Transcript: What Happened To The First LSD Researchers? – Erika Dyck
Please enjoy this transcript of our interview with Erika Dyck.
In this episode we sit down with Erika Dyck, a psychedelic researcher at the University of Saskatchewan. We delve into the history of LSD research in Canada, and how the psychedelic counter-culture movement threatened its potential. Erika shares her opinion on the future of The Third Wave of psychedelics, and how a balanced dialogue is needed to avoid another backlash.
In this episode we talk about:
- Why was Canada a focal point of LSD research?
- Humphrey Osmond’s relationship with Aldous Huxley, and why their psychedelic research couldn’t compete with Timothy Leary.
- Erika explains how we can avoid the mistakes of the past, and keep the psychedelic movement broad and adaptable.
00:20 Paul Austin: Hey listeners, welcome back to The Third Wave Podcast. And In this episode I sat down with Erika Dyck, who’s a psychedelic researcher at the University of Saskatchewan. I first heard about Erika, when I read her book about LSD psychotherapy history and its beginnings in Saskatchewan. So in this conversation we delved into the history of LSD research in Canada, and how the Psychedelic Counterculture Movement threatened its potential. So Erika shared her opinion on the future of The Third Wave of psychedelics and how a balanced dialogue is needed to avoid another backlash. Now we had some audio and connection issues throughout this so we have done our best to piece it back together to make sure that it’s as high quality as possible, but it might require a little bit of patience, as we get going. So as always if you enjoy the podcast, please leave a review on iTunes and you can also donate to the podcast on our Patreon page patreon.com/thethirdwave. And so yeah, without any further ado I bring to you, Erika Dyck.
01:23 PA: Well, let’s get started just by talking a little bit about you, you know, like I’d mentioned, you know, before we got live on the podcast, I read your book a couple years ago, and I thought it was the best summary of the pre Timothy Leary LSD era in terms of a lot of the original research that was going on. I’m just curious, you know as a starting point what piqued your interest in writing your PhD thesis about the use of LSD in psychiatry?
01:48 Erika Dyck: I am really sorry to disappoint you, my answer to this question is kind of boring, and not at all that interesting. But I mean, I think it’s sort of interesting but it maybe not be it may not be what you expect. I was taking a history of science course and I started doing some research for the professor, after that course was done, and I was really curious about different kinds of scientific experiments and how these are used as instruments for detecting different kinds of ways of thinking, although of course I was thinking in a much less sophisticated way back then.
02:17 ED: Anyway, he sent me off to Toronto to do some research in the Medical Library in the medical school there, and I came upon all of these LSD experiments and I was like, “Wow, these are fantastic, you know there’s all this LSD research going on in the province that I just left,” I had grown up in Saskatoon and was was going to school here at the time, and I had never heard of them, and probably that’s just proof that I wasn’t paying attention or wasn’t running in the right circles or whatnot. But I was really surprised to learn that these experiments had taken place in the place that I’d grown up.
02:45 ED: And so I came back to Saskatoon and I said, “This is great, you’ve got to write about this, you know you really need to do this research.” And he goes, “Oh no, no, I’m not that interested, you should work on it.” And I sat on them for about a year because I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to go on, or not, and decided, you know, after some time, it’s sort of eating away at me that there was this really interesting story here about how this place that I thought wasn’t really on the international map or a roadmap for exciting or interesting scientific research. I was very much wrong about that and it really intrigued me as to how this place became one of the LSD hotspots.
03:19 PA: And you know when you were making that decision because I think this is a topic or subject that we often discuss is you know there is obviously a lot of stigma, or cultural stigma around psychedelic substances generally, and obviously some of that is reduced when we’re talking about them within institutions, particularly medical institutions, but when you were thinking about writing that thesis, did that thought cross your head in terms of, “This is a risky topic to dig into because of the nature of the subject,” or was that not really relevant for what you were looking at going into?
03:47 ED: I certainly got some of that feedback right away and it was very interesting, so I was doing this research in the early 2000s. And at that time, as far as I could tell and certainly in the places where I was living and working, there weren’t people coming up to me saying, “You know that’s a really great thing, I’m so excited you’re doing this because I think there’s you know something on the horizon here,” there didn’t seem to be very much activity in terms of reviving LSD or psychedelics more broadly at that time. And so most of the reaction I got was that this was, you know, funny, or kind of cute, or like, “What a funny episode in history that you’re looking at.”
04:19 ED: But I think many people treated it rather lightly and so it’s kind of quaint even, and grafted on top of that was, you know, anytime I said I was studying LSD experiments, one of the initial reactions that I would commonly get was, “Oh you’re looking at Timothy Leary?” And I said, “No no I mean serious LSD experiments, or at least that’s my impression.” And they’re like, “Oh, so you know Montreal?” And, “No, no.” And when I would say that in the context of looking at Saskatchewan, then I really got glazed eyes, as people were like, “Well, no, that couldn’t be the case, you know these must have been something that happened on the periphery.”
04:52 ED: And, on the one hand, it gave me the freedom to keep exploring things because I wasn’t getting a lot of flack about whether these things were legitimate or not. But by the same token, you know, it kind of spurred me on to keep digging and really build this repository of records up out so that I could really demonstrate that, “No, indeed, I think there was something here. And moreover that there was something going on in a place that’s off the big path.”
05:13 PA: Right, because like when I think of Saskatoon, you know the coolest thing about Saskatoon is obviously its name, A, but then you know, B, once I heard about all these LSD experiments going on there, it just seemed like a place I had to, you know, visit immediately because of you know my own interest in psychedelics. Then I heard that you know it’s becoming somewhat of a trendy place and there are more and more cool things going on. I mean, what do you think was it about Saskatoon that attracted those early LSD researchers into doing these medical studies in the 1950s?
05:44 ED: Yeah, I think it’s broader than Saskatoon. I think there was something going on in the province of Saskatchewan, which is also fun to say, there was something going on in the province, which was really engaged in rebuilding itself after what had happened during 1930s here where the province suffered through both the economic depression, of course, but also a very heavy reliance on agriculture for its main economy and the drought really wiped out a lot of the infrastructure in the province, and the economic capacity to build. And so, we lost a lot of middle class and professional class people, and the government that came in in 1944 really engaged in a very strategic plan to draw in professionals, and one of the ways they did that was both by introducing reforms, the one of course I’m interested in is the healthcare reforms, but also like how to build a professional class and do it through, allowing a kind of research freedom that in some ways and certainly in the case of LSD really manifested in an experimental culture of experimentation. And I think that the allure of the place then created a moment, even if it was a brief moment or of say about a decade long, where there were people from around the world who were coming to Saskatchewan to engage in Some of these reforms that were taking place. And so in some ways I think it’s just the perfect storm of the time and place.
07:00 PA: So I kinda wanna delve now into a little bit about the specifics of what research was going on in the 1950s. And I’ll just start by contextualized in my own understanding of LSD’s history because I think it’s reflective of probably a lot of our listeners and how they understand the history of LSD. And it’s pretty straight forward, we know that Albert Hoffman accidentally embedded it in 1938, he didn’t pick it up again until 1943. He took it on accident and had the bicycle ride home. And then I think, a few weeks later or something one of his superiors tried it out and Sandoz realized that they had potentially something of value. And this was obviously in the mid-1940s, 1943 1944 and then a lot of our history then of LSD skips ahead about 15 to 16 years to when Timothy Leary and Ken Kesey began to talk about it in the early 1960s. So we had the research that went on at Stanford and then of course in the mid-1960s we had a lot of the Timothy Leary ask stuff that went on with LSD side. I’d love to just fill in that gap then, within this conversation of from 1950 to 1960 what was going on then? What was the start of LSD research in Saskatoon in the early 1950s.
08:14 ED: Yeah, it’s interesting. I think it really started with Humphrey Osmond coming to Saskatchewan in 1951. He had been training as a psychiatrist and was working as a psychiatrist in London and there was very interested in reactions that he saw in patients with psychosis. So mostly looking at delusions and to some extent hallucinations. And that led him to his interest in masculine. But at that point he was mostly reading about it more than anything. When he came to Saskatchewan, he carried with him some of these interests and then was given a little bit more latitude for studying things.
08:47 ED: Firstly, he came in as the director and then very quickly became the superintendent. So he was the one calling the shots, so to speak. And in that capacity and I think also with a number of people around him who were quite eager and enthusiastic to explore these ideas and they were less concerned about clinging to psychodynamic theories or Freudian psychiatry at the time. So with that Osman started looking into Mescaline and quite quickly gained a reputation for it such that some of his colleagues in British Columbia and California learned that he was doing this and put them in touch quite quickly with all this Aldous Huxley. And so by 1953, they started… That was when Osman first introduced Huxley to Mescaline. And it also launched a decade long friendship where they wrote letters quite regularly to each other and explored the different depths of, well, what became psychedelic ways of thinking and psychedelic experiences. Of course, it’s through their correspondence that we have the word psychedelic in itself.
09:44 PA: Right, and I was gonna say that. Humphrey Osman was more or less a legend of the early psychedelic movement in that when going back and forth in those letters with Huxley, he did coin the term psychedelic meaning… I believe it means mind manifesting or even maybe soul manifesting. And I think Huxley had presented an initial idea about what it should be and Osman had responded in turn, “No, that doesn’t seem quite right.” I don’t remember what the term Huxley came up with. It was very verbose, if I remember correctly.
10:18 ED: He said, “To make this mundane world sublime, just half a gram of phanerothyme.”
10:22 PA: Yeah, that’s what it was. Yeah, and then what did Osmond respond with again?
10:26 ED: He says, “To fathom Hell or soar angelic, you’ll need a pinch of psychedelic.”
10:30 PA: That’s what it is, yeah.
10:31 ED: And initially he was trying to get at the mind manifesting qualities of the experience and then he moved to psychedelic meaning, psyche or mind and delic from the Greek de Los to bring to light. So it’s still captures some of those elements but it is more of a tone of insight or perspective. And for the next several years until Huxley’s death in 1963, they continued to probe the limitations of that vocabulary. And also over time, particularly after Huxley’s death, Osman was really dismayed with how the word had taken on a life of its own and I don’t wanna suggest here that he felt necessarily possessive of it, but that he felt that it was being used in ways that was not germane to the ways in which they had intended.
11:17 PA: And what were some of those ways? I’d be curious.
11:20 ED: Well, I feel like I should write another book to answer that question but I’ll attempt to. Huxley and Osman were really interested in bringing other different elements of scientific methodology with humanist and philosophical thinking. And so those are some of the threads that were woven through their discussions but also which really fueled and nourished their idea of what to do in the context of psychedelic thinking and that it wasn’t merely psychedelic science, but that it incorporated a whole variety of other ways of thinking, including paying deference and really paying attention to some of the older, traditional and more often indigenous ways of encountering spirituality, which sometimes came through encounters with psychedelics as well. So they looked and studied the Peyote ceremony. They paid attention to some of the other ceremonies that were taking place at that time that they had access to. Some were reading quite deeply about Buddhism and whatnot, trying to really understand the role that spirituality had in place of healing.
12:25 ED: And so that’s part of what they were trying to do. And what I think is interesting is when Osmond was applying these concepts directly to his scientific practice and to his psychiatric practice, he really focused on developing empathy and using these substances as tools for stimulating empathy. And it really drove a lot of his work. So initially the idea of LSD producing a model psychosis was of the ways that he was trying to get people to understand, appreciate and even develop some compassion for people who were suffering with psychosis in particular. But even people who might just think differently or disorderly. And he’s saying that from his vantage point as a superintendent of a mental hospital, of course.
13:07 PA: So some aspect of neurodiversity recognizing the value in different modes of thinking. Because I think obviously the way that we treated, and correct me if I’m wrong in this, but the way that we treated mentally ill people in the 1950s and 60s was much different than the way that they’re treated today.
13:25 ED: Absolutely. He inherited this position. He applied for it, but he inherited the responsibility of taking care of thousands of patients. And so I’ve been working on another project with some other people about the history of that particular facility. And not strictly speaking the period of time where [unclear speech] there, but really a much longer history of that asylum. And what we’re finding is that about 76% of the people who were first admitted to that hospital ended up living the rest of their lives there. And the facility became, of course, like many other mental hospitals or asylums throughout North America at this time: Very much overcrowded. And in many respects, a lot of the people who went there were cut off from society and became estranged from their families due to them being residents in these facilities for the rest of their lives. And so he came into that environment trying to understand, how is it that we manage our populations this way, that we treat people this way? And in fact trying to bring some degree of dignity and humanity to the experience of madness.
14:23 ED: And it’s interesting, because in some circles, certainly at a place like Psychedelic Science, Osmond has a very strong reputation for being a father figure within this field, certainly for introducing and coining the word “psychedelic”, and for the work that he did in the 1950s in bringing some of that work to the scientific field. But in other circles, in psychology for example, and within patient advocacy groups, I’m finding that his reputation is slightly different. And although people are aware of his connections with LSD, several people are very much in awe of the way in which he treated patients as citizens. And some of the language that he provided in that domain as well was a real advocate for tolerance and accepting people, like you say, if it’s in a neuro-diversity model, although he wouldn’t use those words at the time. And so it’s kind of interesting because I think that is part of what drove him in terms of his interest in psychedelics as much as anything.
15:18 PA: So we have Osmond, we’ll kinda get back then to the storyline of LSD in Saskatchewan, we have Osmond who comes in in 1951 and you said he opens up this facility or becomes the head of this facility. And is that where they start doing the LSD research, or is it happening in academic institutions? Where are they actually doing the medical research with LSD, and what are they starting to discover?
15:40 ED: Most of the research is headed by Osmond, but very quickly he developed collaborations with people in academic units but also in other psychiatric units and facilities throughout the province. So he’s in daily communication with his colleague and psychiatrist Abram Hoffer, who had trained as a serial chemist before he went into psychiatry. And so Hoffer’s really got some very clearly defined skills in chemistry, and he’s also very interested in how different chemicals are metabolized in the body. So he brings a real level of scientific sophistication to Osmond’s studies of perception and what this is doing to experience. As they’re working together, they start interrogating things like the model psychosis, like the psychosomatic properties of LSD and masculine to some degree, although largely mostly LSD. But they also start thinking about applying psychedelics as a treatment module. Initially, they really were looking at alcoholism specifically or problem drinking, usually, problems with alcohol.
16:38 ED: And they use this as a way of trying to hijack the process of hitting rock bottom and get people psychologically and emotionally prepared to seek help. And what they found was that it didn’t always work in the ways that they had anticipated, but they also had difficulties of overlooking the profound spiritual ways in which people were describing their experiences. And to that end, they started bringing in others who were really interested in either the spiritual components here or the psychotherapeutic components, but really thinking about how treating someone’s spiritual needs, to the extent that they had pastors coming in and running the LSD sessions with them, to try to help people move through their feelings, their emotions, their desire to get help by using what was considered at the time, and still now, very much non-medical interventions.
17:27 PA: And one of the non-medical interventions was the LSD.
17:30 ED: Sure, LSD in combination with having a pre-sit with you and talk about your addiction.
17:35 PA: Now, where does Bill Wilson come into this, or does he? Because one of the early things that I discovered about Bill Wilson, who was the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, is I believe at one point he had a very intense LSD experience. He thought about making it the 13th step, or something like that, of the AA program. But eventually, obviously, because of some of the backlash against LSD, that was not approved. Does Bill Wilson fall into this story at all or is he completely disconnected from this?
18:02 ED: No, he’s a really integral player. He not only was very interested in the work that was being done, but as you mentioned, he had his own LSD experience and corresponded quite a lot with Humphrey Osmond about his experience and about the way in which he ascribed meaning to that experience. And one of the things that I was finding was that Alcoholics Anonymous locally here was a bit loath to recommend that people compromise their sobriety or their past toward sobriety by taking a drug that could ostensibly help them. And yet what they found also, and Bill Wilson was very helpful and he was very articulate about how to convince people that this was a meaningful step, not an official step of course in the 12-step sense, but in a meaningful intervention that would help get people onto the 12-Step Program, and that these things could work together.
18:50 ED: And so he recommended certainly people go to Osmond or Hoffer or Duncan Blue or some of the other people working in the area, and he also helped them craft different language to try to reach out and get people to not just to believe in the therapy but to try to seek help and this being an integral part of it. And Wilson of course was also in touch with Aldous Huxley. And he, like many of the people involved in the 1950s, became quite concerned with what was going on in the 1960s as they saw this drug, or these drugs rather, being used and, as they would say, abused in different contexts. And they felt one of the things that have fallen away out of the almost ironic to talk about it in this way perhaps, but they was a kind of deference that they had towards the use of these drugs, some of which I think they learned and appreciated from studying…
19:38 ED: More traditional uses. And again here I mean, Aldous Huxley actually going out to the Mohabi desert and participating in a Peyote ceremony or Humphry Osmond participating in one in Canada, near North Battleford. As they witness the ways in which these substances had been used almost like a sacrament. And in fact, at one time they used that language. But there’s a kind of deference, you don’t just take these drugs for recreational purposes. They would say. You take them for an insight and you must respect them. And what they felt was that, that level of respect and deference to the experience and to the substance was being lost in the counter culture and that that was part of what was being taken away and what was ultimately going to affect their capacity to continue research.
20:20 PA: And so that leaves us then in the 1950s still where… ‘Cause I wanna dig into that pretty soon towards the end of this conversation, is that transition point. From where we go from being within this medical model to then something that’s happening cultural wide. The abuse of LSD to some degree, with what happened in the summer of love for example. Well, let’s kinda stick in this, this 1950s. What are some stories that are starting to develop around the use of LSD in Saskatoon, within the medical model? Are there other experiments that are going on in other places in Canada, the United States, or are the majority of them in Saskatchewan?
20:55 ED: Yeah, so there’s other places that are starting to look into the study of LSD. And I wanna just back up for one moment and in the 1950s there are so many psycho-pharmaceuticals, coming into the marketplace, really flooding the marketplace with all sorts of new products. And of course we know LSD is a little bit different both in terms of its marketing structure, in the way that it wasn’t marketed, it was researched for a lot longer, but also in the whole idea, the whole attitude towards psychedelic therapies to the extent that that… Tha Microdosing aside. We leave that aside for the moment. This was not like your typical anti-depressant or your prozac or your Miltown or your Valium, the kinds of drugs that were being marketed to people to take at home on their own in a medically sanctioned environment way rather, but also in a really economically attractive way to a pharmaceutical industry, that’s promoting a drug, that you take for the rest of your life.
21:58 ED: LSD was much more about an experience. Often one that was supposed to take place in a clinical or even we could argue safe place, but surrounded by hopefully empathetic, observers guides, maybe even people who are joining even the experience. And that therapeutic model is very, very different. So I think that’s on the one hand it’s one of the reasons why there was a period where LSD was not necessarily getting criticized or it didn’t seem that bizarre to be studying a drug, in the context of all of these other drug experiments taking place at the same time and throughout North America and certainly Western Europe. But the mode of delivery and the experience and the emphasis on the experience started to pull it outside of that mainstream drug experimentation. I say drug, I mean pharmaceutical here. And of course then linking it up with recreational use, of course that’s not to say that pharmaceuticals haven’t been used recreationally either, but I think it developed its narrative that we’re quite familiar with. I don’t know if that starts to answer your question.
23:00 PA: No that’s great, that’s great. And That’s I think a central part of your book that you wrote about this, is how you had this one model developing around psychedelic psychiatry and you had kind of a different model developing around the pharmaceuticals. Can you just talk a little bit more about those differences and from your understanding and from your perspective, why is it that the pharmaceutical, outside of the obvious economic incentives, why was it that that pharmaceutical way of approaching things won out for the next 50, 60, 70 years.
23:30 ED: Yeah, I keep coming back to this. And it’s been… Gosh, it’s been 10 years now since I wrote that book and I keep coming back to some of these questions and rethinking them. And I think that there’s something to do with the scientific methodology that was also propping up different ways of evaluating experience and different ways of evaluating risk. So the randomized controlled trial is also making its way into the experimental framework, at this time. And LSD it doesn’t perform a typical experience in that regard either. And we know from some of the comparative work that was done, so for example, the work in Toronto, but also there are… There’s work in Vancouver at this time, there’s work certainly throughout the United States at Spring Hospital at the Veterans Hospital in Los Angeles. That is starting to try to explore different methods for capturing the experience and trying to understand how or whether you can standardize it or measure it, or evaluate it in some kind of meaningful way.
24:25 ED: So, when Toronto’s Addictions Research Foundation tied people to their beds and blindfolded them and gave them an unknown to the subject dose and they had terrible experiences, most psychedelic researchers were not surprised by this finding at all. They said, “Well, of course not. That would be terrifying.” And yet they were suggesting that, “Well, we don’t know them, whether it’s the environment or the drug that is actually causing your subjects that is, your not tied up subjects to have some kind of a positive sensation, or a positive effect.” And we start to see sort of a clash in the ways that we measure drugs and the interaction between drugs and the environment or drugs and the experience. And I think that also started the clash with some of the ways in which drug regulators were trying to capture and trying to standardize the evaluation process. And what I try to talk a little bit about in the book is something that’s more significant in Canada, I think than it is in the United States. But the impact that the Thalidomide had. And I say this, that it’s more significant in Canada because there are more people affected by it, because it wasn’t marketed in the United States.
25:30 ED: But certainly the drug was known to Americans. That the congenital birth defects, that resulted from the use of Thalidomide, with, for pregnant women was something that the scientific community hadn’t anticipated obviously. And I think this really shattered the public face in the scientific community’s ability to predict the risks associated with some of these drugs. And so at that time, in fact it’s the very same bill that prohibits the use of Thalidomide under certain conditions, that both challenges the methodological approaches, but also I think brought fear to not just public regulators but the public at large in terms of how to anticipate what this drug is capable of.
26:11 PA: And so then that leads us into the late 1950s early 1960s, where there’s more and more fear bubbling, there’s more and more publicity around this, what’s the tipping point then, where we go from, “Okay, this might be a legitimate medical treatment,” to, “Eh we really should stop doing this research, this isn’t legitimate, we need to shut this down.
26:32 ED: Yeah, it’s a good question. I think that by, I think it’s 1961, there was over 1000 articles published on the uses of LSD, and just LSD. There were other psychedelics as well, but just on that drug alone. And the vast majority of them are pointing towards the positive effects that this drug has in a variety of different kind of healthcare settings, often around psychotherapeutic moments, but not exclusively so. And it’s very interesting, because that seems to be quite a substantial amount of literature pointing towards some kind of benefits, and yet within a few years that starts to crumble. And we know the story changes quite dramatically in a short span of time. I want to blame Timothy Leary, and it’s tempting to blame Timothy Leary, and I do think he certainly had a part to play in it. But I think it’s more complicated than that. And I think it’s actually risky to blame him and write it off, because that would also suggest then, we could do this fresh, there’s no more Timothy Leary.
27:32 ED: And I think there are some legitimate concerns and perhaps cautions that we might take from looking at this history. I do think Leary had a large role to play in part for popularizing the drug, and for really, I think, irresponsibly connecting his rather flamboyant behavior and his disregard for the law. And it wasn’t very calculated getting busted for Marijuana possession, and silly things, really. But really it’s an expression of his character, trying to push the boundaries of legal authority and regulation over him as a person and these drugs more broadly. That didn’t help. His desire to be in the media and, I think I feel comfortable saying it, basically his narcissism really allowed him to capture the spotlight. He was articulate. He was incredibly charming, he was charismatic. He was really effective at drawing a lot of attention to this drug, and this attitude, and this way of thinking that I think really galvanized the culture at the time. So on the one hand, he’s incredibly attractive and many of his messages are very attractive. And then yet at the same time, those same messages very much challenge an established order or a status quo. And you can sort of see the cultural divisions forming there. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that when I was… I think I was about 17 years old when Timothy Leary came to Saskatoon. And I had no idea who he was, I confess, when I was 17.
28:54 ED: I worked at a movie theater at the time, and he was coming to that movie theater to give a presentation about the new work that he was doing. Oh gosh, that would have been in the late 1990s. No, sorry, early 1990s, I don’t know how old I am. And he was talking about his new electronic turn. And if you’ve read Greenfield’s biography on him, he does, I think, a really great job of demonstrating what that was. I, of course, had no idea what was going on, but my job was to show him around, and to make sure his microphone worked, and to help him get adjusted before he gave his talk. And I’m kicking myself forever now for not having the wherewithal to know who he was, or appreciate who he was at the time. But even in that moment, not knowing who he was, I was overwhelmed by the gravitational pull that he had.
29:39 ED: He really was a tremendously charming and charismatic person. And it’s undeniable the qualities that he had in that regard. So I think his personality is definitely a very important part of this story. But there were other things too, like as I mentioned, with philadomide and the sort of crumbling face in experts. And we see that reflected in the philosophy and the literature of the time as well, the challenge to experts, technocrats, etcetera, being able to determine what’s safe, what’s risky, or telling people what they can do, this sort of authoritarian structure. And I think the mood and the cultural changes at the time also connected with LSD sometimes in positive ways or in ways that would help it to continue, and also in ways that started to challenge whether or not, is it a good thing to go out of your mind? And enough people felt that way. And that I think it’s not just Tim Leary who turned people off as much as he turned them on, but I think it presented some considerable risks.
30:35 PA: Yeah. And from my own study of that time period, and looking at all the different societal factors that were going on, I also look at the fact that in many ways this experience of spirituality, this experience of directly communing with the Godhead, or transcendence, or whatever it might be, it had been more or less completely removed from Western culture as a result of industrialism and the role that a lot of, for example, people who were Christian went through. So there wasn’t a lot of direct experience with Christianity in Western culture. It seemed to be much more about going to church and the community around it. And so when we had in the second wave all of these you know psychedelics that were basically dumped on people, it was A, obviously… This was largely Tim Leary, but also Ken Kesey on the West Coast and what he was doing with the Grateful Dead, and the Acid Tests, and things like that. It seemed to be so destabilizing because as a culture we had no context whatsoever for these substances. And all of a sudden, we’re totally out of our mind with them. And when you go from having no context at all to being thrown into it, you don’t have that ritualistic setting like Huxley observed with the Native Americans and Peyote.
32:03 ED: And I think that one of the other contextual points here, and I don’t wanna suggest there’s a cause and effect, or there’s a direct link, but if you imagine at the same time that in the 1960s, we’ve got people protesting for a whole variety of things. They’re the countercultural movement, even if we wanna it a particular thing, whether it’s second-wave feminism, or civil rights marches, or anti-Vietnam war protests, there’s a lot of tension and cultural tension that often manifest in these really divisive contexts. It’s really a pro and anti kinda Setup. And so I think if we isolate LSD and we look at it just in one particular way, you think, “Well, how could they not have seen the benefits?” But I think in the context of a lot of flux and a lot of uncertainty about the shape of things in this Cold War and ’60s context, I think that it’s not that unnatural that people may have reacted a little bit more conservatively.
32:56 PA: Yeah. I think that’s a really good segue and transition into the last part of this conversation, which I wanna bring us up to speed on more modern times. Obviously, with your expertise, this book you wrote really looking at the detailed history of medical research of LSD, right before it took off culturally. I think we’re sitting at a very similar point in time right now, where we’ve obviously had now almost 20 years of medical research. I think the first research that got up and going was 1996 when Bob Jesse connected with Roland Griffiths and they started at Johns Hopkins, and Roland published that first paper, I think, in 2006. And now over the last 12 years, we’ve had a number of research, a lot of research published from NYU and Johns Hopkins and UCLA and Imperial and whatnot.
33:38 PA: And I think now we’re starting to have more and more conversations around, “Well, what’s going on culturally?” And obviously, this has been our focus at The Third Wave, somewhat, is what do we do to start to build a cultural-educational framework so that when these two ideally become medicalized, and we can also look at then how they become fully integrated, not just with an institution? So I’d be curious to hear your thoughts about what lessons can we learn from the history of the medicalization of psychedelics and how it went wrong? And how can we make sure we don’t make the same mistakes again so that this new “psychedelic renaissance” flourishes and goes off really well?
34:14 ED: I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately, and I wish I had a clear answer, a prescriptive answer, but I don’t. I do think there are a couple of things to bear in mind or maybe pay attention to which I’m more comfortable suggesting that rather than providing a prescription. But I think there’s a couple of things. One is that what I was hearing in April and of course, I wasn’t in every session, you couldn’t possibly be, but even paying attention to some of the sessions, now I’m watching them online and whatnot, there is a real sense that science is firmly part of The Third Wave. As the conference suggests, this is psychedelic science and this time we’re gonna be better at the science part of it and we’ll have the evidence to demonstrate that what we’re doing has some validity.
34:57 ED: And I think we need to be cautious about or face that that language won’t necessarily protect us. Because I do think that although we can look back at the 1950s folks now and say that their science was perhaps not as good as it is now, they were legitimate scientists and they were doing research that was up to par for the standards of their day. And so I think that that’s one thing that I’ve been noticing the use of that language quite repeatedly. And I wanna wanna step back a little bit and think about sometimes I think what was really beneficial was not just the science, but really a much broader conversation about the ways in which these experiences and these pursuits in fact are ways of being beyond a sort of scientific discourse.
35:46 ED: So why not bring in some of those religious perspectives, and why not bring in some of those humanities perspectives as a way of building a vocabulary for talking about psychedelics in ways that are going to help, I think, on the preventative side of things? So proactive education about psychedelics so that other people aren’t concerned about these risks that are wildly untrue. I still find that probably a week doesn’t go by where someone’s like, “Well, did everybody get addicted?” I’m like, “It’s not addictive.” [chuckle]
36:11 PA: Right, I know.
36:12 ED: So just basic stuff about how we become literate and how we promote a kind of drug literacy that is based on evidence and fact. And yes, a lot of this is born from the science, but I think we have to really work together cross-culturally, cross-disciplinary in a way to help pull a broader piece of the history not just the scientific lessons. How do we learn about elemental deference? As I’m trying to suggest.
36:39 PA: Right. And this is something that I often think about. From our perspective, from my perspective, I think if there was higher literacy about psychedelic substances, and generally if people were educated about it like they are about maybe cigarettes or like they are about even alcohol, I think unlike almost every other drug… And obviously, every drug has some benefits and some risks. Tobacco has been used in a medical context and indigenous ceremonies for many thousands of years. Alcohol, a glass of wine every now and then is great for sociability. We could even make the case that certain opiates when used within an appropriate context can help with pain. So there’s always nuance within these conversations, but I think psychedelics, more than any other drugs, and again this is just from my perspective, the benefits of them in terms of the potential that they hold for life transformation far outweigh the risks, particularly when those risks are mitigated by what you’re saying, some level of deference. And from my understanding is, if people had this rational understanding of psychedelic substances, I think the use of psychedelics would be much more popular even because I even consider these to be healthy substances in what they can engender and facilitate.
37:52 ED: Yeah. I’ve heard it sort of jokingly suggested that we should have a new drug campaign called “Just Say Know,” K-N-O-W. A kind of knowledge revolution, if you will. Really thinking about, what should we be paying attention to and what should we know or learn about these substances, and what should we be promoting and educating ourselves about? I think we need to be a little bit careful about the enthusiasm. I don’t mean to throw cold water on The Third Wave, but I do think that we would be well advised to temper our enthusiasm, or try to really be self-reflective in this moment and think about some of the challenges and some of the risks that we already can anticipate. And whether those are ones that we take from looking at historical examples or ones that we see from, perhaps we would say, conservative elements in our society today, to really or try to confront those pieces of the so-called renaissance. And think about ways that we can incorporate or really confront the concerns and address them through some preventative education. And whether that’s in public policy, whether that’s through educational campaigns or perhaps even through healthcare encounters, but really start to think about improving the literacy around psychedelics.
39:10 PA: Great. And I think that’s a great place to wrap up. We’ve been having some audio issues throughout the podcast, so I think in the spirit of ensuring that we can wrap up nicely without a very abrasive ending, I wanna thank you, Erica, for coming on and sharing your time with us. And if we could just wrap up, if you could give people an overview if they wanna find out more about you, if you have a website, also the name of the book that we’ve been talking about this whole time, so they can find it. That sort of information would be great.
39:38 ED: Alright, well thank you very much for having me. If you wanna find out more, you can find me at the University of Saskatchewan in the Department of History. You can email me here in Saskatoon, and you can also take a look at Psychedelic Psychiatry, or watch this fall for a new book, which is called The Psychedelic Prophets, and it is a book of correspondence and the complete set of letters between Aldous Huxley and Humphry Osmond as they explore the trials and tribulations of psychedelics from the ground.
40:06 PA: Great, well, thank you again, Erika, for joining us and for your patience in working through all of this. I know you have a really busy rest of your day as well.
40:14 ED: Oh, no worries.
40:16 PA: So thank you so much for doing all this.
40:28 PA: Okay, so I hope you enjoyed the podcast this week. We just a few quick announcements and pieces of news to leave you with until next time. The first thing is if you haven’t yet, look at joining our Premium Microdosing Course and community. We have about 550 community members in there, and that’s a really good place if you wanna take your psychedelic experiences to the next level. If you’re really looking at how you can optimize your psychedelic experiences to get the most out of them, obviously, with microdosing, but also with higher doses, and that is a phenomenal place to do so.
40:56 PA: So the first piece of news, San Francisco will retroactively apply California’s new Marijuana laws to criminal cases. This is an important step in acknowledging the incalculable damage that Cannabis criminalization has caused, and beginning reparations to those affected. As we know, the war on drugs has been largely rooted in racist origins, and as part of legalizing Cannabis recreationally it will be important that we look at how we can provide communities of color with opportunities to get involved in this burgeoning industry.
41:24 PA: The second piece of news is a British startup is raising money for a large scale trial of Psilocybin as a treatment for treatment-resistant depression. Compass Pathways aims to administer Psilocybin to 400 people across eight European countries and monitor its effects on symptoms of depression. They have raised 4 million pounds in seed money and require 15 million pounds for the trial scheduled to begin early next year. Now, Peter Teal, the co-founder of PayPal, is actually an early investor in this organization. I think he donated something between one and two million pounds. And one of the upsides, obviously, to this is really the first for-profit startup within the psychedelic space, which is phenomenal. The downside though to ventures like this is because they are for-profit, the only ways to incentivize investors to get involved is to obviously make this therapy, once it’s legal, quite expensive. And while that’s great for those who can afford it, there are obviously a lot of people who have dealt with socio-economic trauma who come from poor backgrounds who can’t afford it. And that’s something that we’re trying to do at The Third Wave is to democratize the healing process so that those people, regardless of where they come from, can get access these medicines in a way that is helpful and healing.
42:32 PA: So that’s it for this week. Just a brief podcast episode. Next week, we interview Richard Louis Miller, who is a psychologist based in California. Richard is one of the original pioneers. He was around when psychedelics were legal back in the ’60s and played a facilitating role in their emergence, and so we had an excellent conversation with him. So stay tuned for that podcast episode for next week.