The Psychedlic Renaissance

“Turn on, tune in and drop out” said the late Timothy Leary; epitomising a countercultural wave that catapulted psychedelic use ultimately into prohibition. Albert Hoffman first discovered the psychedelic properties of Lysergic acid dimethylamide (LSD) in 1943 and quickly introduced the drug for the sole purpose of clinical use to the USA. Early research was done in pursuit of aiding alcoholics, facilitating psychotherapy and enhancing creativity for elite artists that pined for a resurgence of their creative juices. Yet the usage of this psychedelic did not stop within the clinical realm as they seeped into general populace. This is where most people would associate psychedelic use with; the hippie era, which popularised the prevalence of peace and love, The Beatles, and Woodstock. That era was unfortunately drawn to a halt due to protest against populace use. Research funding eventually ceased in 1980. The 20th century ended with only a handful of authorised researchers with limited outlooks for the drug’s potential. Many thought that that was the sole resolution for psychedelics; that their presence was left behind in the 20th century, defining an alt-civilisation and nothing beyond that. 

In 2014, Rick Dobson, an American psychologist restored optimism in the clinical capability of LSD. Evidence in this 2014 study was presented showing that LSD can have therapeutic benefits in treating anxiety. Dobson described this as a proof of concept” in pursuit of breaking these substances out of the mould of the counterculture and bringing them back to the lab as a part of a psychedelic renaissance, hence this articles title. What may shock people the most is that a study of how LSD micro-dosing (the action of taking very small amounts of the drug) can aid depression and addiction treatment has just been given the green light at the University of Auckland. It happens to mark one of the worlds first extensive studies on this topic. How has this drug been able to stand the test of time after such extensive scrutiny and return with a new brashness to relieve future generations? The war on drugs, the hippie movement, cultural influences and the drugs position today contribute to this query. 

A psychedelic drug is a drug in which their primary effect is to trigger non-ordinary states of consciousness and psychedelic experiences. Drugs such as LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, mescaline, and DMT are classified as psychedelic. What is striking is that most people would rarely associate these substances as potential remedies to aid mental illnesses. This is ironic given the original deemed purpose for LSD. As mentioned before, recreational use of these drugs endorsed the hippie movement. A movement with the sole motivation of peace and love in a time of quite the contrary. The Vietnam War sent troops from the USA to endure acts that definitely do not fall under a peaceful category. The powerful effects that could be encountered through the taking of a psychedelic drug were cultivated greatly in this hippie counterculture. Transcendent experiences on LSD and other psychedelics shaped alternative pathways of thought in how the world should be ordered. Therefore, the taking of the drug revolutionised the hippie message to a dimension beyond the known reality. By turning on, tuning in and dropping out, as Timothy Leary would often refer to the LSD consumption as, one could access an entirely new floor of consciousness. 

Rather than passively accepting the violence enacted by authorities, the hippie movement combined with enlightening psychedelic experience, protested brutality. Influential personalities such as The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, and the Grateful Dead shared their advocacy through their musical cultural expression. Their sound illustrates how LSD could transform their art. When The Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967, the third track Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds has been commonly perceived as a disguised title for LSD. This seemingly calm hippie movement encountered an abundance of criticism. Reasons of drug addiction, the end of the Vietnam War, and the maturing of the hippie population are some of the many incentives that contributed to the decline of the prominent hippie culture. The criminalisation of LSD in 1970 as a result of its explosive use led it to become a schedule 1 illegal drug in the USA. In New Zealand, LSD has been classified as a Class A drug since 1967 under the Misuse of Drugs Act. Because of the common association between psychedelics and the hippie culture (fundamentally a movement of government revolt), funding towards clinical use spiralled out almost entirely in 1980. The fact that President Richard Nixon considered Timothy Leary as “the most dangerous man in America” at the peak of the hippie counterculture did not help its preservation. Was this the end for psychedelic research? 

The renaissance of psychedelic research has always been in the works of psychopharmacology (the scientific study of the effects of drugs on the mind and behaviour) ever since its legal constraint. But just recently has it surfaced to a societal awareness. LSD has forever undertaken rises and falls of its presence, both recreationally and clinically. However, today we are standing upon a peak of its clinical prevalence. After 35 years, 2009 observed the first clinical LSD human experiments at MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies). Statistically, findings showed that LSD created significant reductions in anxiety after two LSD-assisted psychotherapy sessions. This presents scientific fields with a new promising sense of hope for its clinical development.  

Yet it is common to wonder whether societal perception could deter its practice. As many people reach a conclusion that psychedelics may benefit psychopharmacology and other areas, there still remains a lot of doubt and controversy. History suggests that permitting psychedelics in clinical practice may result in chaos. But this new wave of promising prospects and studies suggest alternative outcomes. Outcomes that could virtually save society from the mental illness crisis are attractive and cutting edge. Will drug addiction, alcoholism, depression, and anxiety be alleviated by psychedelic medication? Could psychedelics like LSD be the psychological commodity that will cure people from psychological trauma? Will we see an uproar in another hippie counterculture? Only time will tell, but psychedelic research has internationally inflated and it should call for a means of real excitement. 

Disclaimer: Do not feel that from these findings that you should partake in your own psychological studies, as these have been obtained through professional clinical environments. 

By Ella Gibson