Tag Archives: LSD

J. of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences: LSD as Psychotherapy & Psychiatric Film

US President John F. Kennedy signs the Kefauver Harris Drug Amendments of 1962.

The April 2014 issue of Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences includes several items that may be of interest to AHP’s readers. Titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“Efficacy and Enlightenment: LSD Psychotherapy and the Drug Amendments of 1962,” by Matthew Oram. The abstract reads,

The decline in therapeutic research with lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) in the United States over the course of the 1960s has commonly been attributed to the growing controversy surrounding its recreational use. However, research difficulties played an equal role in LSD psychotherapy’s demise, as they frustrated researchers’ efforts to clearly establish the efficacy of treatment. Once the Kefauver Harris Drug Amendments of 1962 introduced the requirement that proof of efficacy be established through controlled clinical trials before a drug could be approved to market, the value of clinical research became increasingly dependent on the scientific rigor of the trial’s design. LSD psychotherapy’s complex method of utilizing drug effects to catalyze a psychological treatment clashed with the controlled trial methodology on both theoretical and practical levels, making proof of efficacy difficult to obtain. Through a close examination of clinical trials performed after 1962, this article explores how the new emphasis on controlled clinical trials frustrated the progress of LSD psychotherapy research by focusing researchers’ attention on trial design to the detriment of their therapeutic method. This analysis provides a new perspective on the death of LSD psychotherapy and explores the implications of the Drug Amendments of 1962.

“Neuro Psychiatry 1943: The Role of Documentary Film in the Dissemination of Medical Knowledge and Promotion of the U.K. Psychiatric Profession,” by Edgar Jones. The abstract reads,

In 1943, Basil Wright produced a documentary film about the treatment of servicemen and civilians with psychological disorders at Mill Hill Emergency Medical Service Hospital. Funded by the Ministry of Information, Neuro Psychiatry was shot to convince influential clinicians and policy makers in North America that the British had developed expertise in the management of psychiatric casualties. By emphasizing novel and apparently effective interventions and excluding severe or intractable cases from the film, Wright encouraged an optimistic sense of achievement. Filmed at a time when victory was considered an eventual outcome, the picture presented a health service to which all had access without charge. Children and unemployed women, two groups excluded under the 1911 National Insurance Act, had been required to pay for healthcare in the prewar period and were shown receiving free treatment from the Emergency Medical Service. However, the therapeutic optimism presented in the film proved premature. Most U.K. battle casualties arose in the latter half of the conflict and follow-up studies failed to confirm the positive outcome statistics reported in the film. Aubrey Lewis, clinical director of the hospital, criticized research projects conducted at Mill Hill for a lack of rigor. The cinematographic skills of Wright and director Michael Hankinson, together with their reformist agenda, created a clinical presentation that emphasized achievements without acknowledging the limitations not only of the therapies offered by doctors but also the resources available to a nation at war.

“The Cost of War—Then and Now: Commentary on ‘Neuro Psychiatry 1943′,” by Heiner Fangerau. The abstract reads,

In his essay “Neuro Psychiatry 1943: The Role of Documentary Film in the Dissemination of Medical Knowledge and Promotion of the U.K. Psychiatric Profession” Edgar Jones provides a detailed case study of a single movie that was made under unusual wartime conditions. From this case, he builds a general analysis of the interpretation and portrayal of scientific expertise that shaped the production, distribution, and reception of this genre of documentary. The paper provides a fresh perspective for the historical analysis of film documentaries, while remaining highly topical and germane to present-day issues in medicine and health care.

The film that Jones studied was produced in a British hospital where war victims (mostly soldiers) were treated for war neuroses. The filmmakers documented the therapies employed and the apparently successful posttreatment reintroduction of patients into military service and civilian work. They hoped to convince informed audiences, especially those outside Britain in the United States and Canada, about the effectiveness of the British Health Care Service in …

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“Operation Delirium” in the New Yorker

AHP readers may be interested in a recent piece in the New Yorker titled “Operation Delirium.” The article explores experiments with psycho-chemicals within the United States military during the Cold War. This included the administration of nerve gas, LSD, and other chemicals to soldiers to assess their effects. At present, a class action suit on behalf of the soldiers who were subject to this chemical testing is underway.

As described in the article’s opening paragraph,

Colonel James S. Ketchum dreamed of war without killing. He joined the Army in 1956 and left it in 1976, and in that time he did not fight in Vietnam; he did not invade the Bay of Pigs; he did not guard Western Europe with tanks, or help build nuclear launch sites beneath the Arctic ice. Instead, he became the military’s leading expert in a secret Cold War experiment: to fight enemies with clouds of psychochemicals that temporarily incapacitate the mind—causing, in the words of one ranking officer, a “selective malfunctioning of the human machine.” For nearly a decade, Ketchum, a psychiatrist, went about his work in the belief that chemicals are more humane instruments of warfare than bullets and shrapnel—or, at least, he told himself such things. To achieve his dream, he worked tirelessly at a secluded Army research facility, testing chemical weapons on hundreds of healthy soldiers, and thinking all along that he was doing good.

Journalist Raffi Khatchadourian, the author of the New Yorker article, was also interviewed by NPR about the story. That interview can be heard on the NPR website here.

Read the full New Yorker piece online here.

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Timothy Leary and More in New JHBS

The winter 2012 issue of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences (JHBS) has just been released online. Regular readers of JHBS may notice something different about the journal this year. The journal’s cover has been redesigned to now feature an image related to one of the articles included in the issue (right). Included in this first issue of 2012 are articles on the place of extraordinary psychological phenomena in the discipline, the work of Timothy Leary post-Harvard, Kurt Goldstein’s neurolingustic research, and the revival, in sociology, of interest in Max Weber’s work during the 1970s and 1980s. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“The making of extraordinary psychological phenomena,” by Peter Lamont. The abstract reads,

This article considers the extraordinary phenomena that have been central to unorthodox areas of psychological knowledge. It shows how even the agreed facts relating to mesmerism, spiritualism, psychical research, and parapsychology have been framed as evidence both for and against the reality of the phenomena. It argues that these disputes can be seen as a means through which beliefs have been formulated and maintained in the face of potentially challenging evidence. It also shows how these disputes appealed to different forms of expertise, and that both sides appealed to belief in various ways as part of the ongoing dispute about both the facts and expertise. Finally, it shows how, when a formal Psychology of paranormal belief emerged in the twentieth century, it took two different forms, each reflecting one side of the ongoing dispute about the reality of the phenomena.

“Timothy Leary’s mid-career shift: Clean break or inflection point?,” by David C. Devonis. The abstract reads,

The psychologist Timothy Leary (1920–1996), an iconic cultural figure in the United States in the 1960s and afterward, has received comparatively scant attention in the history of psychology. Continue reading Timothy Leary and More in New JHBS

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NYPL Acquires Timothy Leary Papers

The New York Public Library (NYPL) has purchased the papers (above) of psychologist and LSD proponent Timothy Leary. The library purchased the papers from Leary’s estate for $900,000 some of which will be donated back to the NYPL to help with the costs associated with processing the collection.

As announced by the New York Times, Leary’s papers consist of

335 boxes of papers, videotapes, photographs and more … The material documents the evolution of the tweedy middle-aged academic into a drug guru, international outlaw, gubernatorial candidate, computer software designer and progenitor of the Me Decade’s self-absorbed interest in self-help.

The archive will not be available to the public or scholars for 18 to 24 months, as the library organizes the papers. A preview of the collection, however, reveals a rich record not only of Leary’s tumultuous life but also of the lives of many significant cultural figures in the ’60, ’70s and ’80s.

More details on Leary’s life and work, including photographs of some of the collection’s items, can be found here.

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Hoffmann’s Potion

HoffmannAs many AHP readers might know, the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) hosts a free online screening room with nearly 1500 film clips, documentaries, animations, experimental films, and fictional films. A colleague recently directed me to a 2002 film by Canadian filmmaker Connie Littlefield that may be of interest to some AHP readers. Hoffmann’s Potion is a 56 minute film covering the early years of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) research by Swiss scientist Albert Hoffmann. Unlike similar documentaries by the BBC (also this 1997 film), Hoffmann’s Potion is not centered around American activist Timothy Leary. Instead, it looks at the spread of LSD research from Hoffmann’s lab in 1938 to psychiatric facilities in Canada, Czechoslovakia, Great Britain, and the United States in the 1940s and 50s.

The NFB offers this synopsis:

This documentary offers a compassionate, open-minded look at LSD and how it fits into our world. Long before Timothy Leary urged a generation to “tune in, turn on and drop out,” the drug was hailed as a way to treat forms of addiction and mental illness. At the same time, it was being touted as a powerful tool for mental exploration and self-understanding. Featuring interviews with LSD pioneers, beautiful music and stunning cinematography, this is much more than a simple chronicle of LSD’s early days. It’s an alternative way of looking at the drug… and our world.

Littlefield alternates between original documentary footage from the laboratories and new interviews with LSD researchers including: American psychiatrist Myron J. Stolaroff, Czechoslovakian transpersonal psychologist Stanislav Grof, and British psychiatrist Humphry Osmond. Osmond worked at the now demolished Weyburn Mental Hospital in Weyburn Saskatchewan. His work with Canadian schizophrenia specialist Abram Hoffer applied LSD both to better understand the lives of schizophrenics, and to treat addiction.

See these previous AHP posts for a Bibliography of Psychoactive Drug Use in Psychology, and a Bibliography of LSD and Psychiatry.

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The Harvard Psychedelic Club Reviewed in NYT

The New York Times has reviewed a just released book on psychedelic research at Harvard University in the 1960s: The Harvard Psychedelic Club: How Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Huston Smith and Andrew Weil Killed the Fifties and Ushered In a New Age for America. Authored by freelance journalist and religion writer, Don Lattin The Harvard Psychedelic Club’s title calls to mind Louis Menand’s 2001 book The Metaphysical Club, also about psychology at Harvard, though in an earlier period.

Lattin’s book details the exploits of Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert, Andrew Weil and Huston Smith at Harvard in the early 1960s, as well as their lives after Harvard. As the NYT recounts,

In 1963 Leary and Mr. Alpert were kicked out of Harvard for their exploits, which included giving drugs to undergraduates. One of the men behind their expulsion was none other than Andrew Weil, still an undergraduate. Jealous at not being fully admitted into their world or, Mr. Lattin suggests, being given the best drugs, Mr. Weil helped engineer an exposé of Leary and Mr. Alpert in The Harvard Crimson. He took the pair down, Mr. Lattin writes, “with the zeal of a jilted lover.” The older men never fully forgave him.

Mr. Lattin tracks all four men as they go their separate ways, trailing stardust and grievances. Timothy Leary became, well, Timothy Leary, the Johnny Appleseed of the psychedelic age. Richard Alpert traveled to India, came back as Ram Dass and wrote the counterculture bible “Be Here Now.” Andrew Weil, with his bald head and Santa Claus beard, would become a benevolent alternative lifestyle guru, a man whose work combines Eastern and Western medical ideas. His empire now includes not just best-selling books and herbal supplements but lines of olive oil and cookware. Mr. Smith, the most serious academic of the group, became critical of Leary. He found Leary’s slogan — “Tune In, Turn On, Drop Out” — “too negative to command respect.”

Although the NYT review of The Harvard Psychedelic Club is largely favourable, the reviewer takes issue with some of Lattin’s stylistic decisions, including his decision to invent some of the dialogue that appears in the book. Despite the problematically concocted dialogue, the reviewer found the story engrossing.

As described on its dustjacket, The Harvard Psychedelic Club,

is the story of how three brilliant scholars and one ambitious freshman crossed paths in the early sixties at a Harvard-sponsored psychedelic-drug research project, transforming their lives and American culture and launching the mind/body/spirit movement that inspired the explosion of yoga classes, organic produce, and alternative medicine.

The four men came together in a time of upheaval and experimentation, and their exploration of an expanded consciousness set the stage for the social, spiritual, sexual, and psychological revolution of the 1960s. Timothy Leary would be the rebellious trickster, the premier proponent of the therapeutic and spiritual benefits of LSD, advising a generation to “turn on, tune in, and drop out.” Richard Alpert would be the seeker, traveling to India and returning to America as Ram Dass, reborn as a spiritual leader with his “Be Here Now” mantra, inspiring a restless army of spiritual pilgrims. Huston Smith would be the teacher, practicing every world religion, introducing the Dalai Lama to the West, and educating generations of Americans to adopt a more tolerant, inclusive attitude toward other cultures’ beliefs. And young Andrew Weil would be the healer, becoming the undisputed leader of alternative medicine, devoting his life to the holistic reformation of the American health care system.

It was meant to be a time of joy, of peace, and of love, but behind the scenes lurked backstabbing, jealousy, and outright betrayal. In spite of their personal conflicts, the members of the Harvard Psychedelic Club would forever change the way Americans view religion and practice medicine, and the very way we look at body and soul.

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