Five Important Events in Psychedelics History

By Jake Sherman

History matters. Today, the psychedelics movement is emerging into a full-blown modern renaissance. Governments have opened up to the real benefits of psychedelic drugs and green-lighting promising clinical trials.

Research is growing, along with the body of evidence supporting the effectiveness of psychedelic therapies – and so is investor interest. Financial backing breeds more high-quality research, which in turn produces better treatment medicines and methods.

But the sailing hasn’t always been this smooth. Even as early proponents sought to utilize psychedelic drugs’ therapeutic potential, the movement has had its ups and downs.

There’s still a long road ahead to mainstream psychedelics therapy, with legislative, cultural, and technological obstacles to overcome. As supporters continue to campaign on behalf of the psychedelics movement, perspective is key. Here are five key milestones in the history of psychedelics.

Bicycle Day: The Psychedelics Movement Gets a Rolling Start

Swiss chemist Albert Hoffman discovered LSD in 1938, years before stumbling across its psychedelic properties quite by accident. After digging the substance back up in 1943 to see if he could find some use for it, he got an unknown amount on his fingertips — with eyebrow-raising results. He reported entering a mildly intoxicated state and seeing kaleidoscopic colors.

Ever the scientist, Hoffman ingested a minuscule amount of LSD again three days later, this time on purpose. The full effects took hold while he was bicycling home, launching Hoffman – and April 19 – into the annals of history.

With LSD’s psychedelic effects out of the bag, it was just a few years before scientists considered its psychological benefits. But it was that day in 1943 that a medical, spiritual, and cultural revolution was born.    

Spring Grove Experiments: Both High Point and Low

From 1963 to 1976, hundreds of psychiatric patients and substance addicts at Maryland’s Spring Grove Clinic were given psychedelic treatments. The research, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, seemed to be a huge boon for psychedelics therapy. The trial included over 700 patients during its seven years, and remains the largest involving LSD to this day. Additionally, most patients experienced positive results, while only a minority showed no response.

But the experimental program also carried some significant shortcomings. The lack of control groups or the ability to conduct double-blind testing compromised scientific credibility. What’s more, many of the patients were at Spring Grove against their will. And though there was no sign of long-term complications, some patients reacted negatively to the treatments.  

In the end, the largest LSD trial in history was terminated ignobly. Hospital politics and the shadow of Nixon’s War on Drugs helped put a stop to psychedelics research at Spring Grove. They also contributed to the government’s ultimate designation of LSD as having no medical benefit. This would remain the case for years, until a new FDA policy began to take hold.

Breakthrough Therapy: Unprecedented Advances in Research Opportunities

In 2012, the FDA created a new designation “designed to expedite the development and review of drugs that are intended to treat a serious condition,” if preliminary clinical evidence showed it to be a marked improvement over existing therapies.

This was big news for psychedelics therapies, which have proved to be effective against treatment-resistant conditions. To its credit, the FDA fast-tracks many therapies – both psychedelic and not. But given that psychedelics research requires some form of approval to proceed, the field has benefited greatly from the designation.

In 2019, the FDA made headlines by granting the status to both Compass Pathways and the nonprofit Usona Institute. Both organizations use psilocybin to help fight severe treatment-resistant depression.  

Movin’ On Up: Psychedelics Go Public

In today’s business world, nothing spells legitimacy like “going public.” So when psychedelics poster child MindMed had its historic IPO last year, it was a real game-changer. The small but stalwart company has pushed psychedelics into the mainstream via its addiction and ADHD therapies. It also set the stage for other companies to go public.

Other psychedelics organizations are moving in this direction as well, and there’s even a stock index dedicated to this market. When Compass Pathways joined the club by trading on the NASDAQ with its psilocybin-based therapy, psychedelics were cemented into today’s mainstream.

Measure 109: The Path to Fair Legislation

In November 2020, Oregon made history by becoming the first state to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic use. The legislation, decided by public referendum, followed other more local decriminalization shifts. In 2019, Denver became the first city to decriminalize psilocybin, followed shortly by Oakland and Santa Cruz, CA.

But Oregon’s Measure 109 represented the first statewide endorsement of psychedelics therapies. Now, as Oregon determines how to regulate these therapies in a legal framework, everyone is watching. If the state is successful in combining responsible oversight with previously unregulated therapies, other states may soon follow. The eyes of hundreds of millions of patients suffering from addiction, depression, and PTSD are on them.