A brief overview of human interaction with Psychedelics

What’s perhaps most interesting when looking at the history of psychedelics is how abundant and rich of a history it really presents itself to be, approachable from so many different angles of perspective or discipline of study. 

One can examine the tremendous social or cultural history of certain substances like Psilocybin or Peyote, or learn about the intricate pharmacological history of LSD. We can go further to discern ancient histories from modern, legal and economical, spiritual or scientific. 

It’s this very relationship that seems to have taught us more about ourselves than it has about the psychedelics we seek to understand so desperately, and that’s perhaps one of the most intriguing themes that one would stumble into when examining their history from whichever angle: the innumerable ways by which we, as one seemingly united but inherently divided species, sought to exploit them to their fullest potential.

From pharmaceutical gain to psychological understanding; from utilizing psychedelics as a military weapon to treating them as a supplement for creativity; from ritualistic ceremonial necessity to staple of cultural identity.

Interestingly, each main hallucinogen (LSD, Mescaline, Psilocybin and DMT) has a uniquely rich history worth exploring on its own. Psilocybin, beyond presenting itself as a staple of ritualistic ceremony throughout Native America for millennia, is also referenced abundantly throughout ancient Sanskrit texts of the Hindu religion (‘Soma’); likewise, LSD’s origins can be traced to the Eleusinian ceremonies of ancient Greece (from an Ergot fungus that grew on wheat). 

We can go back further and bump into assertions by historians and anthropologists alike which would form a convincing narrative that the consumption of psychedelics had been responsible for the rapid leaps in the growth pattern of the human brain or that the original conception of Santa Claus himself sprouts from a cultural love affair with the Amanita Muscaria mushroom. 

Not only do such histories detail our fascination with trying to understand psychedelic compounds themselves, but they also prove emblematic of our unrelenting attempt to understand ourselves through the alteration of our consciousness, and they vividly detail the ways by which we sought to journey into the deeper dimensions of our conscious potential. 

Take Mescaline for another example — it had been initially synthesized for pharmaceutical purposes when it presented itself as a tool to treat schizophrenia and a range of other psychological disorders. It was shortly thereafter adopted by the creative crowds of the world — by philosophers like Jean-Paul Sartre and authors like Aldous Huxley — before being utilized as a potential truth serum by the Third Reich in Germany and as part of Project MK Ultra in the United States. All the while it had been used as a ceremonial substance amongst Native American populations dating back thousands of years.

The wide-range of desired applications not only speaks to the versatility of psychedelics, offering something more than a simple high for recreational purposes, but it also reveals our insatiable desire to learn more about them, from every field of study we can think of. 

In a rather arrogant fashion, we often seem to disregard the reverent qualities of hallucinogens like psilocybin, qualities that have been portrayed as spiritual by ancient cultures, and we sought to only exploit them for immediate gains — military or pharmacology.

However, the unstable thirst for profits or power — which itself had resulted in decades’ worth of insensible legal barricades — has seemed to settle down. And as the murky waters surrounding these substances have cleared a little bit, we’ve begun to realize the true potential (and potency) of their effects on our culture as a whole. 

Whether we’re investigating the therapeutic nature of DMT or the productive micro-effectuations of psilocybin, we’ve begun to witness a reframing of psychedelics, from an unknown threat associated with countless moral panics to an innocuous expander of our conscious potential. 

We see this kind of ebb and flow time and time again. Peyote, of which the active ingredient is mescaline, was initially seen as a catalyst of cultural friction between Native American populations and European settlers in the New World. LSD, often referred to as Acid, was considered a dangerous drug that can lead to addiction, brain damage, and violence. 

Today, both mescaline and LSD are seen as anything but — in fact, they’re presented as supplements to productive ends or conveyors of wisdom relating to existential quandaries. 

And so the history of psychedelics remains far from being complete as our relationship grows and evolves into new dimensions of understanding. Fortunately, the last few decades have proved that we’re capable of assessing their effects on an unbiased level as we continually work to unlock the true powers of their potential. 

From therapy to productivity, the horizon only grows more infinite as we slowly learn that, through the study of psychedelics, we’re simply learning more about our own consciousness and ultimately ourselves. 

Dates  Through History

1919: Mescaline first synthesized by Ersnt Spath

1931: DMT first synthesized by Canadian chemist Richard Manske

1938: LSD first synthesized by Swiss chemist Albert Hoffman

1952: The CIA, partnering with Nazi officials in Germany, administered LSD to Soviet spies captured by German authorities as part of Operation Paperclip.

1953: Project MKUltra begins, overseeing the administration of LSD to mental patients, prisoners, and those afflicted with drug addiction

1958: Psilocybin isolated from the mushroom P. mexicana, also by Albert Hoffman and his team

1963: The Spring Grove Experiments commenced, consisting of hundreds of psychiatric patients receiving psychedelic treatment at the Spring Grove Clinic in Maryland. It had been the most comprehensive study of its time, prompting new understandings into psychedelics but also generating concerns over scientific credibility. 

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DMT        LSD     MEscaline    Psilocybin

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