Psychedelic Revolutionaries

Three Medical Pioneers, the Fall of Hallucinogenic Research and the Rise of Big Pharma

P.W. Barber


A fascinating investigation into a very strange episode of scientific history. P.W. Barber tells the story of the invention, practice and downfall of psychedelic psychiatry, revealing how it shaped twentieth century understanding of mental health.

The post-World War II era was a tumultuous period in the world of psychiatry. Medical history has cast it as a clash between biology and psychoanalysis or as a time that lacked objectivism, that is until the introduction of psychotropic drugs such as chlorpromazine which triggered a change in our treatment of mental health as profound and far-reaching in its consequences as the war itself. In the early years of this psychopharmacological revolution, hallucinogens such as mescaline and LSD played as much of a role as other psychotropics. In fact, psychedelics constituted a scientific revolution in their own right, one that does not however fit the narrative of twentieth century scientific history.

Looking beyond the countercultural manifestations and references that have for decades obfuscated the psychedelic story, historian P.W. Barber delves into a serious examination of both the science and the people behind the research. Showing why and how this experimentation unfolded, what its findings were and how these findings were received both within and outside the scientific community, Psychedelic Revolutionaries completely resets a long-misunderstood history  by following the work of three pioneering psychiatrists - Humphry Osmond, who coined the term ‘psychedelic’ and administered Aldous Huxley his first dose of mescaline, Abram Hoffer and Duncan Blewett, also known as the ‘Leary of the North’. 

While considering how it is that scientific discoveries become accepted as established truths, Barber invites us to ask: what is it that makes a scientific discovery revolutionary?

Author Bio

Patrick Wayne Barber has spent the better part of a decade researching, pondering, and writing on the history of hallucinogenic science in Saskatchewan, the birthplace of "psychedelic." He lives in Buena Vista, Saskatchewan.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Part I: Psychedelic Science: The Saskatchewan Experiments (1951-61)
    • 1. Model Psychoses and the Adrenochrome Hypothesis
    • 2. Psychiatric Paradigm Clash
    • 3. Beginning Hallucinogenic Therapy
    • 4. The Other World: Psychedelic Therapy
    • 5. New Frontiers in Psychedelic Research
  • Part II: The Scientific Fallout: Psychedelic Science on Trial (1961-75)
    • 6. The Great Schizophrenia Controversy
    • 7. LSD: A New Hope for Alcoholism?
    • 8. Psychedelic Drug Research, the CIA, and the ’60s Counterculture
  • Epilogue


‘One of the great tragedies of the post-war era is how psychedelic research died in the heat of the cold war – and how psychedelics were abused by US authorities. But that is only a fraction of the history of psychedelics. To get the full picture you have to do just one thing: drop LSD – or read this book!’
Norman Ohler, author of Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany

‘A fascinating and detailed history of how psychiatry, psychotherapy and neuropharmacology have long been inextricably linked with psychedelic experiments. Thoroughly researched and written with style, the book makes for an eye-opening and engrossing read.’
Łukasz Kamieński, author of Shooting Up: A History of Drugs in Warfare

‘Barber shines light on a fascinating period of scientific history which inspired a cultural revolution. This book delves into the lives of the Saskatchewan scientists, and the major influence their early LSD research had on psychiatry, biochemistry, and scientific ethics.’
Amanda Feilding, Director of the Beckley Foundation

‘Barber beautifully transcends the oft relied upon tropes of psychedelic culture in order to contextualize and honor a foundational, often overlooked chapter in psychedelic history.’
Sean Dunne, documentary filmmaker and director of Oxyana

'An intimate look into the early pioneering LSD research of Abram Hoffer, Humphrey Osmond, and Duncan Blewett, showing how they laid the groundwork upon which today’s modern science of psychedelics rests. A must read for anyone wishing to understand the history of LSD.’
David E. Nichols, founder and Chairman of the Board, Heffter Research Institute

‘A major contribution.’
Ben Sessa, author of The Psychedelic Renaissance


Publication Date: 15 June 2018
410 pages

Not available in: Canada, United States

Product ISBNs: Paperback: 9781786994363
Hardback: 9781786994356
eBook ePub: 9781786994387
eBook PDF: 9781786994370
eBook Kindle: 9781786994394

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