The History of Psychedelics and It’s Come Back to Modern Medicine

By Ben Mills - Own work, Public Domain,

For those that may not know, the image above is the molecule of Lysergic acid diethylamide, also known as LSD or acid. LSD is one of the most commonly known psychedelics, besides magic mushrooms, but I’ll get into those a little later. Acid was accidentally synthesized by Albert Hofmann in 1938, he was actually looking for a drug to stimulate circulation; five years later, Albert accidentally ingested a small amount of LSD that made him realize he had created something both, powerful and terrifying (Pollan, Michael. Introduction. 2018. Pg 2). About twelve years after Albert Hofmann discovered LSD, a Banker and a Mycologist, by the name of R. Gordon Wasson, traveled to Huautla de Jiménez, a small town on the southern border of Mexico, where they both sampled Magic Mushrooms, or in official terms, the molecule psilocybin.  Psilocybin has been around for thousands of years, Native Americans in Mexico and Central America use to eat these mushrooms as a sacrament, but once Spanish Conquistadors invaded their land magic mushrooms were driven underground (Pollan, Michael. Introduction. 2018. Pg 2). These two psychedelics made their way into the psychotherapy field in the early 1950s and these two molecules discovered counterculture. 

In the early 1950s, scientists discovered the role of neurotransmitters in the brain but, they were also introduced to LSD during the same time period. The quantities of LSD measured in micrograms that produce the same symptoms as psychosis inspired neuroscientists to search for the neurochemical basis of mental disorders (Pollan, Michael. Introduction. 2018. Pg 2). Psychedelics were used to treat a variety of disorders, such as, alcoholism, anxiety, and, depression; for most of the 1950s and early 1960s many psychiatric centers considered acid and magic mushrooms as ‘miracle drugs’ (Pollan, Michael. Introduction. 2018. Pg 3). The sixties is where the counterculture really started to appear because young adults had a rite of passage all their own, an ‘acid trip’; LSD’s effect on society was disruptive (Pollan, Michael. Introduction. 2018. Pg 3).  The dark side of psychedelics, like bad trips, psychotic breaks, and, suicides, were starting to get a lot of publicity because of the young adult wanting to go on their own rite of passage: an ‘acid trip'(Pollan, Michael. Introduction. 2018. Pg 3). In the beginning of 1965, the excitement surrounding these new drugs quickly caused moral panic, that by the end of the decade, psychedelics were outlawed and forced to go underground (Pollan, Michael. Introduction. 2018. Pg 3). About two decades later, groups of scientists believed that something had been lost from science and society and that this situation should be resolved and to find what’s missing.  

After many decades of suppression, psychedelics are having a comeback and even in a field of psychotherapy, where it first appeared. A new generation of scientists are testing their potential to heal mental illnesses, while other scientists are using psychedelics along with with new brain-imaging to explore the links between brain and mind (Pollan, Michael. Introduction. 2018. Pg 4). The 1960s platitude of psychedelics offered a way to understanding and ‘expanding’ the mind in a different perspective.  


Cited Sources

Image of LSD molecule: <ahref=””>via Wikimedia Commons</a>

Pollan, Michael. Whole Book. How To Change Your Mind: What The New Science Of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying,. New York: Penguin Books, 2018.

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