Hofmann's Hundredth Birthday
13 January 2006. Guided by security personnel, Albert Hofmann, the father of LSD, bent by a century to a height of barely five feet, took the stage on crutches. Almost two thousand people rose from their chairs in the Basel Convention Center. Thunderous applause. Dozens of photographers and cameramen-professional and hippie-were jostling in front of the centenarian birthday boy (see figure 1). The LSD Symposium took place in honor of Hofmann's one-hundredth birthday. But it also served as a fair of the contemporary world of psychedelia, presenting itself in front of two hundred journalists who had come to cover the event. Fragile, but quite sprightly for his age, probably the only person in the hall wearing a tie, Hofmann briefly raised his hand to greet the crowd before sitting down with one of the organizers, a lively and stout middle-aged man with a full voice, president of the Psi Society Basel, a specialist for spiritual healing and otherwise involved in organizing trade fairs for esoterics. He asked Hofmann to tell one more time how he discovered his "problem child" and "wonder drug," LSD. Hardly a newspaper article or TV program preceding or following this spectacular celebration did not begin its report with this almost mythological origin story.
In the 1930s, the research chemist Hofmann developed new ergot alkaloids for the Swiss pharmaceutical company Sandoz. They were meant to stop bleeding after childbirth. Hofmann created a number of derivatives from lysergic acid, the molecular core of ergot. In 1938, he synthesized the twenty-fifth substance in this series of compounds: lysergic acid diethylamide, abbreviated LSD-25 (after the German Lysergsäurediäthylamid). The substance was tested on animals. They became restless and a strong effect on the uterus was established, but as neither the physicians nor the pharmacologists of Sandoz were particularly interested in the substance, these preclinical trials were discontinued. However, five years later-by now the rest of Europe was engulfed in war-Hofmann (1983: 14) followed what he called "a peculiar presentiment," a hunch, "that this substance could possess properties other than those established in the first investigations." He noted that "this was quite unusual; experimental substances, as a rule, were definitely stricken from the research program if once found to be lacking in pharmacological interest" (14). To make a long story short, Hofmann must have contaminated himself with a small amount of this highly potent substance, and he experienced an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with an intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors. Three days later, he conducted a self-experiment, ingesting what he (falsely) believed to be a small dose, and he experienced the first full-blown LSD trip in human history. The reason why this story is recounted over and over again is not the heroism of Hofmann's self-experiment-self-administration was not uncommon in pharmacology at the time-but his claim to have followed a "peculiar presentiment" when taking the seemingly insignificant compound from the shelf again (see, e.g., Nichols 2006). He discovered its mind-blowing effects accidentally because of a little sloppiness in his usually meticulous chemical bench work. This led Hofmann to conclude that he did not find LSD but that it was LSD that found him. It must have been divine providence, not scientific method, admitting us to the enchanted world behind the "doors of perception."
However, Hofmann, who had had his first mystical experience as a boy walking in the forest, was quick to add that one did not need LSD anymore once the gateway had been opened in one way or another. His greatest hope was that one day state-controlled meditation centers would provide LSD to facilitate the spiritual development of those seeking access to this experiential plane. But, he said, he did not want to be a guru telling others what to do. The organizer closed the opening ceremony by saying, "Dear Albert, you're certainly the very best example to show that what you discovered is no infernal stuff!" Hofmann was presented with an enormous bunch of red roses. He expressed his thanks by saying that he was particularly grateful for the flowers, as our connectedness with other life forms, including plants, had become more and more important to him in recent years: "The feeling of co-creatureliness with all things alive should enter our consciousness more fully and counterbalance the materialistic and nonsensical technological development in order to enable us to return to the roses, to the flowers, to nature, where we belong." Tumultuous applause again.
Many of the media reports on Hofmann, his pharmacological problem child, and the three-day conference, with its abundance of lectures, discussion panels, workshops, and stalls, proclaimed a comeback of hallucinogen research. After its discovery in 1943, the story went, LSD soon escaped the walls of the laboratory. Its propagation by irresponsible scientists like Timothy Leary and its widespread abuse by the hippies was said to have eventually led to the criminalization of LSD and other hallucinogens in the 1960s. After scientific research on this class of drugs had subsequently been repressed for more than two decades, a more pragmatic attitude had finally gained the upper hand. Since the 1990s, it had given rise to a revival of hallucinogen research. Thus the framing of the event.
The proponents of this resurgence gathered at the LSD Symposium. A minority among the crowds of old hippies, New Age disciples, and psychedelic geeks, these brain researchers, pharmacologists, and psychiatrists used the occasion of Hofmann's hundredth birthday to demonstrate the restored vitality of their scientific field. Many of the preclinical and clinical studies conducted in recent years were, for the first time, presented to a broad audience and received a significant amount of media attention. Even though many of the so-called psychedelic elders were still present, a new generation of American and European hallucinogen researchers had taken over, introducing these "magic drugs" into the age of cognitive neuroscience.
The Heyday of Hallucinogen Research
But what exactly was being revived? And how was the revival different from the historic era, which it sought to resume? In the mid-twentieth century, hallucinogenic drugs came to play a key role in psychiatric and psychopharmacological research. Much has been written about this important chapter in the history of science and medicine. Let me briefly recapitulate to lay the ground for my account of the current revival of psychedelic science.
Hallucinogens became an object of scientific investigation in the course of the nineteenth century as Europeans and Americans observed their uses in other cultures. The French psychiatrist Jacques-Joseph Moreau de Tours brought hashish from a trip to the Orient, which, in the 1840s, he used to both model and treat mental illness. The spreading use of peyote among Native Americans in the second half of the century led US and English researchers like Silas Weir Mitchell or Henry Havelock Ellis to study the effects of the cactus. Through a series of self-experiments, the German chemist Arthur Heffter identified and isolated mescaline as its pharmacologically active principle in 1897. And two decades later, his colleague Ernst Späth managed to synthesize the substance (Perrine 2001).
From the 1920s onward, German and French psychiatrists such as Kurt Beringer, Ernst Joëll, Fritz Fränkel, and Alexandre Rouhier returned to Moreau's psychopharmacological modeling of mental disorders, administering mescaline instead of hashish to healthy subjects. After LSD was discovered in 1943, it was first used in this tradition of experimental psychiatry. But Hofmann's chance find also marked the beginning of a profound transformation of the field. In the course of the 1950s, more than 750 scholarly articles were published on LSD alone. During this period, the first antipsychotic chlorpromazine and the first tricyclic antidepressant imipramine were discovered as well. This second wave of biological psychiatry differed from its predecessor in that the "psychopharmacological revolution" of the 1950s left behind the therapeutic pessimism prevalent in the late nineteenth century (Shorter 1997). The cerebral substrate of mental illness no longer seemed to be a matter of fate but rather a target of biomedical intervention (Rose 2007). When it was found that chlorpromazine could antagonize some of the effects of LSD, an experimental system emerged that seemed to allow exploration of causes as well as potential treatments of schizophrenia in the laboratory. Model psychosis research was no longer confined to mimicking the experience of mental illness but turned into a quest for its biochemical cause: a psychotogenic molecule resembling LSD or mescaline. Psychiatry finally seemed to get a chance to meet the scientific standards and therapeutic expectations set by other medical specialties (Caldwell 1970; Ulrich and Patten 1991; Novak 1997; Thuillier 1999; Vannini and Venturini 1999; Healy 2002: 107; Langlitz 2006a; Dyck 2008: 32-52).
In brain research, this sudden upswing of psychopharmacology supplemented anatomical and electrophysiological conceptions of the brain with a neurochemical one. In contrast to mescaline, which was only psychoactive in doses of several hundred milligrams, LSD was active in the microgram range. The fact that extremely low doses could have such profound pharmacological effects strongly supported the emergent theory of neurotransmission and spawned the "dream of molecular specificity": if the number of molecules were not enough to swamp the entire brain, there had to be specific sites of action; neurotransmitters and drugs had to fit into receptors like keys into locks (Healy 2002: 180; Rose 2007: 199-200). The finding that LSD, with a core structure closely resembling that of serotonin, turned out to antagonize the effects of serotonin was soon used to explain its psychotomimetic qualities and helped to establish a tight connection between brain chemistry and behavior (Green 2008). The sociologists Joëlle Abi-Rached and Nikolas Rose (2010) have shown how this new "neuromolecular gaze," breaking up the holism of psychic life into a multiplicity of receptors, neurotransmitters, ion channels, second messengers, and membrane potentials, eventually led to the birth of the neurosciences in the 1960s.
One of the proponents of this molecularization of psychiatry was Humphry Osmond. Together with his colleagues at Saskatchewan Mental Hospital in Weyburn, Canada, the British physician investigated mescaline-like substances that cause a biochemical imbalance underlying schizophrenia. In her book Psychedelic Psychiatry, medical historian Erika Dyck (2008: 13-31) points out that this research on hallucinogens was supported by the leftist government of the province as part of its commitment to health-care reforms. Demonstrating the biochemical nature of mental illness entailed its destigmatization: psychiatric patients were meant to be treated just like any other patient population.
But in the course of his exchange with Aldous Huxley, Osmond turned away from such reductionist accounts, reconceptualizing "hallucinogens" and "psychotomimetics" as "psychedelics" and paving the way for a spiritual explanation of their effects. Historian of psychopharmacology David Healy (2002: 202) emphasizes the Janus-faced character of this class of drugs: "It is probably no coincidence that biological thinking crept into psychiatry on the back of a group of drugs like the psychedelics, which gave rise to 'spiritual' thinking." Religious interpretations of the hallucinogenic experience also inspired the use of these drugs in the treatment of alcoholism, where LSD was administered to address addiction as a spiritual rather than biomedical condition. Considering that the scientific interest in psychedelics had been triggered by observations of their religious uses in other cultures, psychedelic therapists had come full circle (Dyck 2008: 53-78).
This association of hallucinogenic drugs with spirituality was primarily a North American phenomenon. The more secular Europeans mostly used them to facilitate psychoanalytically oriented psychotherapies, hoping that they would assist the unconscious to reveal its secrets (Passie 1997; Sandison 1997; Vannini and Venturini 1999; Snelders and Kaplan 2002; Roberts 2008). But the rationale of such narcoanalysis or psycholytic therapy was also of interest to the CIA and the US Army, who were looking for a "truth serum" to make interrogations more efficient. The brain was imagined as a locus in which truthfulness could be instilled and from where truth could be extracted. Eventually, the hallucinogen research program of the CIA was closed down in the late 1960s because the effects of these drugs on interrogations turned out to be unpredictable (CIAHistoricalReviewProgram 1977; Lee and Shlain 1992; Langlitz 2007; Tanner 2009).
By that time, most hallucinogen research had already been or was about to be terminated. Much of this was due to the politicotheological battles fought over psychedelic drugs in the 1960s, which will be discussed in the next section. But we should also note-and to many readers this might come as more of a surprise-that the field was already in decline before Timothy Leary entered the scene, at a time when the term hippie had not even been coined.
In the late 1950s, physicians' nonchalant dealings with pharmaceuticals, especially with not (yet) approved "investigational drugs," began to be problematized within the medical profession. In 1961, the thalidomide disaster came to the fore: 8,000 children with gross anatomical malformations, an unknown number of abortions, and many patients suffering from peripheral neuropathy. The US Congress passed the Kefauver-Harris amendments in the following year, giving the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) control over all investigational drugs (Daemmrich 2004: 60-69). LSD happened to be such an investigational drug just like thalidomide. A drug safety study on Hofmann's problem child, also published in 1962, warned against the risks of suicide and prolonged psychotic reactions (Cohen and Ditman 1962). Regulations were tightened. Consequently, researchers could no longer mail a form to Sandoz, receive LSD in return, and administer it to patients without even informing them about the experimental nature of their treatment. Now they had to undergo the newly created Investigational Exemption to the New Drug Application process. Henceforth, the FDA had to give prior approval for all testing of experimental drugs. Additionally, Sandoz had grown concerned about its reputation and restricted the provision of LSD in the United States to researchers associated with the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH), Veterans Affairs hospitals, and to state commissioners of mental health. As a result, the number of researchers who had access to psychedelics was reduced from several hundred to approximately 70 (or, according to another source, even 13). They were all scientists working within federal and state agencies or they had obtained grants or permissions from such agencies (Masters and Houston 1966: 66; Stevens 1987: 182-182; Novak 1997; Doblin 2000).
Up to this point the history of the medical uses of hallucinogens had been part of a much broader history of controlling pharmaceuticals in the United States. What was at issue when scientific applications of hallucinogens were subjected to a strict regulatory regime in the early 1960s was not spiritual liberation through consciousness-expanding drugs and their association with the politics of the counterculture, but medical paternalism and pharmaceutical marketing practices. After all, the distribution of thalidomide and LSD as investigational drugs primarily served to acquaint doctors with new products and to establish a lucrative therapeutic application from which industry could profit. The expansion of the FDA's duties and power was meant to protect American citizens from ruthless or adventurous physicians, scientists, and businessmen. It belonged to a profound transformation of medical decision making, challenging and curbing physicians' professional dominance with a commitment to individual rights. In the 1960s, trust in medical authority was shaken and thereafter doctors and researchers had to make their decisions about patients and test subjects, treatments and study designs alongside lawyers, judges, legislators, members of ethics committees, and FDA officers (Rothman 1991). These developments in the medical sector were part of an even more far-reaching restructuring of the governance of technological change in industrialized countries that was responding to public concern about the risks accompanying scientific and technological innovation (Brickman et al. 1985: 19). But this was only the beginning of the end of hallucinogen research.
In 1960, an established middle-aged personality psychologist went on a vacation to Mexico before taking up a new position at Harvard's Center of Personality Research. In the area where Timothy Leary was staying, the New York banker and amateur mycologist Gordon Wasson had rediscovered and widely publicized the ritual use of hallucinogenic mushrooms only five years earlier. Interested in experiencing their effects for himself, Leary bought such Psilocybe mushrooms at the market, tried them-and had what he would later describe as a religious epiphany (Leary 1970: 13-14). By the time he arrived in Cambridge, he had decided to make the effects of psilocybin, the pharmacologically active compound of the toadstool (just isolated and synthesized by Hofmann), the center of his new research program (Greenfield 2006: 110-114).
The last experiment, which Leary supervised during his short tenure at Harvard in 1962, instantiated a science, which Huxley (1962: 94, 144) simultaneously envisaged in Island under the newly coined rubric of neurotheology. It is in this work of fiction that the term was coined to designate a discipline studying the relationship between physiology and spiritual experience (Horgan 2003: 74). Considering that the academic discipline of theology traditionally studies and elaborates a rational system of religious beliefs, it is debatable whether the biological investigation of spiritual experiences is aptly characterized as neurotheology. But, since this is how the term has been used ever since, I will adopt the concept of neurotheology to describe this emergent discourse instead of replacing it by the possibly more appropriate designation neurospirituality. Following William James's (1958/1902: 298-299) association of drug-induced mind states and divine illumination, Leary and his doctoral student Walter Pahnke administered psilocybin to twenty theology students who attended the Good Friday sermon at Boston University's Marsh Chapel. Subsequently, they compared the participants' experience reports with experiences described in the mystical literature and concluded that hallucinogens could facilitate genuine mystical experiences (Pahnke 1963; Pahnke and Richards 1966; Lattin 2010: 73-84).
But the situation was becoming more and more difficult for Leary and his allies. As in any university department, there were power struggles between them and other factions in the psychology faculty. At a time when behaviorism reigned, there was much opposition to their introspective approach to psychopharmacology. Ethically, Leary was also criticized for ignoring the medical risks associated with the administration of psilocybin and for his use of graduate students as experimental subjects. Legend has it that he was eventually dismissed from Harvard in 1963 when undergraduates became involved in his experimentation as well. But, in fact, it was Leary who declared himself fired on a TV talk show, fashioning himself as a repressed but rebellious countercultural hero. It was not just Harvard that drove him out but also he himself who turned his back on Harvard (Greenfield 2006: 195-199; Das and Metzner 2010: 81-91; Lattin 2010: 85-106).
Even after Leary had decided that he was "through playing the science game" (quoted in Jonnes 1996: 229), he remained intellectually rooted and continued to influence the field of psychology (Devonis 2012). But he also metamorphosed into the prophet of a pharmacologically revitalized religious movement (Leary 1968). "Drugs are the religion of the twenty-first century," Leary (1970: 44) announced. He propagated hallucinogens as a psychopharmacological cure for all social ills: "It seemed to us that wars, class conflicts, racial tensions, economic exploitation, religious strife, ignorance, and prejudice were all caused by narrow social conditioning. Political problems were manifestations of psychological problems, which at bottom seemed to be neurological-hormonal-chemical. If we could help people plug into the empathy circuits of the brain, then positive social change could occur" (Leary 1983: 49-50).
This optimism resonated with the high hopes inspired by the psychopharmacological revolution. A decade or two earlier, drugs had hardly been accepted as remedies of mental disorders. But since the mid-1950s, Americans had grown convinced that no illness was beyond the capacities of pharmaceutical science. Leary took this new confidence in biological psychiatry one step further, from the clinic to society at large, which he declared a suitable target of pharmacotherapeutic intervention. Moving from scientific detachment to social activism, Leary (1983: 50) plotted a "neurological revolution": "Bolshevik bomb throwing was out. The new bombs were neurological. You don't blow up the Czar's palace. You blow minds" (quoted in Greenfield 2006: 333).
The rhetorics of Leary's "politics of ecstasy" were radical and new. New because of the abundance of brain metaphors and neuro- prefixes. They might appear less striking against the background of the current hype around the neurosciences. But when Leary invented this vocabulary, he was among the first to introduce such loose brain talk into popular discourse. His biologizing manifestos and sermons were also radical in that they advocated the liberation of people's "divine bodies" from a repressive "robot society." Consciousness-expanding drugs were meant to facilitate the "opening" of the cortex and its "liberation from the cultural self" (Leary 1965: 69, 93, 141). In contrast to much critical scholarship in contemporary anthropology, Leary's impatience for liberty did not turn to historical and cultural contingencies but to biospiritual universals, framed by Huxley's perennial philosophy, as a way out of a societal situation experienced as overly restraining. In this respect, the counterculture was not just a subculture opposing the Establishment but a culture against culture per se. But however novel and extreme these calls for a consciousness revolution were, Leary did not simply see himself in the tradition of political avant-gardism. He cast himself as involved in a recurrent transhistorical battle that every new generation had to fight all over again to recover the wisdom already possessed by Gautama Buddha two and a half millennia ago: a reminder that revolution described a circular motion before it came to designate the singular historical breaks that have come to serve as the hallmark of modernity (Leary 1965: 84-89; Koselleck 2004: 46).
Despite this neurotheological agitation, Leary's agenda was ostensibly apolitical. He followed the worldview underlying Huxley's Island that all evils were the product of imperfect social relations and not of human nature. Leary's anthropological optimism was-like Huxley's-religious, not political, assuming that even within a bad society happiness was possible by turning inward and seeking mystical revelations (Meckier 1978). "The choice is between being rebellious and being religious," Leary declared (quoted in Greenfield 2006: 303). "Don't vote. Don't politic. Don't petition. You can't do anything about America politically" (Leary 1965: 6). He was convinced that militant opposition as practiced by student activists (whom he mocked as "young men with menopausal minds") (quoted in Greenfield 2006: 303) only led to further subjection to the alienating and oppressive "games" of society. He told an audience in San Francisco, "My advice to people in America today is as follows: If you take the game of life seriously, if you take your nervous system seriously, if you take the energy process seriously, you must turn on, tune in, and drop out" (Leary 1965: 133). And taking LSD-short for "Let the State Disintegrate!" (quoted in Greenfield 2006: 303)-appeared to be the fastest way of reaching this goal. Like early Christians, Leary invoked spiritual transcendence to distance himself from and passively resist the political powers that be (Adam 2006).
Of course, this kind of theology represented a political stance of its own right. At least in Bruno Latour's (1993) somewhat idiosyncratic reading, the historians of science Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer (1985) have shown how Thomas Hobbes and Robert Boyle, in response to decades of religious civil war in seventeenth-century Britain, established the political ontology of modernity, dividing the world into nature and society while removing God from both realms. To preserve peace, the "crossed-out God" was deprived of all agency by simultaneously locking Him out into infinite transcendence and locking Him into men's heart of hearts. Leary and the psychedelic counterculture challenged this modern cosmological order by invoking a direct drug-mediated experience of the divine, bringing the kind of religious enthusiasm, which had politically destabilized early modern Europe, to twentieth-century America.
In the United States, the political turbulence of the 1960s went hand in hand with a far-reaching reconfiguration of the religious landscape. This decade marked the beginning of the so-called Fourth Great Awakening in American history. In contrast to the previous three revitalizations of religious life, which were dominated by asceticism and subordination to biblical authority, this latest revival has been described as a turn toward unusual experiences taken as instances of direct and personal contact with the divine. It affected mainline churches and gave rise to contemporary evangelical movements. But it also led to the emergence of alternative forms of spirituality, syncretically combining the appreciation of Eastern religious thought, a rediscovery of natural rather than revealed religion, and the mystical illuminations induced by psychedelic drugs (McLoughlin 1978: 179-216; Fuller 2000: 84-89; Luhrmann 2005). These developments challenged the established political system from different directions.
The emergence of psychedelic enthusiasm did not fail to provoke resistance. The mixture of "psychotropic hedonism" and "instant mysticism" associated with the use of hallucinogens conflicted with the widespread attitude of "pharmacological Calvinism," which rejected the use of drugs to achieve pleasure or enlightenment. The term pharmacological Calvinism was coined in 1972 by the psychiatrist Gerald Klerman. Since the nineteenth century, Calvinism had come to be associated with "un-American" tendencies such as the oppression of freedom of thought, religious intolerance, fatalism, and so on (Davis 1996). Thus Klerman's use of the term was not purely analytic but also served a polemical purpose. He criticized the underprescription of psychiatric drugs by physicians and psychotherapists who relied instead solely on the therapeutic effects of verbal insight (Klerman 1972; Healy 1997: 226-231, 1998: 535). Even though biological psychiatry was already on the rise and pharmacotherapy was quickly gaining support, Klerman identified the youth culture of the early 1970s as the most serious challenge to Puritan reservations about drugs. It seems questionable whether the moral rejection of medical and nonmedical drug applications can be accurately described as Calvinist. But this label is suitable for conceptualizing the opposition to drug mysticism insofar as Calvin was convinced that spiritual experiences were illusionary: faith was not to be proven by mere feelings but through "good works." The this-worldly orientation of Calvinism entailed a spiritual dignification of mundane activities, including the pursuit of economic gain, which, according to Max Weber's (1992/1920) famous if contested thesis, eventually inspired the development of capitalism. Pharmacological Calvinism is part of the Protestant work ethic in that it rejects drug use as a means to experiencing pleasure or religious ecstasy and advocates more industrious routes to salvation.
The opposition of pharmacological Calvinism and psychedelic pharmacospirituality mirrors Weber's distinction between two ideal types of religious ethic: asceticism and mysticism. According to Weber, the asceticism characteristic of the Protestant ethic played a particularly important role in the formation of American capitalism. Through work, this ethic seeks to master the original depravity of man, transforming the quest for salvation into a worldly business. Mysticism, on the other hand, aims at contemplation and ecstasy. Progress in the inner life requires detachment from narrow materialistic pursuits. Following Weber, it cultivates a "world-denying love" at odds with the unbrotherly spirit of capitalism. Mysticism conceives of the hustle and bustle of working life not as the way to heaven, but as a soteriological obstacle. The contrast to the asceticism of the Protestant work ethic could not be any starker (Weber 1958/1919; Bellah 1999).
Already in the 1960s, sociologically informed observers and self-reflexive members of the American counterculture described that culture's drug mysticism against the background of Weber's work. For example, the Stanford psychologist Richard Blum (1964: 283) noted, "For the user [of LSD] who does move in the direction of contemplative mysticism, there is a fleeing from the world and the re-establishment of the ethic of brotherhood, symbolized in becoming more loving." And the countercultural activist Jerry Rubin explained: "Drug use signifies the total end of the Protestant ethic: screw work, we want to know ourselves. But of course the goal is to free oneself from American society's sick notion of work, success, reward, and status and to find oneself through one's own discipline, hard work, and introspection." (quoted in Jonnes 1996: 239). This blend of drug mysticism and the desire for self-knowledge was articulated in opposition to what was imagined as the Protestant spirit of capitalism (Davis and Munoz 1968).
Representatives of the psychedelic movement presented their conflict with the so-called Establishment as a fight over religious values. This framing enabled them to defend the use of "sacramental biochemicals like LSD" (Leary 1970: 18) by claiming their constitutional right of religious liberty. In a Senate hearing, one of them even warned against a "religious civil war" that would break out if Leary was arrested for drug possession (Greenfield 2006: 274). In the course of the 1960s, the struggle over hallucinogens became a political struggle over the spiritual foundations of America's social and economic order. Soon, Leary's political neurotheology became so influential that the Nixon administration came to see him as public enemy number one in its "War on Drugs"-even though the opponents of the counterculture preferred to present the situation as a moral threat and a public health crisis rather than a religious conflict (Davenport-Hines 2002: 265; Greenfield 2006: 343).
The attribution of a political neurotheology to Leary and the psychedelic movement evokes not only the late Huxley's sense of biospirituality but also Carl Schmitt's Political Theology (2005), originally published in 1922. Of course, politically and theologically, the far-right Catholic jurist from Germany and the libertarian high priest of the American psychedelic movement could not have been further apart. Schmitt's famous dictum that "all significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts" (36) led him to embrace authoritarianism. In his eyes, Hitler restored a dimension of political transcendence by reoccupying a position of sovereignty above the law-analogous to the omnipotent God of theist theology.
Leary, on the other hand, drew from an antistatist tradition equally inherent in Christianity. Here, God did not appear as celestial king upon a throne in heaven. Instead of identifying Him with a position in a symbolic system that ordered the social and political world, Leary (2001) proclaimed: "Your brain is God!" The divine was to be found as inner experience, and psychedelics served as chemical keys to this God within: "Religion is consciousness expansion, centered in the body and defined exactly the way it sounds best to you" (Leary 1965: 9). Antithetical to Schmitt's authoritarian politicotheological order, Leary called for an anarchist drug mysticism: "You must start your own religion. You're God-but only you can discover and nurture your divinity. No one can start your religion for you" (7). This was both spiritual and legal advice followed by numerous "dope churches" that quoted the freedom of religion to defend their use of illicit drugs (Leary 1965: 12-15; Miller 1991: 31-34). But only members of the Native American Church and, since 2006, of the syncretist churches União do Vegetal and Santo Daime were granted the right to use peyote and ayahuasca for religious purposes (Stewart 1987: 213-238; Fuller 2000: 177-190; Dobkin de Rios and Rumrrill 2008).
The attempt to introduce psychedelic drugs as mediators of the divine into the modern world threw 1960s America into a crisis. Eventually, however, this moment of conflict and indetermination was resolved by legislators. The spreading consumption of hallucinogens among white middle-class youth (probably promoted more effectively by Ken Kesey's hedonistically oriented electric Kool-Aid acid tests than by Leary's tongue-in-cheek proselytizing [Wolfe 1968]), along with a growing number of drug-related accidents and their scandalization in the media, resulted in the gradual prohibition of this class of drugs between 1966 and 1970. Consequently, the utopian visions of an alternative drug culture, which Huxley's novel Island had inspired at the beginning of the decade, were shattered.
The Dark Era
Even though hallucinogen research was drastically curbed in the late 1960s, it never came to a total standstill. Despite the numerous hurdles and restrictions limiting the freedom of science it was, in principle, still possible to pursue research on psychedelic drugs and, in fact, some scientists did obtain licenses that allowed them to go ahead. Two of them, the chemist David Nichols and the neuropsychopharmacologist Mark Geyer, would later play a crucial role in the resurgence of hallucinogen research. For those holding a special permit, chemical analysis and synthesis as well as pharmacological studies in animals were legally possible throughout the 1970s and 1980s. There were even a very few human studies during the period that Geyer ironically referred to as "the Dark Era" (e.g., Francom et al. 1988; Lim et al. 1988). In Germany and the Netherlands, the psychiatrist Hanscarl Leuner and the psychoanalyst Jan Bastiaans were also allowed to continue using hallucinogens in therapeutic settings until they retired in the mid-1980s (Passie 1996/97; Snelders and Kaplan 2002). Of course, the scale of this medical research was infinitesimal in comparison to the vibrant scientific experimentation in the 1950s, but it was enough to demonstrate that such research was not categorically prohibited. The mechanisms that led to its deterioration were subtler. Scientists were not officially denied their academic freedom and yet they were discouraged, worn down, and guided away from further work on these compounds. A subtle microphysics of power (allocation of funding, having to guard one's reputation, approval of research projects, recruitment of test subjects, etc.) led to an almost total breakdown of academic hallucinogen research.
At the same time, however, psychedelic science flourished in the underground. The central figure of this nonacademic hallucinogen research was Alexander Shulgin. Invited to a symposium at the University of California, San Diego, in 2006, Shulgin indicated that in the nineteenth century the Western world had only known two psychedelic drugs: marijuana and peyote. By the 1950s, it already knew dozens. And at the beginning of the twenty-first century, the number was about two hundred-many of which Shulgin had invented himself (see Shulgin and Shulgin 1991, 1997). If this logarithmic growth continued, Shulgin calculated, there would be about 2,000 compounds by 2050. Since the birth of the Internet, largely contemporaneous with the revival of hallucinogen research in the 1990s, clandestine psychedelic science has found a highly efficient venue for publication and collaboration (Langlitz 2009). It blossomed in the shadow of prohibition. But this is for another book.
After the Counterculture: The Revival of Psychedelic Research
In 2010-by now the revival had been simmering for two decades-I went to visit Rick Doblin, one of its most important initiators, to talk about how this comparatively quiet return of psychedelics into academic science had begun. Together with his wife, three children, and a dog, Doblin was living in Belmont, an affluent suburb of Boston, just a short bus ride away from where Timothy Leary had brought hallucinogen research into disrepute. Some neighbors demonstrated their patriotism by planting little Star Spangled Banners in their well-trimmed front gardens, while Doblin was advocating scientific and recreational drug use. Yet the exuberant outgrowths of the War on Drugs, which President Obama's newly appointed drug czar had only rhetorically ended, seemed worlds apart (Kerlikowske 2009). And so we spent a peaceful afternoon talking next to a Jacuzzi on the rooftop. The only noise interfering with my interview recording was the soft rustling of leaves.
Asked about the sixties, Doblin stated: "Most people explain the breakdown with psychedelic experiences going wrong in a recreational context. But I would say that it had more to do with psychedelic experiences going right: people having unitive mystical experiences that changed their political perspectives and which got them involved in social justice movements challenging the status quo." However, he not only held an uptight and anxious American society responsible but also blamed Leary. Doblin (1991, 1998) had conducted follow-up studies on two of Leary's experiments and had found that Leary had committed scientific fraud. Together with his doctoral student Walter Pahnke, Leary had furthermore concealed the fact that one subject from the Good Friday experiment had become so severely psychotic that he had to be tranquilized with an antipsychotic drug. "Tim justified this in his mind as, 'The society is demonizing these drugs, so if I fudge things a bit, it's excusable because I'm fighting a bigger evil,'" Doblin explained. On the opposite side, Doblin saw a society not prepared for those "incredible dynamic energies." In response to the drugs' gradual association with cultural rebellion, this society equally distorted the facts, exaggerated risks, and suppressed research "to keep the stories going about how terrible these things were."
But Doblin saw the ostracism of hallucinogens in a much broader temporal framework. Following historical speculations about the use of hallucinogenic drugs in initiation ceremonies at Eleusis in ancient Greece (Wasson et al. 1978), Doblin said: "The Eleusinian Mysteries were wiped out by the Church in 396. That was the last time in Western culture that psychedelics had been integrated in a central way. So our mission is a 1600-year mission to try to bring psychedelics back into the core of our culture."
For Doblin, however, the escapism of the counterculture-the fantasy of self-actualization on a remote island as envisioned by Huxley's novel-had turned out to be a dead end. "The self-definition of the counterculture was inherently destructive. If you're separated from the core of society, you will eventually be overwhelmed. That's why I have a picket fence, a station wagon, and a boring middle-class life. That's the route, though. It's to mainstream these things and take them away from cultural rebellion and use them for cultural renewal. I long for a conventional life that has psychedelics and spirituality as part of it." Doblin is Jewish, but his this-worldly mysticism is inspired by the Mahayana Buddhist figure of the Bodhisattva who puts off nirvana to help others: "Even the idea that you could be done on Earth and then you're off the wheel of reincarnation is distasteful to me. It implies that you have no sense of social responsibility and that there is something more spiritual than what we have here on Earth, which I don't think there is. I think this is it. This is the playground, the proving ground. I don't believe in heaven."
Doblin started working toward the mainstreaming of psychedelics in 1984, when MDMA was about to be prohibited as well. A friend of his had founded a nonprofit organization, Earth Metabolic Design Laboratories, dedicated to the development of alternative energy. Since the friend did not use the organization, Doblin took over, reinterpreted its mission as being about "mental energies," and began working against the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA): "This was about moving from 'I'm a criminal, I'm a draft resister, I'm a drug user, I'm a countercultural person' to-wow!-this system has also created a mechanism for change within it that will give us the ability to take money from people who get tax reductions to fight the system." With the money it raised, Earth Metabolic Design Laboratories sponsored a toxicity study testing MDMA on dogs and rodents as well as a first preclinical trial on humans (Downing 1986; Frith et al. 1987).
Doblin quickly turned into a psychedelic entrepreneur and lobbyist, speaking out in favor of ecstasy and other psychedelics in TV talk shows and at the World Health Organization in Geneva. When, in 1985, all efforts to prevent the illegalization of MDMA had failed, he abandoned Earth Metabolic Design Laboratories and planned to build a "psychedelic orphan drug pharmaceutical company." The following year, Doblin established it as another nonprofit organization called Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). It assembled a network of drug researchers and raised funds from private donors to support its work. MAPS also made a sustained effort to develop a respectful relationship with the FDA to improve communication between the psychedelic community and regulators. For this purpose, Doblin enrolled in the PhD program of Harvard's prestigious Kennedy School of Government, where he wrote a dissertation on the regulation of medical uses of psychedelics (Doblin 2000). Through an internship program for graduates interested in careers in the federal government, Doblin managed to develop strong ties to the FDA officers in charge of hallucinogen studies, and he learned from them how to create admissible research protocols before returning to MAPS. The ultimate goal of his organization was to get MDMA and other psychedelic drugs tested in clinical trials in order to register them as prescription medicines.
But MAPS did not remain the only organization promoting the revival of hallucinogen research. On both sides of the Atlantic, further associations emerged for MAPS to collaborate and compete with. In the United States, the Heffter Research Institute, named after the German chemist who had first isolated mescaline, arrived on the scene in 1993. At the LSD Symposium in 2006, the institute's president and cofounder, David Nichols, a professor of medicinal chemistry, related how this virtual institution, connecting laboratories and research groups at various universities in America and Switzerland, was conceived:
I began my career in 1969, concentrating on research on psychedelics, and it has been a major focus of my life ever since. [Turning to Hofmann who was sitting in the audience:] Albert, thank you! My life would be very different had LSD not been discovered. And certainly less interesting and colorful. After I got my PhD in 1973, I started thinking about the fact that clinical research had stopped. I thought this was really too bad. I would go to scientific meetings and share beers with colleagues, saying, "You know, there should be clinical research." And they would say, "No, no, you can't do it." And I would say, "Well, you can do it. You can't get the government to pay for it, but you need private money." Around 1990, I would be telling the same story to someone, and I thought, "Dave, you gonna be ninety years old sitting in a rocking chair telling the same story." So I decided to start the Heffter Research Institute.
Holding a so-called Schedule I permit, which allowed him to handle even the most tightly controlled psychoactive compounds, Nichols had been one of the very few people able to pursue their scientific interest in hallucinogens continuously since the late 1960s. In his laboratory at Purdue University, he synthesized a range of new substances and tried them out on animals. As a well-respected chemistry professor, he never experienced any difficulties with government agencies-even after the prohibition of hallucinogens. The red line not to be crossed, however, was human research.
In 1990, Nichols's colleague Rick Strassman, a psychiatrist at the University of New Mexico, was the first to test the regulatory limits. He was particularly interested in the short-acting but extremely powerful hallucinogen N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT) because it was the only psychedelic endogenously produced by the human body and was possibly involved in naturally occurring psychedelic states such as birth, death and near-death, psychosis, and mystical experiences. Strassman believed it was excreted by the "mysterious pineal gland," which Descartes had taken to be the seat of the soul and where both Eastern and Western mystical traditions had located "our highest spiritual center" (Strassman 2001: xv). In Strassman's eyes, DMT was the key to our humanity. As a Buddhist, he believed that human life began forty-nine days after conception when the spirit ensouled the fetus. The neurobiological correlate of anthropogenesis, Strassman speculated, was a pineal gland release of the "spirit molecule" DMT (xvii).
Strassman proposed to start off with a randomized double-blind dose-response study. He stuck to the unwritten rules, asking to study DMT as a "drug of abuse" and focusing on its pharmacology instead of psychotherapeutic applications (which would have suggested that there was a benefit to taking an illegal drug). He was backed by Daniel Freedman, one of the most powerful figures in American psychiatry at the time (a former president of the American Psychiatric Association and editor of the highly prestigious journal Archives of General Psychiatry), who had conducted LSD research himself in the 1950s and 1960s. Despite the damaged reputation of hallucinogens, Strassman's colleagues at the medical school also turned out to be supportive of his project. In 1988, he submitted a research protocol to the Human Research Ethics Committee of his university. In the first phase of hallucinogen research, such institutional review boards had not yet played a major role. Their emergence was part of the institutionalization of medical ethics as well as the establishment of a new regulatory regime in the course of the 1960s (Rothman 1991). Being situated within the research institutions themselves, these bodies were-at least in part-composed of fellow researchers. The underlying idea was to enable scientists to check up on themselves by assigning each other the roles of auditors and auditees (Strathern 2000). Such an autonomous self-regulating apparatus was meant to guarantee, but also to shape and delimit, the freedom of science. In his book DMT: The Spirit Molecule (2001), Strassman provided a detailed account of how the precautionary measures demanded by the ethics committee came to affect the experience of his test subjects. Thus the regulatory apparatus not only constituted the external conditions of research but also entered into the outcome of the experiments by transforming the subjects' experiences.
Strassman also had to gain approval from the FDA to use an investigational drug and from the DEA because DMT was a controlled substance. This process was greatly complicated by the fact that DMT was not readily available. He contacted various pharmaceutical companies. But they were either unwilling to provide all the information about the manufacturing process required by the FDA, arguing that it was a trade secret, or refused the liability for human use of their product, fearing lawsuits. Others demanded outrageous sums (up to $50,000) to cover their insurance as well as the uneconomical production of small quantities of an obscure drug. Finally, Dave Nichols offered to synthesize the necessary amount of DMT for $300 and the FDA agreed. In November 1990, two years after the application process had begun, Strassman received the go-ahead for what he presented as the first hallucinogen study in more than two decades (Strassman 2001: xv, 108-118).
When Strassman got approval to giving a psychedelic as powerful as DMT to humans, it seemed as if there could be no fundamental obstacles to administering other hallucinogens as well. Thus, Nichols, Strassman, Geyer, Charles Grob, Dennis McKenna, and George Greer founded the Heffter Research Institute in 1993. In contrast to MAPS' focus on clinical applications of MDMA, Heffter concentrated on psilocybin and, at least initially, emphasized basic research rather than medical applications. Like MAPS, the institute tried to spread a spirit of optimism to attract private funding: "We are at a historic moment. Old social orders are rapidly changing. Economic powers are restructuring for the future. There is widespread popular interest in the brain and the mind as never before. Interest in research with psychedelics seems to be growing, and yet organized financial support for this work is on the wane. The Heffter Research Institute is uniquely poised to be THE key player in the revival of psychedelic research" (HeffterResearchInstitute n.d.: 1).
It is no coincidence that the reinvigoration of hallucinogen research coincided with US president George H.W. Bush's (1990) announcement of the Decade of the Brain. As in the sixties, the biology of the mind was presented as the last great frontier (Crick 1990: 17; Farber 2002: 29). Psychonautic self-exploration had been replaced (or, as we will see, supplemented) by brain scanners and other new technologies, but drugs continued to serve as probes of the neurochemistry of consciousness. The Heffter members used this opportunity to promote their pet molecules. "Research with psychedelic substances offers an unparalleled opportunity for understanding the relationship of mind to brain in ways not possible using other methods," they claimed (HeffterResearchInstitute n.d.: 1). Heffter used the neuroscience hype of the 1990s strategically to relegitimize human research with hallucinogenic drugs (Grob 2002: 280).
Even though MAPS and Heffter were pursuing different scientific and political agendas, one of the things both organizations agreed on was that hallucinogen research should not lapse back into the antagonism between "culture" and "counterculture." As the consequences of sixties radicalism continued to unfold and resurge in civil society (O'Donnell and Jones 2010), their common objective was to return this class of drugs to mainstream science and society. In this respect, the psychedelic revivalists managed to break out of the Huxleyan framework, which has shaped so much public debate around psychopharmacology. For them, the choice was not between societal repression and lulling (Brave New World) on the one handand a freedom that could only be found faraway from modern society (Island) on the other. They wanted to transform Western culture with its own means, bringing psychedelic perennialism into the twenty-first century.
The Politics of Disenchantment and Spiritualization
The Heffter Research Institute was working toward this goal by pursuing what Mark Geyer, in a conversation with me, called "the dispassionate approach of mainstream science." The Heffter researchers presented themselves as free of religious and political fervor. Founder Dave Nichols (2004: 168) emphasized the disenchantment of hallucinogenic drugs through neuropsychopharmacological research: "The tools of today's neuroscience, including in vivo brain imaging technologies, have put a modern face on the hallucinogens. Scientists can no longer see them as 'magic' drugs but rather as 5-HT2A receptor-specific molecules that affect membrane potentials, neuronal firing frequencies, and neurotransmitter release in particular areas of the brain." The message was that psychedelics were ready to inconspicuously join the modern psychotropic pharmacopoeia.
In its mission statement, the Heffter Research Institute (2001: iv) declared that it would "neither condemn psychedelic drugs nor advocate their uncontrolled use. The sole position of the Institute in this regard will be that psychedelic agents, utilized in thoughtfully designed and carefully conducted scientific experiments, can be used to further the understanding of the mind" (Heffter Research Institute 2001). Dare to know! This sense of value neutrality was incompatible with the religious zeal that had dominated the public perception of psychedelia in the 1960s. A pharmacologist from the Heffter lab in Zurich told me that his generation differed from Leary's in that they had lost a sense of mission. They had given up the hope that mind-altering drugs would revolutionize society. The psychedelic experience was no longer presented as a catalyst of nonconformism and rebelliousness. If, as anthropologists have shown, the ritual use of hallucinogens in tribal societies could also serve to "validate and reify the culture" (Furst 1976: 16), then, another Heffter member argued, Westerners should also be able to use them to reinforce "cultural cohesion and commitment" (Grob 2002: 283). Following these cues, it was the neuroscientific disenchantment and depoliticization of hallucinogen research that rendered its revival possible. Such a narrative of the psychedelic revival-from the idealistic and revolutionary 1960s to the pragmatic and civil 1990s-would affirm historian of science Michael Hagner's (2009) diagnosis of a "neuroscientific Biedermeier."
But the moral terrain of contemporary hallucinogen research is too rugged to fit into any epochal zeitgeist diagnosis. First of all, like Leary's withdrawal from politics into the spiritual realm, the alleged depoliticization qua scientification was itself a political maneuver. In an ideologically charged field like hallucinogen research, professions of soberness and the display of dispassionate objectivity were used rhetorically to reinstate the legitimacy of scientific and therapeutic uses of psychedelics. The intended rapprochement between these ostracized drugs, biomedicine, and the authorities was supposed to change the legal status and the social acceptability of hallucinogen use. Thus, instead of abandoning the psychedelic revolution for good, it was rather transformed into a reform movement, in which Heffter was playing a cautious role as well.
MAPS, on the other hand, presented itself as avowedly political but aimed at translating its enthusiasm not into another cultural civil war but into civic engagement. In a special issue of the MAPS Bulletin dedicated to the organization's vision, Rick Doblin (2002a) first laid out a five-year, five-million-dollar plan for developing MDMA into a prescription medicine to assist the psychotherapeutic treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. MAPS was particularly interested in the treatment of soldiers and police officers: "We want to show that MDMA can be helpful for people in the heart of the power structure, in the mainstream," Doblin (2007) explained their strategy in an interview. A second article of the special issue represented MAPS' politicospiritual vision. Significantly, the latter was not written by Doblin or any other member of the psychedelic community. To emphasize the reconciliation of psychedelia with "the Establishment," MAPS reprinted a speech delivered by a member of the US House of Representatives. "Though definitely not written as a psychedelic manifesto," MAPS introduced Dennis Kucinich's piece as "one of the clearest examples of the political implications of mystical experience," also reflecting MAPS' own utopian hopes: "There is an idealism at the core of the psychedelic community that is difficult to explain. It's based in part on the conviction that even partial unitive mystical experiences, whether or not catalyzed by psychedelics, can have a transformative effect. The hope is that the lasting effects of these experiences include more tolerance and appreciation of diversity of all kinds, enhanced environmental awareness, solidarity with the poor and oppressed, and a willingness to work through difficult emotions rather than project them onto an external enemy or scapegoat" (MAPS' lead-in in Kucinich 2002: 19). Thereby, MAPS took up Leary's psychobiologization of political problems and his advocacy of the psychedelic experience as contributing to their solution. Pharmacospirituality was meant to promote peace: "Societies more open to psychedelic experiences are likely to be less blind to their own demons and prejudices, and perhaps less likely to wage wars of all types" (Doblin 2003).
However, Doblin refrained from reducing the political spirituality associated with psychedelics to a potentiality lying within the drugs themselves (an essentialist perspective that Richard DeGrandpre  termed "pharmacologicalism"). Even though Doblin told me that "of all psychedelics, MDMA is the most inherently therapeutic, the most inherently warm and loving," he also knew that "Charlie Manson used LSD for brainwashing and to get people to kill"; and he referred to an article in the Israeli press that reported on Hamas fighters using ecstasy from Tel Aviv as "go pills" for their night missions (the anthropological literature is full of examples of hallucinogen use for bellicose purposes [Dobkin de Rios 1984: 213]). "It's not about the drug," Doblin concluded. "It's how you use it. The context is more powerful than the drug."
Despite this more cautious attitude, it is certainly questionable whether MAPS' politicized drug mysticism harmonized with either mainstream science or society. But the casting of psychedelia's countercultural identity engendered a new ethos less antagonistic toward the Protestant ethic of capitalism. It was a this-worldly mysticism that no longer required "dropping out" of society. Instead it tried to translate the experience of unity and transcendence into forms of "active citizenship" (Kucinich 2002: 19). Rather than rejecting the entrepreneurial spirit and wealth generated in the American economy, this new stance sought to enlist the resources of capitalism in the service of advancing the psychedelic agenda. MAPS presented itself as a "membership-based non-profit pharmaceutical company" (Doblin 2002b: 3) and raised money for its projects from successful business people. In this respect, the culture vs. counterculture conflict had indeed been overcome.
When the revival began, drug mysticism could also connect more easily with elements of the Protestant ethic because, in the wake of the 1960s, American Protestantism had changed as well. The discrepancy between the Protestant focus on the scriptures and the drug mystics' emphasis on intense spiritual experience was less pronounced than thirty years earlier. Not just the counterculture, but also the baby boomer generation more broadly had turned toward experience-centered forms of spirituality shared, for example, by evangelical Christianity and the New Age movement (Luhrmann 2003). In his book on the impact of the counterculture on mainline denominations, Mark Oppenheimer (2003: 6) goes so far as to argue that "by the mid 1970s, the counterculture had become the culture."
This new appreciation of religion as experience (rather than normative order) inspired a growing number of attempts to bridge the gap between science and spirituality. Under the rubric of neurotheology, brain researchers began to study the neural correlates of altered states of consciousness induced by meditation, prayer, or transcranial magnetic stimulation (Joseph 2002). When we spoke, Doblin contended "that we have science and religion coming together in a way that they had not since Galileo." The growing attention paid to this encounter had two roots. On the one hand, meditation was considered to be work on the self that led to increased concentration, heightened cognition and awareness, and emotional control. As such it was part of a broader interest in enhancement technologies. The culture of self-improvement provided a common matrix for both neurotheology and cosmetic psychopharmacology. On the other hand, the burgeoning neuroscientific interest in spiritual practices also reflected the changing role of religion in certain corners of the life sciences in the last two decades. Cognitive anthropologists came to acknowledge religious thought as part of human nature, contending that it could be explained in evolutionary terms (Boyer 2001; Atran 2002). After the limited success of two centuries of secularization, they had come to realize that religiosity was unlikely to succumb to the kind of materialist proselytizing practiced by many of their late nineteenth-century predecessors (Hecht 2003; Shapin 2008a). At about the same time, some of the brain researchers who had come of age during the Fourth Great Awakening and had followed the turn toward unchurched forms of spirituality had become powerful figures in their fields, setting their own research agendas. In the last ten or twenty years, the traditionally materialistic field of brain research has become significantly more accommodating toward scientists who break with this ontology and publicly express their belief in a "spiritual reality" (Monastersky 2006).
In fact, such avowals have even helped to obtain funding from private organizations. The Mind and Life Institute, for example, financed experiments, conferences, and retreats exploring the mental activities of Buddhist meditators (Tresch 2011). The Fetzer Institute, founded by a radio and television magnate, funded scientific projects fostering "the awareness of the power of love and forgiveness." And the John Templeton Foundation, run by an evangelical philanthropist, promoted the employment of scientific methods to discover "spiritual realities" (Schüle 2006).
In an academic milieu that provided hospitable niches to those interested in the scientific investigation of religious experiences, a number of researchers came to apply the tools of cognitive neuroscience, especially neuroimaging technologies and electroencephalography, to spiritual practices. Hallucinogen research also profited from this assemblage of science, religion, and philanthropy. The Fetzer Institute, for instance, cofunded a number of psychedelic research projects together with MAPS and the Heffter Research Institute (e.g., Walsh and Grob 2005; Cahn 2006). Partially financed by the Council on Spiritual Practices, Roland Griffiths and colleagues' (2006) study on psilocybin-induced mystical-type experiences mostly replicated the findings of Walter Pahnke's famous Good Friday experiment in a more controlled setting, but it received such a significant amount of media coverage that it brought the return of psychedelic science at major research universities such as Johns Hopkins to the attention of a wider American public. Such neurotheological studies of the physiological correlates of the unio mystica rescued spiritual experiences from the realm of the subjective (or even imaginary), endowing them with some kind of reality. This "reality" was interpreted in two contradictory ways: either as reducing spirituality to an epiphenomenon of neural processes or as proof that the brain could be turned into a sense organ capable of perceiving the immaterial but nonetheless real dimensions revealed in such altered states (d'Aquili and Newberg 2002).
In contemporary neurotheology, an experience-centered spirituality and the heuristic individualism of cognitive neuroscience meet in the abstraction of experience from its social and cultural context. Mysticism is narrowed down to peak experiences and isolated neural events. Thereby it is also stripped of cultural difference and antagonism. This is certainly no big loss if one continues to pursue a "liberation from the cultural self," as Leary (1965: 93) called it in a homage to Huxley. The neurotheological assumption of the universality of mystical experience has been inherited from Huxley's Perennial Philosophy (2004/1944). The notion of philosophia perennis, which Huxley popularized in the twentieth century, is rooted in a tradition even predating Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz's early modern quest for religious unity (Ch. Schmitt 1966). The supposed transcultural nature of drug-induced mystical revelations lends itself to a politics of confessional reconciliation, which had already been the goal of the perennial philosophy in seventeenth-century Prussia (Jordan 1927; Wake et al. 1934; Whitmer 2010). Whereas Leibniz and his contemporaries responded to interconfessional tensions between different Protestant sects, Catholics, and Jews, MAPS promoted psychedelics in America in the face of the political antagonism between liberals and the religious right, which had brought US president George H.W. Bush to power. Doblin (2008) advocated a "global spirituality" that was meant to bridge the divide between organized religion and a scientifically enlightened liberal lifestyle open to drugs: "There is a rise in religious fundamentalism at a time when that world view is more and more difficult to sustain.... The fundamentalists are scared that psychedelics might delegitimize their particular religion, but I think psychedelics can reinvigorate religion and make people appreciate their traditions. Global spirituality is not inherently anti-religion." The political neurotheology of the psychedelic revival oscillated between disenchanted but politically defensive atheism and mystically inspired libertarian activism. In accordance with MAPS' mainstreaming strategy, Doblin deemphasized the marked ideological differences between the reanimated psychedelic movement and the powerful advocates of American conservatism who had also dominated Leon Kass's President's Council on Bioethics (Briggle 2009).
The Global Assemblage of Hallucinogen Research
And yet, even at our meeting in 2010, Rick Doblin was still worried that the political climate would change and that everything MAPS had built up over the past two decades could be torn down again. From the very beginning, such concerns had led the psychedelic revivalists to develop an international strategy. As Doblin told me: "We need multiple places where this stuff is happening. If there is a backlash in any one of them, hopefully there is a refuge elsewhere."
Thus, the revival of psychedelic science was not restricted to the United States. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, new research projects were simultaneously budding in Russia, Britain, Spain, Germany, and Switzerland. Many of the protagonists of this development had known each other for many years through the conferences of the International Transpersonal Association established by the Czech psychedelic researcher Stan Grof in 1978. Grof and his allies promoted a form of psychology that studied self-transcendent aspects of human experience, including those induced by drugs. "They were going all over the world trying to unify scientists over spirituality and looking for a place to start this," Doblin remembered. But not everybody involved in the global reanimation of hallucinogen research was an adherent of transpersonal psychology. In Germany, for example, the group around the biological psychiatrists Manfred Spitzer, Leo Hermle, and Euphrosyne Gouzoulis-Mayfrank was more interested in experimental psychosis than in experimental mysticism. The symposia of the European College for the Study of Consciousness, a virtual institution founded in 1985 by the German psychiatrist Hanscarl Leuner, provided a meeting place for the small but burgeoning scene of European hallucinogen researchers, mostly from Germany and Switzerland. Here, members of different ideological camps came together. Advocates of psycholytic therapy exchanged ideas with basic science researchers, while stern biological psychiatrists spoke to anthropologists practicing neoshamanism.
It did not take long until Europeans and Americans met. In a 1989 newsletter that MAPS sent out to its supporters, Doblin (1989a) mentioned the possibility of conducting MDMA research in the Soviet Union before FDA permission was granted for US studies. A small group of scientists was already active in Moscow and Leningrad. Since 1985, for example, the Russian psychiatrist Evgeny Krupitsky had treated alcoholics and heroin addicts with the hallucinogen ketamine. As the Iron Curtain fell and the USSR began to disintegrate, an opportunity seemed to open up for MAPS: "Soviet state-funded science is in a crisis. It is now possible to assemble a world-class psychedelic research group for a fraction of the cost here in the US" (Doblin 1992).
At about the same time, in 1988, the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health gave permission to a group of physicians, the Swiss Medical Association for Psycholytic Therapy (SAPT; Schweizer Ärztegesellschaft für Psycholytische Therapie), to treat patients with LSD, psilocybin, and MDMA. Doblin was thrilled: "Finally, somewhere in the world, psychotherapeutic research with MDMA is taking place," he wrote in a MAPS newsletter article titled "Switzerland Leads the Way" (Doblin 1989b). He was hopeful that the Swiss experience would help MAPS convince American regulatory agencies of the value of psychedelic research: "The fact that hundreds of patients have been successfully treated with MDMA in Switzerland strengthens the circumstantial case for research into the therapeutic use of MDMA" (1).
When the Heffter Research Institute was founded in 1993, the axis between American and Swiss psychedelic scientists was further consolidated. It was the fiftieth anniversary of Hofmann's discovery of LSD. To mark the occasion, the academic conference "50 Years of LSD" was organized by the Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences and sponsored by Sandoz and the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health. On this occasion, Dave Nichols, Mark Geyer, and Rick Strassman traveled to Switzerland, where they met Spitzer, Hermle, and Gouzoulis from Germany. Soon Geyer's lab began to cooperate with Gouzoulis. Yet a second encounter would turn out to have even greater bearing on the future of Heffter. Franz Vollenweider was a young Swiss researcher building up a laboratory at the Psychiatric University Hospital in Zurich, where he was conducting the first neuroimaging studies on the effects of psilocybin. Nichols remembered that they immediately realized that Vollenweider was very bright and promising-if "a bit scrambled." But in Vollenweider they saw not only a highly talented young brain researcher with a passionate interest in psychedelics but also a potential collaborator who had access to neuroimaging technologies none of their allies in the United States had at their disposal. Even more importantly, Vollenweider was based in Switzerland, a country with a significantly more permissive drug policy and regulatory regime. Despite the optimism Nichols, Geyer, and Strassman were spreading when addressing potential donors, they still felt distressed about the resistance that psychedelic research met in America. After all, Strassman's study had only been approved after struggling for two years with various regulatory bodies, and it was not clear whether other universities would be equally accommodating. Geyer recalled: "After meeting Franz and setting up the collaboration, I first told the Heffter people about this: There is actual research going on in Europe! What we had been frustrated about getting going in the US was happening in Germany and Switzerland."
The fact that Vollenweider could conduct clinical research in Zurich became even more important when Strassman left Heffter. Strassman had been the only person at Heffter with access to a clinical research facility. But he became increasingly dissatisfied with his work. He resented the restrictions imposed by the ethics committee and the pressure to stick to the biomedical model, in which mechanisms were more important than the psychedelic experience (Strassman 2001: 278-293). After pushing through the clinical study, which lent so much credibility to Heffter's enterprise, Strassman also refused to acknowledge Nichols as president of the organization. Claiming a leadership role for himself, he expected his colleagues to join him in New Mexico, where he wanted to build up a center for psychedelic studies. But they refused. Strassman complained: "It was easier to talk about the transformative value of the psychedelic experience than it was to put into practice some of its contents. My colleagues may have had inspiring experiences, but they were not committed to goals that required work and sacrifice" (282). Or, as Geyer told me: "Despite experiences with these compounds, people still had egos to contend with." Eventually, Strassman resigned from his academic position and withdrew from Heffter. He also turned his back on his Buddhist community after they spoke out against his association of psychedelics with spirituality. Instead, he returned to his Jewish roots and began to study the Hebrew scriptures in an attempt to further understand the role of endogenous DMT. In 1996, the Heffter Research Institute integrated Vollenweider's lab as a new site to conduct clinical studies in Switzerland. But how had this small, politically introverted country become so central to the global assemblage of hallucinogen research?
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