The seed was planted in the 1990s when I entered university. I was a fan of Aldous Huxley and making my way through some of his works, which included The Doors of Perception. It was in one of the footnotes in Doors that I first spotted reference to the schizophrenia theories of Hoffer and Osmond and the Saskatchewan research. It was not until I returned to do graduate studies in 2002 that I decided to focus my thesis on the subject and this evolved into the book.
The term “psychedelic” was coined by Osmond in Saskatchewan in 1956.
I think most people who have an interest in the subject matter are aware of recent developments in the field and the so-called ‘renaissance’ now occurring in psychedelic science and medicine. What few know, however, is that many present-day clinical trials and other research avenues being pursued with psychedelics have their foundations in Saskatchewan, and that we are now witnessing a scientific reaffirmation of findings made there over 50 years ago.
With the renewal of research activities, we are gaining a better understanding of the mechanisms of action of psychedelic drugs, their physiological and psychological effects; nevertheless, psychedelics remain a mystery on many fronts. Those currently working in the field seem to be in agreement on one thing: that the drugs hold vast potential as legitimate scientific research tools and medicines.
Probably the degree to which the book’s main characters were connected to and influenced those working in the field of psychedelic science/medicine during its heyday in the 1950s and 60s. There’s a few surprising links to other countercultural icons such as Leary and Ginsberg too.
I was also unaware as to the level and intensity of resistance the Saskatchewan work provoked, both within and outside of the scientific community. I quickly discovered just how multi-faceted and complicated the history behind this story is; it escapes simplistic explanations and is rife with myths and misconceptions, many of which persist to this day.
Mental health and addictions are global issues, with 1 in 5 people experiencing a mental health or addiction problem in their lifetime. Psychedelics may prove to be a ‘new hope’ in better understanding and treating some of these issues.
Psychedelic Revolutionaries has relevance to and important lessons for contemporary psychedelic research efforts, which are occurring at a time when many professionals and the public are again questioning the scientific status of psychiatry, the power and influence of pharmaceutical companies in the field, and the effectiveness of many of the proffered medications used to treat mental illness and addictions today.
While not specific to psychedelic history, I would cite Chomsky as a major influence. I admire how his work has challenged popular historical interpretations and dug deep beneath the surface veneer to reveal the complicated interplay of power structures and myths to ‘manufacture consent’. I found this to be the case in many of psychiatry’s official histories, especially concerning psychedelics with their black and white portrayals of these drugs as dangerous and possessing no medical value. In fact, drugs like LSD were pivotal components in the history of psychopharmacology and yet they have been expunged from many of the official histories.
I’m a stickler for details, which might be good for connecting all of the possible dots and angles but it can be very painful in the world of publishing and word count quotas. I am also a notorious pack rat when it comes to papers and hand-written notes. Self-imposed isolation for extended periods of time is also conducive to my writing process.
I just re-read Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee which documents the extermination, dispossession, and assimilation of Indigenous lands and peoples in the American West in the 1800s. For a more contemporary analysis of this reality, and proposed solutions, I enjoyed reading Arthur Manuel’s The Reconciliation Manifesto
Psychedelic Revolutionaries is available now.