Therapeutic studies in the 1950S opened up new areas of investigation for a growing number of young psychiatrists. A particularly promising avenue of inquiry involved using LSD as a tool to explore the creative attributes of the mind. Dr. Oscar Janiger (the first person in the US to conduct a clinical investigation of DMT, or dimethyltryptamine, an extremely powerful short-acting psychedelic) noted that many of his patients reported vivid aesthetic perceptions frequently leading to a greater appreciation of the arts. One of his subjects claimed that a single acid trip was equal to "four years in art school" and urged Janiger to give the drug to other artists. This led to an experiment in which one hundred painters drew pictures before, during, and after an LSD experience. Everyone who participated considered their post-LSD creations personally more meaningful. Impressed by these results, Janiger proceeded to administer the psychedelic to various writers, actors, musicians, and filmmakers, including such notables as Anais Nin, Andre Previn, Jack Nicholson, James Coburn, Ivan Tors, and the great stand-up comedian Lord Buckley.*
While some interesting and highly original works of art have been produced during the acid high, the creative effects of LSD cannot be measured solely in terms of immediate artistic output. Even more important is the enlargement of vision, the acute awareness of vaster potentials that persists long after the drug has worn off. Janiger's subjects frequently commented on the affinity between the drug-induced state and "what they felt might be an essential matrix from which the imaginative process derives." Author William Burroughs, who experimented with hallucinogens on his own, agreed with this assessment: "Under the influence of mescaline I have had the experience of seeing a painting for the first time, and I found later that I could see the painting without using the drug. The same insights into music or the exposure to a powerful consciousness-expanding drug often conveys a permanent increase in the range of experience. Mescaline transports the user to unexplored psychic areas, and he can often find the way back without a chemical guide."
* In the mid-1940s Lord Buckley founded a mescaline club called The Church of the Living Swing. A practitioner of yoga who often appeared in public wearing a tuxedo with tennis sneakers, a big white moustache, and a safari hat, Buckley rented a yacht and threw mescaline parties in the San Francisco Bay with live jazz by Ben Webster and Johnny Puleo and the Harmonicats.
The suggestion that LSD might enhance creativity was vigorously disputed by certain studies purporting to measure the impairment of normal mental functioning during the drugged state. The discrepancy between these studies and the personal testimony of the artists themselves underscored the shortcomings of the scientific modus operand!, which relied primarily on performance and aptitude tests and the like. In the end such tests yielded a morass of nebulous and contradictory data that shed little light on the psychological action of psychedelic agents. Dr. Osmond spoke for a growing number of researchers when he wrote, "Our preoccupation with behavior, because it is measurable, has led us to assume that what can be measured must be valuable and vice versa An emphasis on the measurable and the reductive has resulted in the limitation of interest by psychiatrists to aspects of experience that fit in with this concept." According to Osmond, the most important features of the LSD experience—the overwhelming beauty, the awe and wonder, the existential challenge, the creative and therapeutic insights—would inevitably elude the scientist who viewed them merely as "epiphenomena of 'objective' happenings."
The so-called objectivist approach was inherently flawed not only because it sought to quantify creative experience but also because it ignored the input of the observer, which always influenced the results of an LSD experiment. An acid high was a state of heightened suggestibility and acute sensitivity to environmental cues. The subject's response was therefore largely influenced by the expectations of the person administering the drug. If the scientist viewed the LSD experience as essentially "psychotic," he unwittingly contributed to this type of response, both through implicit suggestion and because he was not equipped to assist the subject in interpreting the altered state of consciousness. Under these circumstances a paranoid response with serious long-range repercussions was not uncommon. Such results, in turn, led to overgeneralization, to the point where the drug was defined as a stress-inducing agent.
The notion that LSD could be used to treat psychological problems seemed downright absurd to certain scientists in light of the drug's long-standing identification with the simulation of mental illness. Those who operated within the psychotomimetic framework did not recognize that extrapharmacological variables—inadequate preparation, negative expectations, poorly managed sessions—were responsible for the adverse effects mistakenly attributed to the specific action of the drug. (According to the model psychosis scenario, there was really nothing to manage; just dose them and take the reaction.) They were appalled to learn that some psychotherapists were actually taking LSD with their patients. This was strictly taboo to the behaviorist, who refused to experiment on himself on the grounds that it would impair his ability to remain completely objective.
The chasm between the two schools of thought was not due to a communications breakdown or a lack of familiarity with the drug. The different methodologies were rooted in conflicting ideological frameworks. Behaviorism was still anchored in the materialist world view formalized by Newton; the "psychedelic" evidence was congruent with the revolutionary implications of relativity theory and quantum mechanics. The belief in scientific objectivity had been shaken in 1927 when physicist Werner Heisenberg enunciated the "uncertainty principle," which held that in subatomic physics the observer inevitably influenced the movement of the particles being observed. LSD research and many other types of studies suggested that an uncertainty principle of sorts was operative in psychology as well, in that the results were conditioned by the investigator's preconceptions. The "pure" observer was an illusion, and those who thought they could conduct an experiment without "contaminating" the results were deceiving themselves.
Aldous Huxley felt that the "scientific" approach was utterly hopeless. "Those idiots want to be Pavlovians," he said, "[but] Pavlov never saw an animal in its natural state, only under duress. The 'scientific' LSD boys do the same with their subjects. No wonder they report psychotics." The practitioners of psychedelic therapy, on the other hand, were cognizant of the complex interaction between set and setting, and they worked to facilitate insight and personal growth.
Of course, even the best set and setting could not always guarantee an easy, pleasant, or uncomplicated experience. The goal of a therapeutic session was not to have a "good trip" per se but to work through emotional, creative or intellectual blockages and further the process of self-discovery—an ordeal that could be very painful at times. Certain schools of psychiatry—R. D. Laing, for example—recognized that "freaking out" might actually herald a positive breakthrough to a new level of awareness if properly integrated by the patient.* The idea that a turbulent acid trip could have therapeutic consequences reflected an ancient understanding of the human psyche and the principles governing the healing process.
The "perilous passing" through the chaotic realm of the bummer was structured into the drug rituals of primitive societies as part of the sacred "vision-quest." The key figure in the hallucinogenic drama was the shaman, the witch doctor, the medicine man (or woman, as was often the case) who gave song to dreams and provided spiritual access for the entire tribe. A connoisseur of the drug-induced trance state, the shaman derived his or her strength from confronting the terror of ego death—the quintessential trial by fire that was seen as a necessary prelude to an ecstatic rebirth, the resurrection of a new personality.
The drug experience informed every aspect of life in traditional cultures. With the aid of hallucinogenic plants the witch doctor cured the sick, communicated with the spirits of the dead, foretold the future, and initiated young people in coming-of-age rites. The use of mind-altering substances within an ethos of combat and aggression was also common in primitive communities. Whatever the specific purpose, the shaman always employed the hallucinogen in a ceremonial context. An elaborate set of rituals governed every step of the process, from gathering the roots and herbs to preparing and administering the brew. The power plants were often poisonous and could be fatal if not prepared properly. Only a ritually clean person who had endured weeks or months of prayer and fasting, often in isolation from the community, was deemed ready to ingest these substances. Because of the shaman's familiarity with states of consciousness induced by hallucinogenic drugs, he or she was considered qualified to pilot others through the experience.
* Whereas most psychedelic therapists were prepared to assist their patients should difficulties arise, Dr. Salvador Roquet, a maverick Mexican psychiatrist, consciously sought to induce a bummer as part of his "treatment." Roquet utilized various hallucinogenic drugs, including LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, datura, and ketamine. Known as "a master of bad trips" and "a pusher of death," Roquet subjected people to adverse stimuli while they were drugged; Jewish subjects, for example, were given acid and then forced to listen to a recording of Hitler's speeches.
"Primitive man," wrote Huxley in 1931, "explored the pharmacological avenues of escape from the world with astounding thoroughness. Our ancestors left almost no natural stimulant, or hallucinant, or stupefacient, undiscovered." To Huxley, the urge for transcendence and visionary experience was nothing less than a biological imperative. "Always and everywhere," he asserted, "human beings have felt the radical inadequacy of being their insulated selves and not something else, something wider, something in the Wordsworthian phrase, 'far more deeply interfused.' ... I live, yet not I, but wine or opium or peyotyl or hashish liveth in me. To go beyond the insulated self is such a liberation that, even when self-transcendence is through nausea into frenzy, through cramps into hallucinations and coma, the drug-induced experience has been regarded by primitives and even by the highly civilized as intrinsically divine."
The use of mind-altering drugs as religious sacraments was not restricted to a particular time and place but characterized nearly every society on the planet (with the possible exception of certain Eskimo and Polynesian communities). For the Aztecs there was peyote and ololiuqui, a small lentil-like seed containing lysergic acid; the Aborigines of Australia chewed pituri, a desert shrub; the natives of the Upper Amazon had yage, the telepathic vine. Those who floated into a sacred space after ingesting these substances often projected ecstatic qualities onto the plants themselves. Certain scholars believe that the fabled Soma of the ancient Vedic religion in northern India was actually the fly agaric mushroom, and there is strong evidence that ergot, from which LSD is derived, was the mysterious kykeon used for over two thousand years by the ancient Greeks in the annual Eleusinian Mysteries.*
When Christianity was adopted as the official creed of the Roman Empire in the fourth century, all other religions, including the Mysteries, were banished. Christian propagandists called for the destruction of the pagan drug cults that had spread throughout Europe after the Roman conquest. Like its shamanistic forebears, paganism was rooted in rapture rather than faith or doctrine; its mode of expression was myth and ritual, and those who carried on the forbidden traditions possessed a vast storehouse of knowledge about herbs and special medicaments. The witches of the Middle Ages concocted brews with various hallucinogenic compounds-belladonna, thorn apple, henbane and bufotenine (derived from the sweat gland of the toad Bufo marinus)— and when the moon was full they flew off on their imaginary broomsticks to commune with spirits/
* In The Road to Eleusis authors Albert Hermann, Gordon Wasson, and Carl Ruck present convincing evidence that the Eleusinian Mysteries, the oldest religion in the West, centered around a mass tripping ritual. For two millennia pilgrims journeyed from all over the world to take part in the Mysteries and drink of the sacred kykeon—a holy brew laced with ergot. The setting for the Mysteries was carefully devised to maximize the transcendental aura. After drinking the spiritual potion, the initiates would listen to ceremonial music and ponder the texts of Demeter, goddess of grain (symbolizing renewal, spring, fecundity, and possibly the ergot fungus, which grows on barley, from which the kykeon was made). At the climax of the initiation a beam of sunlight would flood the chamber. This vision was said to be the culminating experience of a lifetime, man's redemption from death. As the poet Pindar wrote, "Happy is he who, having seen these rites, goes below the hollow earth; for he knows the end of life and its god-sent beginning." Plato, Aristotle and Sophocles were among those who participated in this secret ritual.
+ While the passing of time and the destruction of documentary evidence by the church has concealed the full scope of the ritual use of hallucinogens in Europe, scattered references suggest that a widespread psychedelic underground existed during the Middle Ages. Walter Map, a twelfth-century ecclesiastic, told of certain heretical sects that offered innocent people a "heavenly food" proclaiming, "Often you will see ... angelic visions, in which sustained by their consolation, you can visit whatsoever place you wish without delay or difficulties."
The ruthless suppression of European witchcraft by the Holy Inquisition coincided with attempts to stamp out indigenous drug use among the colonized natives of the New World. The Spanish outlawed peyote and coca leaves in the Americas, and the British later tried to banish kava use in Tahiti. Such edicts were part of an imperialist effort to impose a new social order that stigmatized the psychedelic experience as a form of madness or possession by evil spirits. It wasn't until the late eighteenth century that industrial civilization produced its own "devil's advocate," which spoke in a passionate and lyrical voice. The romantic rebellion signified "a return of the repressed" as drugs were embraced by the visionary poets and artists who lived as outcasts in their own society. Laudanum, a tincture of opium, catalyzed the literary talents of Coleridge, Poe, Swinburne, De Quincey, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, while the best-known French writers, including Baudelaire, de Nerval, and Victor Hugo, gathered at Le Club des Haschischins, a protobohemian enclave in Paris founded by Theophile Gautier in 1844.*
For the visionary poets modem society was the bummer, and they often viewed the drug experience as a tortured means to a fuller existence, to a life more innately human. It was with the hope of alleviating his own tortured mental condition that Antonin Artaud made an intercontinental trek in the 1930S to participate in the peyote ritual of the Tarahumara Indians in the Mexican highlands. Artaud did not undertake such a risky journey as a tourist or an anthropologist but as someone who wished to be healed, as a spiritual exile seeking to regain "a Truth which the world of Europe is losing." The desperate Frenchman experienced a monumental bummer— "the cataclysm which was my body ... this dislocated assemblage, this piece of damaged geology." Yet somehow, despite the nightmare visions and the somatic discomfort, he managed to scratch out a perception of the Infinite. "Once one has experienced a visionary state of mind," Artaud wrote in The Peyote Dance, "one can no longer confuse the lie with truth. One has seen where one comes from and who one is, and one no longer doubts what one is. There is no emotion or external influence that can divert one from this reality."
Like Artaud and the romantic poets, some psychiatrists who used LSD in a therapeutic context believed that a disruptive experience could have a curative effect if allowed to proceed to resolution. Many other researchers, however, dismissed transcendental insight as either "happy psychosis" or a lot of nonsense. The knee-jerk reaction on the part of the psychotomimetic stalwarts was indicative of a deeply ingrained prejudice against certain varieties of experience. In advanced industrial societies "paranormal" states of consciousness are readily disparaged as "abnormal" or pathological. Such attitudes, cultural as much as professional, played a crucial role in circumscribing the horizon of scientific investigation into hallucinogenic agents.
* Gautier was turned on to hashish by J. J. Moreau de Tours, a French doctor who attempted to correlate the effects of cannabis with the manifestations of mental illness. Moreau, the first person to put forward the notion of a drug-induced "model psychosis," supplied hashish to the literary giants who frequented Gautier's club.
Thomas Kuhn, in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, argues that the scientist's overriding need to make sense of his data compels him to mold it to the prevailing scientific paradigm, which defines "legitimate" problems and methods for a given historical era. There are moments, however, when the orthodox framework cannot bear the weight of irrefutable new evidence. A period of controversy ensues until a new paradigm emerges to encompass and transcend the previous ideology. During this transition period scientists who buck the status quo are often castigated as eccentric, irresponsible, and unscientific. Galileo, for example, was branded a lunatic and a heretic for suggesting that the earth revolved around the sun. In a similar fashion the psychedelic evidence challenged the entrenched world view of the psychiatric establishment, and proponents of LSD therapy were summarily denounced and ridiculed by those who were fixated on the model psychosis concept.
Dr. Humphry Osmond defended his position by emphasizing that the pathological bias, from a historical perspective, was clearly the exception and not the rule. In many cultures that were less sophisticated technologically but more so ecologically, the drug-induced trance state was revered as an enlargement of reality rather than a deviation from it. Osmond pleaded with his fellow researchers not to dismiss something that struck them as unusual or different simply because "it transcends those fashionable ruts of thinking that we dignify by calling logic and reason." He urged psychiatrists to change their outlook in order to realize the full potential of psychedelics.
While many young doctors rallied to his call, there were others, including certain influential scientists working under CIA and military contract, who refused to budge from the psychotomimetic posture. The debate between the two camps came to a head at the first international conference on LSD therapy in 1959. Sponsored by the Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation (at times a CIA conduit), it was perhaps the most important gathering of LSD researchers to date for it enabled workers in the field to compare notes and analyze their findings as a group. The conference was chaired by Dr. Paul Hoch, a prominent and well-connected scientist who was, in the words of Sanford Unger, "an opinion leader." Hoch was also a longtime CIA consultant and a contract employee of the US Army Chemical Corps. Dr. Harold Abramson, a veteran of the CIA's MK-ULTRA program, served as recording secretary, and a number of other scientists who rented their services to the CIA and the military were featured speakers. Hoch and Abramson did not just stumble into their respective roles at this event. Their status as dominant figures in aboveground LSD research suggests the extent to which covert interests influenced the course of the debate over hallucinogenic substances and their effects.
Despite ample evidence to the contrary Dr. Hoch stubbornly insisted that LSD and mescaline were "essentially anxiety-producing drugs." He asserted that they were "not especially useful" in a therapeutic context because they disorganize the psychic integration of a person. LSD experiments, according to the chairman, could not be compared with "results obtained in patients where tranquilizing drugs were used to reduce, instead of stir up the patient's symptoms."
Dr. Hoch was incredulous when other participants in the Macy conference reported that their patients found the LSD session beneficial and personally rewarding and were usually eager to take the drug again. "In my experience," Hoch announced, "no patient asks for it again." His experience included the following mescaline experiment conducted on a thirty-six-year-old male diagnosed as a "pseudoneurotic schizophrenic."
He had some visual hallucinations. He saw dragons and tigers coming to eat him and reacted to these hallucinations with marked anxiety. He also had some illusionary distortions of the objects in the room. The emotional changes were apprehension and fear—at times mounting to panic, persecutory misinterpretation of the environment, fear of death, intense irritability, suspiciousness, perplexity, and feelings of depersonalization. He verbalized the feelings of depersonalization as "floating out of space," seemed "between this life and the next," and had the feeling of being born. The paranoid content concerned essentially why the doctors were taking notes and fear that he would be attacked by them. He also expressed an ecstatic grandiose trend of having the feeling that he was God in heaven and then, however, had the feeling of being in hell The mental picture was that of a typical schizophrenic psychosis while the drug influence lasted.
As an afterword, Hoch noted, "This patient received transorbital lobotomy and showed temporarily a marked improvement in all his symptoms, losing most of his tension and anxiety. Postoperatively he was again placed under mescaline. Basically the same manifestations were elicited as prior to the operation with the exception that quantitatively the symptoms were not as marked as before."
Dr. Hoch also tried electroshock treatment on patients who had been given mescaline. "It did not influence the clinical symptoms at all," he reported matter-of-factly. "The patients continued to behave in the same way as prior to electroshock treatment." On the basis of these tests Hoch concluded that electroshock "has no influence on mescaline-produced mental states." He might have revised his "objective" assessment if he had taken the drug himself and had one of his assistants apply the volts while he tripped the lights fantastic. But those who secretly funded his research required only that he dish it out to mental patients and prisoners.
"An interesting theory can always outrun a set of facts," declared psychologist Audrey Holliday. She found the whole psychotomimetic approach guilty of using "unscientific and intemperate terms." Yet the semantic inaccuracies were still being bandied about even when most researchers had agreed that LSD did not really mimic endogenous schizophrenia.
Despite widespread acknowledgment that the model psychosis concept had outlived its usefulness, the psychiatric orientation articulated by those of Dr. Hoch's persuasion prevailed in the end. When it came time to lay down their hand, the medical establishment and the media both "mimicked" the line that for years had been secretly promoted by the CIA and the military—that hallucinogenic drugs were extremely dangerous because they drove people insane, and all this talk about creativity and personal growth was just a lot of hocus pocus. This perception of LSD governed the major policy decisions enacted by the FDA and the drug control apparatus in the years ahead.
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This guide Don't Panic has tips and additional information on what you should do when you are experiencing an anxiety or panic attack. With so much going on in the world today with taking care of your family, working full time, dealing with office politics and other things, you could experience a serious meltdown. All of these things could at one point cause you to stress out and snap.