At a handful of sites across the country, after a four-decade hiatus, psychedelic research is undergoing a quiet renaissance, thanks to scientists like Charles Grob who are revisiting the powerful mind-altering drugs of the 1960s in hopes of making them part of our therapeutic arsenal. Hallucinogens such as psilocybin, MDMA (better known as Ecstasy), and the most controversial of them all, LSD, are being tested as treatments for maladies that modern medicine has done little to assuage, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, drug dependency, obsessive-compulsive disorder, cluster headaches, and the emotional suffering of people with a terminal illness.
The khat plant is known by a variety of names, such as ‘qat’ and ‘ghat’ in Yemen, ‘chat’ in Ethiopia, ‘jaad’ in Somalia and ‘miraa’ in Kenya and Tanzania. It has been grown for use as a stimulant for centuries in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. There, chewing khat predates the use of coffee and is used in a similar social context.
It has been known for at least 2,000 years that Marijuana/Cannabis is a psychotropic that affects the brain and central nervous system. The first western references seem to be that it was a euphoric, in other words a central nervous system stimulant not like cocaine or amphetamines but a gentler pleasant stimulant.
On the afternoon of Jan. 11, Albert Hofmann, the chemist who discovered LSD, had about a dozen friends and family up to his glass-walled home in the mountains near Basel, Switzerland, for a party. It was his 102nd birthday and, in an important sense, also a homecoming.
The backlash against the recreational use of psychedelic drugs in the 1960s had a negative effect on research into their potential therapeutic benefit. But now attitudes are changing and work in this area is being revitalised, with several early-stage trials underway. Kelly Morris reports. Some 50 years ago, substances called psychedelics were hailed as the new tools of psychiatry.
“It’s not a frivolous pursuit,” said Sting who, like Paul Simon and Tori Amos, sampled ayahuasca in the Amazon jungle. “There’s a certain amount of dread attached to taking it,” he told Rolling Stone. “You have a hallucinogenic trip that deals with death and your mortality so it’s quite an ordeal.”
It was the eighth day of the 11th month of the dog year. Sangay Wangdi, a farmer of Karshong village in Trongsa, was out playing archery when he started acting strange all of a sudden. “We took him home and he disappeared the next day,” said his daughter Kezang Dema, 22. When villagers went to look for him, they saw Sangay Wangdi on a rocky cliff, believed to the village deity’s residence.
Four decades after the Grateful Dead and Timothy Leary made acid trips a counter-cultural rite of passage, Rick Doblin is trying to shake the drug’s hippie image and reclaim its use as a medicine. Doblin, who leads a group sponsoring the first study of LSD as a therapy in 36 years, says the new Swiss research may show the drug helps ease anxiety and pain in patients suffering from illnesses such as cancer and multiple sclerosis.
It was known as acid, blotter acid, window pane, dots, tickets and mellow yellow. It was sold on the street in capsules and tablets but most often in liquid form, usually absorbed on to a piece of blotting paper divided into several squares: one drop, or “dot”, per square. Lysergic acid diethylamide, or C20H25N30 to give it its snappy chemical formula, derived from lysergic acid, and it introduced you to a world of cosmic harmony and all-embracing love, or a black schizoid hell of paranoia and screaming demons.
Sixty-three years ago the first acid trip was taken by an unwitting research chemist, Albert Hofmann, who has died at the age of 102. To its detractors LSD is perhaps the most dangerous drug in the world, but did its advent really change society in Britain and even the way we eat? In 1965 something lurking under the meniscus of British society punctured the surface.
The first time he drank ayahuasca, an infusion of psychoactive plants considered sacred by Amazonian Indians, Hamilton Souther felt himself falling into a spinning vortex of total insanity. The California native was deep in the Peruvian Amazon and the dark visions were coming hard and fast. He saw hummingbirds with 30-foot wingspans. A bush turned into a wild boar and began screaming obscenities at him. He puked. He pooped. He prepared to die.
The 2008 World Psychedelic Forum was an almost shockingly respectable affair. Held in Basel, Switzerland, in a spacious convention center next to the five-star Swissôtel Basel, the event drew 1,500 visitors for a two-day symposium on the past and present state of psychedelic thought and research. Despite flashes of eccentricity and DayGlo, you could have easily thought you were at a conference for alternative medicine or some abstruse but uncontroversial hobby.