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Psychedelic Psychiatry

LSD from Clinic to Campus

Erika Dyck

Publication Year: 2008

LSD's short but colorful history in North America carries with it the distinct cachet of counterculture and government experimentation. The truth about this mind-altering chemical cocktail is far more complex—and less controversial—than generally believed. Psychedelic Psychiatry is the tale of medical researchers working to understand LSD’s therapeutic properties just as escalating anxieties about drug abuse in modern society laid the groundwork for the end of experimentation at the edge of psychopharmacology. Historian Erika Dyck deftly recasts our understanding of LSD to show it as an experimental substance, a medical treatment, and a tool for exploring psychotic perspectives—as well as a recreational drug. She recounts the inside story of the early days of LSD research in small-town, prairie Canada, when Humphry Osmond and Abram Hoffer claimed incredible advances in treating alcoholism, understanding schizophrenia and other psychoses, and achieving empathy with their patients. In relating the drug’s short, strange trip, Dyck explains how concerns about countercultural trends led to the criminalization of LSD and other so-called psychedelic drugs—concordantly opening the way for an explosion in legal prescription pharmaceuticals—and points to the recent re-emergence of sanctioned psychotropic research among psychiatric practitioners. This challenge to the prevailing wisdom behind drug regulation and addiction therapy provides a historical corrective to our perception of LSD’s medical efficacy.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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pp. v

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pp. vii-ix

Since I began studying the history of LSD (d-lysergic acid diethylamide) I have often been struck by people’s reactions to my work. Some have asked me whether LSD is the drug that causes brain damage. Others have heard that it permanently alters chromosomes or that traces of the drug remain in the body forever, causing horrific flashbacks and making even one-time users into prime ...

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pp. xi-xiii

I am indebted to many people for financial, material, and emotional support during this project; all of its weaknesses, of course, are mine alone. Friends and colleagues Larry Stewart, Valerie Korinek, Cyril Greenland, Cara Pryor, Jennifer Milne, Jason Kleinermanns, Nadine Charabin, Steve Hewitt, and Tristan Fehrenbach were there from the very beginning. David Wright...

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pp. 1-12

In the spring of 1953, the psychiatrist Humphry Osmond made a historical journey from Weyburn, Saskatchewan, to Los Angeles, California, where he introduced author Aldous Huxley to mescaline. Osmond had moved from London, England, to Weyburn in October 1951 to practice psychiatry. Once settled in Weyburn, he began investigating the therapeutic potential of drugs such as...

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1. Psychedelic Pioneers

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pp. 13-31

In April 1943, Albert Hofmann, a Swiss biochemist, dissolved an infinitesimal amount of a newly synthesized drug, d-lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), in a glass of water and drank it. Three quarters of an hour later he recorded a growing dizziness, some visual disturbances, and a marked desire to laugh. After about an hour he asked his assistant to call a doctor and then accompany him ...

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2. Simulating Psychoses

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pp. 32-52

“My 12 Hours as a Madman” appeared in Maclean’s, a national Canadian magazine, in October 1953. In the article, the journalist Sidney Katz offered readers a vivid description of his LSD experience in a hospital ward in Weyburn. He was the first nonmedical participant to volunteer for an LSD experiment in Saskatchewan. His article, like Huxley’s book about the mescaline reaction...

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3. Highs and Lows

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pp. 53-78

After the initial round of LSD experiments, Hoffer and Osmond soon considered testing psychedelic drugs as a potential cure for alcoholism. Alcoholism was increasingly seen as a medical problem rather than a moral failing. Medical and social attention to “problem drinking” received a renewal of interest following the repeal of Prohibition in the United States in the 1930s. Alcoholics ...

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4. Keeping Tabs on Science and Spirituality

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pp. 79-100

In the mid- 1950s, alcoholism studies gathered momentum among a widening circle of experimenters as the Saskatchewan- based researchers broadened their networks. Psychedelic psychiatry began to emerge as a viable approach worthy of expanded interrogation, in part because the Saskatchewan group made sympathetic contacts in British Columbia, New York, and California. To...

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5. Acid Panic

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pp. 101-118

The popular author and television host Pierre Berton hosted Under Attack in October 1967. The TV program featured Abram Hoffer, the Beatnik poet Allen Ginsberg, and the LSD guru Timothy Leary in a debate over the future of LSD. 1 Much to the network’s chagrin, the three guests concurred on several points, making the program less a debate than a convivial discussion. According to a...

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6. “The Perfect Contraband”

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pp. 119-137

In December 1961, newspaper headlines in Europe and North America alarmed readers with the frightening news that the popular over- the- counter medication thalidomide caused severe birth defects. The news rattled consumers and raised suspicions about the reliability of so- called wonder drugs. It also cast doubts on the ability of medical experts to determine long- range effects or ...

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pp. 138-144

In April 2007, Canadian psychologist Andrew Feldmar was denied entry into the United States under the Homeland Security Act due to narcotics use. Feldmar had taken LSD as part of a psychology experiment in the 1960s at the University of Western Ontario under the direction of Saskatchewan native Zenon Pylyshyn, who had worked with Hoffer, Osmond, and Blewett in the ...


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pp. 145-170


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pp. 171-192


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pp. 193-199

E-ISBN-13: 9781421400754
E-ISBN-10: 1421400758
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801889943
Print-ISBN-10: 0801889944

Page Count: 216
Illustrations: 16 halftones
Publication Year: 2008