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USask Scientists Explore Hidden History of Psychedelics

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Researchers from the University of Saskatchewan (USask) are exploring the hidden history of psychedelic drugs and working to expand the world’s clinical and cultural understanding of hallucinogens. Most of the public is unaware of the rich history of psychedelics, let alone their potential medical benefits, and Dr. Erica Dyck from USask is looking to fill this critical knowledge gap by cataloging essays and research into a book.

A recent resurgence in psychedelic-related research has found that numerous classic psychedelics can treat debilitating mental disorders with few side effects. Studies have found that psychedelic-based treatments can offer long-term relief against mental ailments such as treatment-resistant depression, eating disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at relatively small doses when they are paired with traditional talk therapy.

However, while the scientific and medical communities are only now learning about the therapeutic applications of psychedelics such as psilocybin (magic mushrooms), MDMA and ayahuasca, indigenous communities from around the world have been using psychedelics for spiritual, ritual, and even therapeutic reasons for centuries. With psychedelics enjoying significant scientific and mainstream interest over the past decade, Dyck and her team sought to compile stories that relate to psychedelics’ clinical and cultural history.

Titled “Expanding Mindscapes: A Global History of Psychedelics,” the new book was published by MIT Press and covers the discovery, use and cultural impact of psychedelics such as psilocybin and LSD through the 20th century. Dyck, who also serves as the History of Health and Social Justice’s Canada Research chair and College of Arts and Science professor said hallucinogens have a “distinctive: place in medical history thanks to their role in several cultural movements and medical contexts. She explained that the book covered 20 articles showcasing the exciting and dynamic history of psychedelics that takes place outside of locations such as Berkeley, San Francisco and Harvard.

To learn more about the historical role of psychedelics from various communities around the world, the professor requested papers on the role of hallucinogenic drugs in various cultures and used them as the basis for her new book. For example, one chapter in the book examines how gender influenced both doctors and patients in France during the mid-1900s when therapeutic psychedelic use was allowed; the chapter was written by USask’s 2023 Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship recipient Dr. Zoë Dubus, PhD. According to Dubus, doctors prescribed psychedelics to women as part of different treatments much more often and women did not have the same leeway to refuse psychedelic treatments that men did.

As more people gain an understanding of the long history of psychedelics, it may become clearer why companies such as atai Life Sciences N.V. (NASDAQ: ATAI) have invested so heavily in commercializing therapeutic formulations from these substances.

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