A psychedelic drug is defined as one whose primary action is to alter one’s cognition and perception. These drugs may be part of a wider class of drugs that is more commonly known as hallucinogens, which include disassociation and delirium. Its origination is derived from the Greek word meaning ‘soul manifesting’, which was actually broken down into two terms – ‘soul’ and ‘check’, both in Greek. Psychedelics drugs can also be called psychotomimetic drugs.
In this article, we will take a look at the history or chronicles of psychedelic sciences. According to the Fact sheet from Kevin Garcia, the psychedelic history timeline is not intended to be a comprehensive history of psychedelics and their human users so much as a recent history of scientific research into psychedelics in the US and Western Europe.
Chronicle of psychedelic drugs
Psychedelic drug studies started in the late 19th century and resurged in the1930s down to the present time.
Starting from 1897, Arthur Carl Wilhelm Heffter – who was a German Pharmacologist and chemist – isolated and identified Mescaline as a psychoactive drug. Then in 1938 Robert J. Weitlaner, who was an engineer and anthropologist, and Dr. Richard Evans Schultes, a botanist from Harvard University, together found that hallucinogenic mushrooms were still being consumed for ceremonial purposes in the southern mountain regions of Mexico.
Then also in 1938, Albert Hofmann – who was a Swiss scientist known best for being the first person to synthesise, ingest, and learn of the psychedelic effects of lysergic acid diethylamide – discovered the semi-synthetic drug LSD: and in 1943 he discovered its hallucinogenic effects.
In the 1950s, the C.I.A. began investigating psychoactive drugs such as LSD using unethical human experimentation. In 1953 a Mazatec curandera or shaman, María Sabina, allowed banker and mushroom enthusiast R. Gordon Wasson to participate in a psilocybin ritual. Later, in1957, R. Gordon Wasson introduced psilocybin mushrooms and María Sabina to a much wider audience by publishing an article and her photo in Life Magazine, without her consent.
In 1959 Albert Hofmann isolated the active compound psilocybin from the mushroom Psilocybin Mexicana, and by the late 1950s to mid-1960s over 40,000 patients had taken LSD. Psychedelic researchers produced over 1,000 scientific papers, many books, and held several international conferences.
The U.S. government established the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act which classified psychedelics, alongside marijuana and heroin, as Schedule I compounds in 1970. And during the mid- to late-1970s Alexander ‘Sasha’ Shulgin, biochemist and psychopharmacologist, introduced MDMA to psychologists.
Between the late-1970s to 1985, MDMA was used as an adjunct to psychotherapy until the DEA classified the drug as Schedule I. To justify their decision, the DEA argued that for a drug to have “accepted medical use” it needed to be approved by the FDA.
Rick Doblin responded by forming the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), to continue the work of creating legal contexts for exploration of safe and beneficial use of psychedelics which was backed by privately funded groups like MAPS, the Beckley Foundation and the Heffter Research Institute. The researchers started to overcome regulatory restrictions on psychedelic drugs and funding hurdles to begin small preliminary studies.
Today, a renaissance of psychedelic research is taking place around the world to investigate the psychopharmacological properties and therapeutic efficacy of psychedelic drugs as adjuncts to existing psychotherapeutic approaches.