It wasn’t that long ago that humanity treated mental illness far more harshly than today. Most didn’t understand it, and many more knew nothing about it. Placing people in asylums was common, but some medical professionals wanted to stop this from happening.
Saskatchewan is a small, cozy province in Canada where some of the first psychiatric reforms occurred. In the 1950s, researchers and scientists gathered at a local hospital in Weyburn city. They planned to discuss and test a revolutionary mental healthcare treatment: psychedelics.
Today, there are far more available treatments and a better understanding of various conditions and disorders. Those pioneers from the 50s are primarily to thank for modern medical progress. They were among the first to study and experiment with mental health treatments extensively.
How did we get where we are today, and what took place behind the closed doors of Saskatchewan Mental Hospital? Let’s take a trip down memory lane to explore this unsuspecting hub for psychedelic research.
The Catalyst for Psychedelic Research: Albert Hoffman’s Discovery
The use of natural psychedelics dates back thousands of years, with the first records seen in Tassili n’Ajjer in southeast Algeria. Ancient shamans and various indigenous tribes used psilocybe mushrooms and peyote (mescaline) in their spiritual ceremonies.
The first creation of manufactured hallucinogens occurred in 1938 when Albert Hoffman synthesized d-lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). He had initially intended to isolate lysergic acid for pharmacological purposes. Scientists shelved it, but five years later, he revisited it.
While attempting to synthesize it again in 1943, he accidentally came into contact with the substance. Consequently, he became the first to experience its psychedelic effects. News of this discovery spread far and wide, spurring further exploration of the compound.
By 1947, psychiatrists started experimenting with the very first psychedelic therapy trials. In the quaint town of Saskatchewan, Canada, the government started progress on healthcare system reforms. The chief minister, Tommy Douglas, wanted to build a national medicare program.
He sent out adverts to various mediums to recruit people who shared his passion for medical reforms and research. The ads attracted the attention of Humphry Osmond, a British psychiatrist who, in the 1950s, started revolutionizing mental healthcare worldwide.
Saskatchewan: Humphry Osmond’s Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy Sessions
Osmond had studied extensively in London, taking a special interest in psychotic disorders and hallucinogenic drugs. He moved to Saskatchewan in 1951 to become the clinical director of the hospital, planning to offer a better quality of care to the patients.
Shortly after his arrival, he met another enthusiastic researcher, Dr. Abram Hoffer. Together, they started a research program to explore the possibilities of psychedelic therapy. Their first objective was to test whether therapists could use LSD to understand their patients better.
The theory was that the compound’s effects were the same ones schizophrenia patients experienced during psychosis. Osmond and Hoffer believed that therapists could take LSD or mescaline to experience “temporary mental illness” and empathize with specific symptoms.
Their second objective was to test whether LSD could help treat alcohol use disorders. They theorized that the effects of the compound could promote earlier recovery in alcoholics and prevent further damage like liver disease.
The outcomes were successful, with about 2,000 patients receiving LSD and experiencing positive results after two years of treatment. 50–90% of them recovered from alcoholism.
Osmond and Hoffer published the results of their research programs in medical journals, which quickly attracted the attention of other researchers worldwide. Psychiatry in the 1940s and 1950s needed change, so scientists and therapists viewed alternative treatments as revolutionary.
In the 1960s, psychedelic research and therapy ended as concerns rose over the recreational use of the drugs. However, even after the government prohibited certain substances, Humphry Osmond’s research and reform plans had a lasting impact.
Today, there are talks about starting psychedelic therapy again. More positive studies have emerged regarding the benefits of natural compounds, specifically psilocybin. Some areas have decriminalized its use, and others are considering legalizing its medicinal use.
The state of Oregon has already started planning to implement magic mushroom-assisted therapy in a controlled environment. By 2023, these services may be available to the public under strict regulations. It may open doors for other areas to do the same if it’s successful.
Where Did the Term Psychedelic Come From?
During his time in Saskatchewan, Dr. Humphry Osmond started exchanging letters with Aldous Huxley, a famous British author. They spoke about psychedelics and their potential, and the writer was interested in experiencing a guided trip.
Osmond traveled to Los Angeles to meet Aldous and supervise him while he tried mescaline for the first time. The writer had a positive experience and wrote about it in his autobiographical book The Doors of Perception.
The pair formed an unlikely friendship and continued to exchange letters over the years. In one playful rhyme, Aldous wrote that half a gram of phanerothyme was enough to make this trivial world sublime.
Osmond responded to his friend’s poem by writing, “To fathom Hell or soar angelic, just take a pinch of psychedelic.” He came up with the term, which in Greek means “mind-manifesting.”
Humphry Osmond liked the word, finding it appropriately described the substances he was studying. In one of his medical papers from 1957, he presented “psychedelic” as a classification of these drugs. The term entered the English language soon afterward.
Saskatchewan: Inspiring the Future of Psychedelic Therapy
The asylum in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, wasn’t a pleasant place to be before Dr. Humphry Osmond’s arrival. It was overcrowded, and patients received dismally poor treatment. The hospital only started to see better days after the British researcher started working there.
Osmond was among many pioneers who introduced the world to the benefits of psychedelics. Even after the prohibitions in the 60s and 70s, Osmond’s studies were revolutionary. They inspired further research into the therapeutic potential of specific compounds.
Today, hospital reforms have catapulted mental healthcare toward new horizons. Far more understanding exists surrounding better treatment methods and medication.
New evidence on using psychedelics in treatment sessions means citizens might soon be legally allowed to access these services. Could compounds like LSD and psilocybin be more beneficial than pharmaceutical drugs? Only time will tell.
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