Psychedelic Science

Heavy, man!The Mind Hacks blog has tipped me off to a 1997 documentary on the history of the use of psychedelic drugs for medical purposes. The documentary was produced by Bill Eagles and originally broadcast on the BBC program “Horizon.” It is now available, in its entirety (48 min) at Google Video.

Early in the video is a discussion of the uses made of LSD by Humphry Osmond and Abram Hoffer at the Weyburn Mental Hospital in Saskatchewan, Canada. Osmond and Hoffer believed that they could treat addictions, especially alcoholism, with LSD. They also used it to enhance the effectiveness of psychotherapeutic sessions. In interviews shown in the documentary, they report several successful trials (but there is little on unsuccessful trials, and no statistical data provided).

[AMMENDATION: Romeo Vitelli’s website (see first comment below) says that Osmond and Hoffer claimed a 50% recovery rate from alcoholism. Others, of course, did not find positive outcomes at this level. Debate continues about the appropriateness of the methods use by both sides.]

When psychedelics were made illegal in the US, in 1967, almost all scientific research on their effects was ended as well. The documentary also follows a medical researcher who, in the 1970s and 1980s, went to Brazil to continue his work on the topic. By the mid-1990s, there was hope that governments would once again become more open to this sort of research but, in retrospect, little has changed over the past decade.

About Christopher Green

Professor of Psychology at York University (Toronto). Former editor of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences. Creator of the "Classics in the History of Psychology" website and of the "This Week in the History of Psychology" podcast series.

3 thoughts on “Psychedelic Science

  1. I wrote a couple of recent posts on this on my blog. Dr. Erika Dyck at the University of Alberta has done some intereesting papers on Osmond and Hoffer’s research in Saskatchewan.

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