Psychedelic Psychiatry: A Historical Examination of Medical Experimentation, Culture Wars, and Drug Policy in Canada

Wednesday December 1st
10:35 AM - 11:05 AM - Ballroom B
Speakers: Dr. Erika Dyck

In 1956 psychiatrist and superintendent of the Provincial Mental Hospital in Saskatchewan, Canada Humphry Osmond, first used the word ‘psychedelic’ to describe the feelings and sensations associated with an LSD drug reaction. A year later his new word was published and later added to the English lexicon after corresponding with literary genius, Aldous Huxley. In spite of the popular connotations now connected to the word psychedelic, Osmond developed the term out of his experiments with LSD that led him to propose a new theory of schizophrenia alongside a somewhat radical suggestion to treat alcoholism using LSD. In contrast with many of his psychiatric contemporaries, Osmond maintained that pharmacotherapies flourished most when combined with tenets of empathy, deference, and even ritual – features he learned from Indigenous ceremonies with plant medicines. Although Osmond was not alone among his psychiatrist colleagues in the 1950s fascinated with the medical applications of psychedelics, his work in Canada brought him international recognition and made him a major figure in the history of LSD and addiction research, but also an awkward character in a looming countercultural revolution. LSD was banned from use by the late 1960s for a combination of moral and scientific reasons, but new developments in the 21st are encouraging policy makers and researchers to revisit these historical studies. This presentation examines some of the historical Canadian trials with LSD, while it remained a legal substance, and considers how the drug and its supporters dealt with challenges, first from the medical community and later from political and moral authorities concerned about the abusive characteristics of the drug.

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