• Michelle Simons


Michelle Simons

“A drug that can take a man to heaven or hell”

One of the first studies of the nature and effects of psychedelics took place in 1943, when Albert Hoffman, a Swiss chemist, accidentally absorbed a small dose of LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), that he had prepared five years ago in an attempt to create a circulatory system stimulant. The substance had excited test animals but didn’t attract much interest until Hoffman had personally experienced the effect of the drug on the human consciousness. On further experimenting, it was determined that it would be ideal for psychotherapeutic use, and many years of research followed in order to determine its effectiveness in treating mental illnesses and alcoholism. Within a decade, however, LSD had been declared illegal in most parts of the world and studies about it were shut down altogether.

The years of research following Hoffman’s discovery are often referred to as the 'Golden Age' of psychedelic research. In this time, more than 40,000 patients were tested and more than a thousand scientific papers were published. The drug was tested on patients with anxiety, depression, psychosomatic diseases, and addiction as a means of treatment. Despite the unconventionality of the testing methods employed, the studies produced promising results - LSD had proven effective in cases where other drugs and therapy alone were not. It had also been used as an effective treatment for alcoholism from reports of nearly 45% of the patients not experiencing a relapse even after a year of being administered the drug. Many forms of LSD therapy were prescribed as a treatment for neurosis, schizophrenia, psychopathy, and even to children with autism.

Two forms of LSD therapy became popular: psychedelic therapy and psycholytic therapy.

Psychedelic therapy was based on the work of Osmond and Hoffer and involves a single large dose of LSD, accompanied by psychotherapy. Osmond and Hoffer believed that hallucinogens were therapeutically beneficial because of their ability to help the patients view their condition from a different perspective.

Psycholytic therapy was based on Sandison’s regime of several smaller doses, increasing in size, along with the required psychoanalysis. His clinical observations led him to believe that SD could aid psychotherapy by inducing hallucinations that reflected the unconscious mind of the patient, enabling them to revive long-lost memories.

During the same time that the experiments were being conducted, concerns raised about the proliferation of unauthorised use of the drugs by the general public resulted in the imposition of several severe restrictions. As tales of psychedelic ‘trips’, psychotic behaviour, and random acts of violence attributed to the effects of the drug gained media attention, production of LSD was stopped and it was banned and classified as a Schedule 1 drug in 1967. This meant that the drug was considered to have no acceptable medical use with a high potential for abuse, and further studies on it were forced underground. The 1990s saw a renewed interest in the neurobiological effects and therapeutic potentials of hallucinogenic drugs. It was believed that these drugs produce their effects by opening a ‘reducing valve’ in the brain that normally limits our perception, and the new research that followed seemed to confirm this.

Today, LSD is primarily used to "escape" consciousness and reduce stress. LSD does not cause physical addictions, but it can cause psychological ones. In addition to this, it is always procured illicitly, and therefore the potency and risks are harder to ascertain.

Although it is an illegal drug in almost all parts of the world, some people and organisations are calling for it to be reclassified for use in clinical applications and research.

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