High Culture, Part 2

LSD. MDMA. Magic Mushrooms. The demonized drugs of the 1960’s, some of them banned over four decades ago, are back. But now they’re on the front-lines of medicine, as scientists around the world explore their healing properties. LSD for alcoholism. Psilocybin (magic mushrooms) for anxiety. MDMA (Ecstasy) for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. IDEAS producer Mary O’Connell takes a trippy path into the world of hallucinogens. Turn on, tune in, and heal thyself!
Psychedelic clinical trials require volunteers to relax, enjoy music, art and flowers. (Nuala O'Connell)

LSD.  MDMA. Magic Mushrooms. The demonized drugs of the 1960's, some of them banned over four decades ago, are back. But now they're on the front-lines of medicine, as scientists around the world explore their healing properties. LSD for alcoholism. Psilocybin (magic mushrooms) for anxiety. MDMA (Ecstasy) for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. IDEAS producer Mary O'Connell takes a trippy path into the world of hallucinogens. Turn on, tune in, and heal thyself! **This episode originally aired October 29, 2015. Part 3 airs Thursday, May 26. 


(Click on the image below to view a history of the re-emergence of psychedelic drugs) 

Examining room adjoining the nurses’ station in the new T.B. wing of the hospital, June 1956. (Saskatchewan Archives R-A 13, 071-2)
Right now, we're witnessing a renaissance around the world with psychedelic drugs. Clinical trials are testing psychedelics to curb anxiety, alcoholism, depression; help autistic adults become more pro-social, and enhance the mystical experience for all users -- the list goes on. It all began in the 1950's, when LSD and psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms) were studied for their therapeutic benefits. Some of the research hot-spots included Prague, London, Boston and the unlikely town of Weyburn, Saskatchewan. 

Psychiatrist Humphry Osmond was a transplant from England to Saskatchewan. The charismatic renegade had little respect for the traditional tools of his trade like psychoanalysis or electro-shock. So Osmond and his team eventually attained 50 – 90% success rates using LSD-assisted therapy for alcoholics -- putting Canada on the map for psychedelic psychiatry. It was also Osmond who coined the word "psychedelic".

But in the early 1960's, drugs like LSD and psilocybin found their way out of university labs and onto the street -- and their value as medicine was lost as their status as protest and party drugs emerged. Mass recreational use, conservative political forces and a continuing media frenzy ensured the vilification of hallucinogens – until drugs like LSD and magic mushrooms were completely outlawed in 1970. Serious medical research would not begin again until the early 21st century, four decades later. 

Participants in this episode: 

Dr. Roland Griffiths, Department of Neuroscience and Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, principal investigator in Johns Hopkins University Psilocybin Project.

Dr. Anthony Bossis,Clinical Psychologist and Co-Principal investigator at New York University's Medical Centre, Psilocybin Cancer Research Project.   

Lou Lukas was a volunteer in Johns Hopkins University Psilocybin Project. 

Ashley Browne was a volunteer in Johns Hopkins Psilocybin Project.

Dinah Bazer was a volunteer in New York University's Psilocybin Cancer Anxiety Project. Recording courtesy of CBC Tapestry.

Reading List: 

  • Sacred Knowledge by William A. Richards, Columbia University Press, New York, 2015. 

  • Realms of the Human Unconscious by Stanislav Grof, The Viking Press, New York, 1975. 

  • Psychedelic Psychiatry by Erika Dyck, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 2008. 

  • The Harvard Psychedelic Club by Don Lattin, HarperOne, San Francisco, 2010.

  • The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead by Timothy Leary and Ralph Metzner, Kensington Publishing Corp., New York, 1964. 

  • The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley, Harper & Row, New York, 1954. 

  • The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James, Longman Publishing, New York, 1902. 

  • The Road of Excess: A Psychedelic Autobiography by Brian Barritt, PSI Publishing, Georgia, 1998
  • Acid Dreams: The Complete Social History of LSD: The CIA, the Sixties and Beyond by Martin A. Lee, Grove Press, New York, 1994. 

Related Websites:


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