Early History

Oscar Janiger, Chairman


Although natural mind altering substances have been used by native people for millennia it was only toward the end of the last century that they became available for scientific study, made possible by the chemical isolation of the psychoactive agents found in a great variety of these plants.  The best known (with their active principals) include Marijuana (Tetrahydrocannabinol), the Peyote and San Pedro cactus (Mescaline), "magic" mushrooms (Psilocybin), and the vine from which Ayahuasca is prepared (harmala alkaloids), as well as the semi-synthetic D-lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) derived from Ergot, the fungus that grows on grain plants.  In recent years many laboratory drugs have been added to the list, perhaps the most notable being "Ecstasy" (MDMA).

I first took LSD in 1954.  I was so profoundly impressed by the experience that I was left with a deep commitment to find out more about this remarkable substance.  Since little was known at the time about itís clinical effects, I organized a series of controlled experiments under a grant from Sandoz Pharmaceuticals, where LSD was discovered by Dr. Hofmann in 1943.  Eight years, and over nine hundred subjects later, I was able to make some preliminary assessments.

My studies, augmented by an explosion of LSD research and published reports highlighted its unique attributes which were found to be effective as a facilitating agent in psychotherapy and creativity, a promising treatment for alcoholism, an anodyne in terminal illness and an unprecedented means for altering oneís perceptual world.

LSD was originally, and mistakenly, thought to produce a psychosis, hence its designation as a psychotomimetic or hallucinogenic drug.  Dr. Humphrey Osmond later coined the term "psychedelic," or mind manifesting, which was deemed more appropriate.  In recent years another aspect of the psychedelics has come to be regarded as having great significance: It is their ability to evoke in many persons a deeply felt spiritual or mystical sense that has been compared to the state of transcendental liberation or divine ecstasy reported by visionaries and saints.  For some, it is a peak experience that re-captures the joy and wonder of childhood.  Many who have had these revelations regard them as the essence of the psychedelic experience and have re-classified these drugs as Entheogens, or God Revealing.  However, as with many powerful medicinal drugs, adverse reactions can occur and, accordingly, adequate preparations and precautions should always be observed.

However far reaching the potential benefits of LSD would seem, it became unexpectedly and notoriously abused.  As a result, its possession was prohibited by law in 1966 with research conditions so stringent that it was nearly impossible to find support.  This came as a great blow to the dedicated workers in the field who felt they were getting close to proving the efficacy of mind altering drugs in the treatment of emotional and physical disorders.

As a consequence, there was almost no psychedelic research for the next twenty-five years (the scant literature reveals only a few laboratory studies and the re-working of old data).  However, close ties remained among many of the former investigators who, with undiminished commitment, took part in discussion groups and conferences and delivered occasional lectures on the subject.  A renewed interest in the restoration of legitimate research with psychoactive substances began in the early 1980ís.  Substantial progress was made in 1988 when a Swiss medical society for the study of psychedelic drugs was formed and the Swiss government sanctioned research programs.  In the United States there has been a gradual re-opening of research opportunities and, at this writing, there are several clinical projects in progress.

It has been estimated that at least 28 percent of the American population has taken one or more psychedelic drugs (including Marijuana); there are thousands of detailed accounts of their individual experiences.  These self-reports and commentaries together with a vast accumulation of unpublished data, observations, memorabilia, media accounts and personal experiments constitute an unparalleled resource of background material supporting our understanding of the action of these substances.

It seemed imperative that this rich repository of information be collected, properly housed, codified and ultimately made available to the public.  To this end, we enlisted several interested people in 1988 to form a non-profit organization devoted to the advancement of psychedelics that would serve as an archive and clearing house as well as an open forum for the discussion of matters of related interest.  In an enthusiastic response to our inquiries, a Board of Advisors was formed, comprised of the leaders and pioneers in the field.

Since that time the Foundation has sponsored 25 separate events ranging from the inaugural program featuring Albert Hofmann to a variety of conferences and public lectures by distinguished specialists in the area of consciousness research.  The Foundation has published periodic bulletins featuring a variety of original articles and exclusive interviews.  We have also been the beneficiaries of charitable performances by Allan Ginsberg, George Carlin, Paul Krassner and other well-known artists.

Our membership blossomed, at one time numbering close to a thousand people representing 20 countries.  With the rise of sociopolitical problems attendant to drugs in the 1990ís, the Foundation was consulted by university libraries and the media and, in a relevant case, we presented an Amicus Curiae brief to the Supreme Court.  We were also asked to serve as a research monitoring body for the National Institute of Mental Health.

More recently, sensing a change in atmosphere, our directors and advisors were polled.  The resurgence of interest in psychedelic research, combined with conflicting drug laws that fail to discriminate between psychedelics and the addictive drugs, suggested that we reconsider our goals.  Accordingly, we are in the process of joining forces with several groups that are involved in reviewing drug policy.  We intend to seek more reasonable research criteria and hope to educate policy makers with a view to increasing understanding and support for the potential use of these substances in medicine and in human growth and development.

In a broader context, we also have in mind Albert Hofmannís statement on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the discovery of LSD:

"...I see their (i.e., such substances) importance in the possibility of providing material aid to meditation aimed at the mystical experience of a deeper, comprehensive reality.  Such a use accords entirely with their essence and working character ...  as sacred."
 
 

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