“Psychedelic Revolutionaries: LSD and the Birth of Hallucinogenic Research” by P.W. Barber
Science is often revered as separate and uninfluenced by the context in which it takes place. Frequently neglected are the complex stories behind scientific revolutionaries such as Galileo and Darwin, for whom the sociocultural and political events of the time influence the acceptance and adoption of their theories.
Historian P.W. Barber takes the reader on a fascinating journey exploring the story of the controversial hallucinogenic drug research in Saskatchewan, Canada, during the 1950s and 1960s in his 2018 book, “Psychedelic Revolutionaries: LSD and the Birth of Hallucinogenic Research.” A finalist in the High Plains Book Awards’ Medicine and Science category, Barber follows the work of psychiatrists Humphry Osmond and Abram Hoffer and psychologist Duncan Blewitt as they established the first biochemical theory of schizophrenia, advanced understanding of the psychedelic experience, and developed therapeutic techniques incorporating the use of LSD for diseases such as alcoholism. He then turns to explore the backlash their hallucinogenic research received from the scientific community.
The importance of this book lies in its ability to not only critically reflect on the research itself but to consider the divisiveness of the research within the historical context of the time. Barber explores sociopolitical events, the monumental shifts in scientific culture of the sixties and the development of psychiatry as a specialty. He examines how numerous factors led to the ultimate dismissal of the research in the sixties and seventies but also the resurgence of interest in recent years.
Perfect for readers interested in contentious drug research and stories of science, “Psychedelic Revolutionaries” will take you on a scientific and historical expedition to question, “What makes good science and who decides?” Barber brilliantly exposes that the answer to these questions is not as simple as we like to think.
Ashley Dennis is the Director for the Office of Medical Education at Billings Clinic.