Discussions on Enacting Transdisciplinarity in Psychedelic Studies 

In my first post for this six-part series of commentaries, I reflected on the start of the “Psychedelic Pasts, Presents, and Futures” Borghesi-Mellon workshop when faculty, students, and community members gathered in the School of Pharmacy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to discuss the importance of transdisciplinarity in psychedelic research and education. In this final post of the series, I return to transdisciplinarity after a semester of events, including a second discussion about transdisciplinarity on the other side of UW-Madison’s campus in the brutalist, concrete Helen C. White Hall. One of the aims of the organizers—Dr. Lucas Richert, Amanda Pratt, and myself–for this workshop was to foster conversations about what humanities and social sciences perspectives bring to psychedelic studies, particularly in relation to the role of transdisciplinarity at the new Transdisciplinary Center for Research on Psychoactive Substances (TCRPS) at UW-Madison.

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Future Histories of Psychedelic Biomedicine

A commonly cited catalyst for the psychedelic renaissance is the renewed interest in biomedical research on psychedelics for mental health, including depression, PTSD, and addiction. For instance, popular media like Michael Pollan’s How to Change Your Mind (2018) and its Netflix adaptation (2022) often utilize this research to bolster claims about the relative safety of psychedelics and their efficacy as a mental health treatment. The common (and simplified) narrative in these popular portrayals is that psychedelic research boomed throughout the mid-twentieth century before being swept up in the drug war and pushed underground, and yet today, after years of unjust policies and propaganda, psychedelic researchers and advocates from the past are being proven right by contemporary biomedical research.

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Disparities & Inequalities in Ending the HIV Epidemic: Treatment of HIV

Editor’s NoteMaeleigh Tidd delivers another thought-provoking post in our Pharmaceutical Inequalities series. She reaches back to the 1980s to consider how ACT UP protests led to greater affordability of HIV drugs, and argues that the persisting structural inequalities must be addressed by EHEI. The Pharmaceutical Inequalities series is funded by the Holtz Center and the Evjue Foundation.


In 1987, six-years into the rampant spread of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and progression of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) leading to 40,000 deaths in the U.S., the FDA approved the first known antiviral drug for the treatment of AIDS. The approval of AZT (zidovudine) was the first scientific breakthrough in treating, and potentially ending, this “death sentence” of a disease. Yet, as the only treatment option available to the growing number of vulnerable and dying individuals with HIV/AIDS, it was outrageously unaffordable with a price tag of over $10,000 per year. 

This drug profiting and the overall poor response to the epidemic at hand, led to the formation of the non-partisan group Aids Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), a group of LGBTQ+ activists ‘united in anger and committed to direct action to end the AIDS crisis’.

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Whitewashing History: Osaka’s Tanabe Mitsubishi Pharma Museum

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Dr. Miriam Kingsberg Kadia, Associate Professor of History at University of Colorado Boulder and author of the books Moral Nation: Modern Japan and Narcotics in Global History and Into the Field: Human Scientists of Transwar JapanHere she continues her fascinating museum reviews with an examination of a museum in Osaka from her recent trip to Japan.

The Tanabe Mitsubishi Pharma Historical Museum (Kusuri no Doshōmachi Shiryōkan) is located in Osaka, a half-hour ramble from the main train station. It lies in the heart of the city’s traditional merchant quarter (still dotted with preserved architecture dating to the late nineteenth century). The museum occupies the second floor of the Tanabe Mitsubishi Pharma Company headquarters. It is open from 10:00 a.m. to 5 p.m. on all weekdays excluding holidays. Advance online reservations are required for entry. Admission is free, the staff is welcoming and helpful, and all films, exhibits, and interactive materials are bilingual. At the time of my visit (around 2 p.m. on a Wednesday in early January), I was the only guest.  

As the museum narrates, Tanabe Mitsubishi Pharma is both a new and an old entity. The company acquired its current form in 2007 as the result of a merger. However, its origins date back to 1604, when Osaka-based merchant Tanabe Gohei received a permit from the Tokugawa shogun (then ruler of Japan) to peddle medicines. In 1678, his grandson opened the family’s first shop (Tanabeya) and began selling medicinal products imported from the Philippines. At the time, Japan was under a strict policy of seclusion, and Tanabe’s foray into international commerce must have required considerable negotiations. (Unfortunately, the process by which he obtained his permit is not elucidated.) Tanabeya truly thrived during the Meiji period (1868-1912), when, in advance of most competitors, it began providing Western medicines in addition to traditional Sinic treatments. Within a short while, the former dominated sales. Another major period of growth took place during World War I, when Germany, then the global leader in developing and manufacturing pharmaceuticals, became unable to export its products. Local concerns including Tanabeya stepped into the breach and greatly expanded their market share.

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Medical waste offers insights into South Africa’s use of pharmaceuticals

Editor’s Note: Today is the last piece in our six-part series of articles discussing drug use in Africa. These articles originally appeared on The Conversation, but we’re republishing them here as well. Today’s article comes from Rebecca Hodes, Director, AIDS and Society Research Unit, University of Cape Town. 

Much of what we know about human history comes from studying things that have been discarded. The archaeology of dumpsites and middens has long informed us about societies and their pasts. This has included how people survived and sustained themselves, what they gathered, made, amassed and discarded.

Histories of rubbish have also shown that beliefs about sanitation, and what makes for a clean environment, change. These changes are, in turn, influenced by developments in technology, forms of governance, and consumer norms.

I conducted a study on an archive of medical materials, collected over three years from public waste sites around South Africa’s Eastern Cape. What I refer to as ‘pharmatrash’ serves as a proxy for which medicines were provided or purchased, consumed, and then discarded. Pharmatrash in post-Apartheid South Africa shows the vast proliferation of medical waste, the result of increased access to healthcare products in both the public and private sectors – and on the formal and informal markets.

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Call for Papers: “A New Social History of Pharmacy & Pharmaceuticals”

Symposium and Special issues of Pharmacy in HistoryThe Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, and Canadian Bulletin of Medical History

The aim of this Call for Papers and ensuing special issues is to generate a discussion related to the underexplored social history of pharmacy and pharmaceuticals. This 2-day interdisciplinary symposium will stimulate/connect new scholarship as well as place a spotlight on emerging trends in the studies of pharmaceuticals, drugs, and alcohol more broadly.

Pharmacies are important social, political, and economic spaces. And many of the products sold within pharmacies (or apothecaries) exist at the intersection of legitimacy and illegitimacy, domestic and international markets, and medicine and recreation. Candy and cannabis, alcohol and cigarettes, in addition to multiple lifestyle products, are sold in pharmacies in the U.S. as well as abroad. Of course, these goods are in addition to other prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs.

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The Upjohn Pharmacy in Disneyland

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Stephen Hall, curator of the History of Pharmacy Museum at the University of Arizona College of Pharmacy. In it, Hall tells the fascinating history of a special exhibit at the original Disneyland. 

In the summer of 1955, Disneyland opened its doors to the public for the first time. As tens of thousands of wide-eyed visitors entered the Magic Kingdom on opening day, one of the first sights they saw was a small, unassuming apothecary shop at the corner of Main and Center Streets. This was the Upjohn Pharmacy, a company-sponsored store that told the tale of the drug industry then and now.

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The Upjohn Pharmacy came to be through a string of fortuitous circumstances. Jack Gauntlett, The Upjohn Company’s advertising manager, recognized Disneyland’s unprecedented potential for brand promotion, and he approached the director of the company, Donald Gilmore, with the idea for the store. Unbeknownst to Gauntlett, Gilmore was close friends and part-time neighbors with Walt Disney (both men owned homes at the Smoke Tree Ranch in Palm Springs, California). Disney had been seeking corporate sponsorship as a means to help him fund his theme park, and with an existing connection to the head of The Upjohn Company, the groundwork for the Upjohn Pharmacy was laid.

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