From secret CIA experiments to Timothy Leary’s call to “Turn on, tune in, drop out,” portions of LSD's history carry a certain cultural baggage in the United States. The drug’s name, for many, evokes worries over hidden dangers of going insane or experiencing crippling flashbacks, and associations with the impractical 1960s flower children in San Francisco. While still illegal in most uses, psychedelics are slowly gaining a new reputation—as a medicine.
The latest edition of The New York Times documentary series Retro Report traces the rise of LSD from a research drug developed in a Swiss laboratory to a counter cultural scourge and, most recently, a potential medication for mental illness.
At one 1967 counter-cultural festival in San Francisco, the “LSD flowed like wine,” according to a historian of the drug. However, within just a few years, LSD was blamed for suicides and psychosis among users, demonized by media reports, and subject to intense regulatory crackdowns. Classified in 1970 as a Schedule I drug—the most dangerous class of drugs in the eyes of the U.S. government—LSD research became virtually impossible.
But recently, scientists have begun to reexamine LSD and other psychedelics’ potential as therapeutic agents capable of reducing anxiety and depression, combating addiction, modeling schizophrenia, and more. While the law and lingering perceptions about LSD’s reputation as a dangerous chemical make this kind of research difficult to conduct, small studies have shown it to be effective for a variety of psychiatric uses, as the documentary shows, including helping the terminally ill make peace with the prospect of death.
Read more about the history of LSD research from The New York Times.
All images courtesy The New York Times.