Editor’s Note: This post by Anny Ortiz is the first in our Pharmaceutical Inequalities series. She explores the existing research landscape of psychedelics and then draws upon her own lived experience of working in a treatment center that offered ibogaine-assisted detoxification to discuss the affordances and unanswered questions of using psychedelics in treatment.
Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Peder Clark. Dr. Clark is a historian of modern Britain, with research interests in drugs, subcultures, health, everyday life, and visual culture. He completed his PhD in 2019 at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and currently holds a position at the University of Strathclyde.
“Taking Drugs To Make Music To Take Drugs To”, the title of British indie band Spacemen 3’s 1990 album, sums up for many the symbiotic relationship between rock music and psychoactive substances. From “Cocaine Blues” to Jefferson Airplane and from “Feel Good Hit of the Summer” to Amy Winehouse, rock’s back pages are soaked in the celebration, inspiration, and (sometimes) repudiation of drug-fueled intoxication.
The conspicuous consumption of drugs—or winking allusions to drugs—is a tried-and-tested way for young musicians to illustrate their edginess, to promote their counter-cultural associations, and to make real the moral danger that they might feel is inherent in the art-form. No need, however, to bore Points readers with musings better suited to ghost-written Keith Richards memoirs.
What about musicians that aim for a more considered, less debauched approach to chemically-enhanced states of mind? This is all by way of introduction to a recent bubbling up of psychedelic consciousness amongst musicians of a certain vintage—and a renewed attention to the role of music in psychedelic therapy.
Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Bob Beach. Beach is a PhD candidate in history at the University of Albany, SUNY.
The annual gathering of historians for the American Historical Association’s yearly meeting is set to resume in January 2022 in New Orleans, barring a major resurgence of Covid due to the delta variant. The pandemic caused the cancellation of the 2021 meeting slated for Seattle, Washington, but the AHA selected several panels to present at its virtual AHA colloquium, which started early this year and will wrap up this month. Panels not selected for the main colloquium were still encouraged to hold sessions, and the AHA generously offered space on its YouTube channel for recordings of Zoom meetings to be uploaded.
I was part of such a virtual AHA panel entitled “A Century of Drug Use: Psychoactive Drugs Among Native Americans, Hippies, and the Working Poor” that met on the most appropriate day possible for such a thing—April 20, 2021. We gathered together on Zoom with a group of 50 friends for a very productive 90-minute panel.
Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post is by Chris Elcock, an award-wining independent scholar working on the history of LSD and psychedelics
There was a time when LSD and other vision-inducing psychedelic drugs were associated with the American counter-culture and for conservative observers with license and dissent. Amid the psychedelic hues of light-shows, magic buses, and tie-dye shirts, the medical history of these substances was relegated to a footnote of the 1960s, a decade that symbolized cultural change rather than experimental psychiatry. For better or worse, LSD had spilled out of the clinics and what seemed to have mattered most was that it had landed in the hands of Timothy Leary and the Grateful Dead.
While these stories have been told endlessly in popular books and documentaries, historians of psychedelic psychiatry have meticulously examined the way medical doctors initially looked to gain new knowledge into mental illness by inducing a temporary and controlled form of psychosis with mescaline and LSD, and how they subsequently used these substances to treat alcoholism and to help terminal cancer patients to serenely come to terms with death. In 1962, however, fundamental changes in the implementation of clinical trials, which laid critical emphasis on objective measurements and scientific reproducibility, greatly frustrated the research teams working in the field, to a point where psychedelic science had come to a near standstill by the early 1970s.
Despite these early setbacks, research in psychedelics has particularly boomed in the last decade as national and international laws regarding the therapeutic use of psilocybin and other psychedelics have begun to change. In this new regulatory environment, drug companies and investors have rushed to file patents for new psychedelic drug uses and technologies in hopes of monopolizing—and monetizing—the next blockbuster treatment.
In response to this knowledge grab, a recent collaboration between historians and legal experts sponsored by the Usona Institute, a non-profit psilocybin research organization based in Madison, Wisconsin, relies on historical and archival research to protect the public domain. Usona has established a new open-access online repository called Porta Sophia—the doorway to wisdom—that documents extant therapeutic techniques that have used psychedelics as adjuncts. This easily accessible project seeks to ensure that new patent filings are truly innovative.
Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from Timothy Cole Hale. This post is an abridged version of a paper that he will present as part of the panel, “A Century of American Drug Use: Psychoactive Drugs Among Native Americans, Hippies, and the Working Poor,” at the 2021 virtual conference of the American Historical Association next Tuesday, April 20th, at 1:00 PM Eastern. To read the full paper, please visit his website.
Opium and Nineteenth-Century Europe
In his 1995 book, Night, English poet and essayist Alfred Alvarez, traces the emergence of opium as a source of artistic inspiration to the Romantic Era. Since the positive effects of the drug include an immediate sense of euphoria and numbness soon followed by severe drowsiness, it is no coincidence that the narcotic became popular at a time when writers were obsessed with dreams and nightmares. These writers believed that the dreamworld provided new experiences and new places that they could incorporate into their work. 
Thomas De Quincey, perhaps the most outspoken opium addict of the era, first popularized the drug in his Confessions of an English Opium-Eater. De Quincey believed that inspiration could transcend from the dreamworld into reality and he wrote that, “If a man could thro’ Paradise in a Dream & have a flower presented to him as a pledge that his Soul had really been there, and found that flower in his hand when awoke—Aye!” 
In 1804, Friedrich Sertürner identified morphine as opium’s most active ingredient, and, with the arrival of the hypodermic syringe in the mid-nineteenth century, injecting morphine became the most popular ingestion method. It is impossible to quantify the popularity of opium—especially as soldiers began returning home from the Franco-Prussian War in the early 1870s—but the drug was especially prevalent among artists and writers of Bohemian Paris.
And opium became the perfect substance for rebelling against the bourgeoisie, as the drug causes users to become isolated and withdrawn in their thoughts, often making it physically impossible to contribute to conversations or productivity of any sort. Opium use provided a sense of camaraderie among Bohemian users who fashioned themselves as fighting against traditional literary, art, and social norms. But what may have begun as rebellion had a side effect: the dreamworld and deranged senses provided users with fodder for their art.
Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Peder Clark. Dr. Clark is a historian of modern Britain, with research interests in drugs, subcultures, health, everyday life, and visual culture. He completed his PhD in 2019 at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and currently holds a position at the University of Liverpool.
Popular perceptions of MDMA (3,4 Methylenedioxymethamphetamine) are of its identity as “molly” or ecstasy—a good-time party-drug for young people around the world. So, flicking through the Guardian newspaper a few weekends ago, I was intrigued to read a feature on a recently opened clinic in Bristol, UK, that intends to use MDMA for psychotherapeutic purposes. The bio-tech company, Awakn Life Sciences, led by consultant psychiatrist Ben Sessa and clinical psychologist Laurie Higbed, is not currently able to offer MDMA therapy, and the newspaper reports that the company is “hamstrung by the current global legislation, which says the drug can be used only in an experimental setting.”
Consequently, the clinic offers ketamine-assisted therapy, initially focusing on alcoholism with ambitions to eventually provide treatment for “depression, anxiety, eating disorders and most addictions.” As the article makes clear, Awakn’s clinic is part of a much wider interest in what, it calls, “psychedelic-assisted therapy,” leading to a veritable “psychedelics gold rush” as investors sense a growing market.
By coincidence, I also happened to be reading Lucas Richert’s latest book Break on Through: Radical Psychiatry and the American Counterculture. As its title indicates, Break on Through is situated in the 1970s and features, among other episodes, the early years of MDMA-assisted therapy. MDMA was first synthesized in 1912 as a hemostatic agent (i.e. to aid blood-clotting and prevent bleeding) in the laboratories of Merck, the Darmstadt, Germany, based pharmaceutical corporation. Patented that same year, the company only occasionally mentioned MDMA in internal company documents up until the 1950s. Despite these inauspicious beginnings, the patent also contained a clue to one of its further usages, alluding to its potential use “as an intermediate in the production of therapeutic compounds.”
Editor’s Note: Points continues its series of interviews with authors from the latest issue of ADHS’s journal Social History of Alcohol and Drugs (vol. 34, no. 2; Fall 2020), published by the University of Chicago Press. Today we feature Dr. Erika Dyck, Professor and Canada Research Chair in the History of Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan. She co-authored the article, “Reframing Bummer Trips,” with Dr. Chris Elcock. You can see their article here. Contact the University of Chicago Press to subscribe to the journal or request access to this article, or any other article from SHAD’s history.
Tell readers a little bit about yourself (and your co-author)
Chris was a PhD student at the University of Saskatchewan, and I was his supervisor when we began thinking about this topic. We were both interested in the history of psychedelic drugs, me from the perspective of medical history, and Chris more so from the perspective of cultural history. We started by comparing notes on how “bad trips” were described in different ways—as catastrophic in public health literature, but also as complex and even beneficial experiences, according to some consumers of psychedelics. We were curious about how the idea of “bad trips” became a short hand for understanding the values placed on psychedelics.
What got you interested in drugs (and their history)?
My own interest in drugs, and their history, stems much less from personal experience than many people might imagine. For me, it was always the politics of drug use, regulation, and criminalization that intrigued me the most. Or how people claimed to know about drugs.
Why do some drugs have a reputation for causing irreparable harm in some circles, yet have a certain degree of social capital, or even cultural caché, in another context? I was interested in how some drugs became the object of medical fascination but had different reputations or characters once they left the clinic.
This set me on a path of examining LSD and mescaline experiments conducted in Saskatchewan, Canada, during the 1950s. Saskatchewan was also place that had claimed the first socialist government in North America—a government, it turns out, that invested in psychedelic research and saw potential in the research for reforming mental health care. Since then, I have been curious about how psychedelics have been framed as a political tool or weapon—drugs that, on one hand, allegedly inspire tolerance, enlightenment, and self reflection, but, conversely, also drugs that trigger violence, narcissism, and reckless behaviour. These polarizing views about drugs and their users have significant consequences for how we view drugs as medicines or as substances of abuse—but also for how we consider drug users and pushers, or patients and psychiatrists and their interactions with psychedelics.