Bibliography: Psychoactive drug use in psychology

Continuing in the same vein as past drug-related postings (on marijuana, antidepressants, LSD, and psychedelics), we now present a capstone bibliography on the use of psychoactive substances in the history of psychology. 

A longer related resource, on the history of psychopharmacology, is forthcoming.

History of Psychoactive Drug Use in Psychology.


  • Fleishman, M.  (1968).  Will the real Third Revolution please stand up?  American Journal of Psychiatry, 124(9), 1260-1262.

Although the 1st and 2nd psychiatric revolutions are unequivocally credited to Pinel and Freud, respectively, the true designation of the 3rd revolution is still in question.  An argument is presented for awarding the title to the development and use of psychoactive drugs; it is felt that community psychiatry should be considered the 4th psychiatric revolution.

  • Spivak, L. I.  (1991).  Psychoactive drug research in the Soviet scientific tradition.  Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 23(3), 271-281.

Reviews Soviet research on the effects of psychoactive drugs (PDs) over the past 100 yrs, examines trends in this research, and contrasts Soviet with American research. Soviet research is considered in 4 time periods.  In Phase 1 (early 19th century to the 1920s), PDs were used for medical and diagnostic purposes.  In Phase 2 (the 1930s), there was a decrease in research while theoretical conjecture increased.  During Phase 3 (World War II), PDs were used as remedies in extreme conditions.  Phase 4 (the 1950s to the present) involved the synthesis and use of a great number of PDs.  Theories about chemical origins of psychoses were also proposed, and interest in traditional Tibetan and other Asian medical practices increased.  Overall, 2 main trends are distinguished: the modeling of mental disturbances and the study of altered states of consciousness.

  • Westermeyer, J.  (1988).  The pursuit of intoxication: Our 100 Century-old romance with psychoactive substances.  American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 14(2), 175-187.

Presents a historical review of the use of psychoactive drugs and related substances from preliterate societies to the modern era.  Religious attitudes, societal attempts to control such abuse, legal sanctions, and cultural attitudes are discussed.

See also:

  • Gomberg, E. L.  (1982).  Historical and political perspective: Women and drug use.  Journal of Social Issues, 38(2), 9-23.

Societies have usually regulated the use of drug substances with differences in rules of usage for men and women.  This paper explores the political and historical factors contributing to this difference.  Findings indicate that gender is linked to the use of drugs for therapeutic or recreational purposes, and there seems to be greater social sanction for medicinal use for women.  Women are bigger users of psychoactive drugs.  Some possible reasons discussed are women’s physiology, the relative health status of men and women, different aspects of sexually assigned role, and socially determined double standards in substances prescribed and proscribed.  Women and alcohol in US history are traced from colonial days through the temperance movement to the present.


About Jeremy Burman

Jeremy Trevelyan Burman is a senior doctoral student in York University’s Department of Psychology, specializing in the history of developmental psychology and its theory (especially that pertaining to Jean Piaget). Prior to returning to academia, he was a producer at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

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