and gender rights, it encountered opposition from the political establishment as well as anything and everything linked with the counterculture movement, including psychedelics.
Prohibition & the War on Drugs
The Controlled Substances Act was approved by Congress in 1970, designating LSD and other psychedelics including psilocybin, DMT, and mescaline, as well as cannabis, as Schedule I narcotics, the most restricted classification.
Possession of one to nine grams of LSD as a first offense, for example, is punishable by one year in jail, a $1,000 fine, or both. Possession of more than nine grams of LSD, on the other hand, is considered possession with intent to distribute, and the penalty is five to 40 years in prison, a fine of up to $2 million, or both.
LSD and psychedelic research in general has all but ceased.
People’s sentiments regarding the War on Drugs are changing now as they recognize how disproportionately it impacts Black and Latino Americans and the enormous amount of money squandered on it. Attitudes around how psychedelics and cannabis may provide amazing medicinal and therapeutic advantages are shifting as well.
The psychedelics movement gained traction in 2019 and 2020 alone. Several cities, states, and districts have decriminalized psychedelics or entheogenic plants in tandem with the cannabis legalization movement:
Denver, Colorado in May 2019
Oakland, California in June 2019
Santa Cruz, California February 2020
Ann Arbor, Michigan in September 2020
Washington, DC in November 2020
Furthermore, in November 2020, the state of Oregon allowed the medicinal use of psilocybin under the supervision of a licensed facilitator.
SPORE, a non-profit organization founded after the Denver ballot triumph, continues to advocate for psychedelic legalization across the country.
With 76 percent of the vote, Washington, DC voters supported DC Initiative 81, which decriminalizes entheogenic plants and fungi, in November 2020. The program went into effect on March 15, 2021.
The City Council of Somerville, Massachusetts, near to Boston, overwhelmingly approved in January 2021 to legalize entheogenic plants and fungi.
Where Else In North America Are Psychedelics Legal?
Canada: Cannabis is completely legal, as is the research chemical 1P-LSD (akin to LSD). (Study chemicals, or RCs, are substances used in medical and scientific research. Some folks also utilize them for fun. Because many are new, they frequently lie beyond the purview of the law.) Members of Santo Daime can legally take ayahuasca in Canada, but only in Montreal and Toronto. The Canadian government has also made psilocybin and MDMA treatment permissible for people suffering from life-threatening conditions.
Jamaica: Psilocybin mushrooms are legal, and there are several retreat alternatives around the country.
Where In Latin America Are Psychedelics Legal?
Brazil: Ayahuasca is completely legal, as are magic mushrooms (but the psilocybin in the mushrooms is not).
Colombia: There is no regulation governing ayahuasca, despite the fact that ayahuasca retreats are popular in the nation and are not regulated by the government.
Costa Rica: Ayahuasca is completely legal.
Ecuador: As a traditional medicine, ayahuasca is legal.
Peru: As traditional medicines, ayahuasca and the San Pedro cactus (which includes mescaline) are lawful.
Where In Europe Are Psychedelics Legal?
Netherlands: Sclerotia (or magic truffles) are not illegal, but magic mushrooms are (these are parts of the mushroom that grow underground but which still contain the compounds psilocybin and psilocin). As a result, psilocybin retreats employing magic truffles rather than mushrooms may be found in the Netherlands. Cannabis, mescaline-containing cacti, and salvia are also authorized psychedelics in the Netherlands.
Portugal: Because all drugs have been decriminalized, you can possess and consume psychedelics without fear of legal repercussions. This is why the nation has so many ayahuasca retreats.
Spain: has likewise implemented a drug decriminalization program.