The Popularization of Psychedelic Drugs

The popularization of psychedelic drugs


The Psychedelic drug culture is a spliced entity in the 21st century. On the one hand there is law based on speculation and bad science that stipulates harsh penalties for their use. On the other, a section of society being rapidly isolated and distanced because of the beliefs and rituals they hold their own.


The roots of this modern conception lay in the early 20th century when science took an interest in psychedelic drugs; but it rapidly mutated in the 1960’s when they went through a popularization in the counter-culture.


 As a discourse originally re-evaluated in terms of scientific structure, psychedelic drugs soon changed shape into being an emblem of counter-movements, individualism and progressive liberal thinking.


So how did a revolution in the popular understanding of psychedelic drugs produce a society now obsessed by its meta-values as law and morality?     


Early drug experimenters had a clear goal: “Watts and Huxley wanted to recapture the value of neglected cultural traditions for which no disciplined method of study existed. The method they proposed was the systematic cultivation of states of abnormal consciousness that approached these traditions by out-flanking the discursive, logic chopping intellect.”[i] By doing so they prepared an ordered and easily transmutable reason for the existence of psychedelic drugs.


But the scientific approach by Aldous Huxley and alike soon went through a cultural popularization in the 1960’s. The counter-culture arose for a variety of reasons , none of which we are going to investigate here, but suffice to say that every movement needs its leading lights, it’s facets. In the case of the so-called ‘hippy’s’ books like ‘The doors of perception & Heaven and Hell’ by Huxley came to be a standard textbook for that generation (and many since.)


Psychedelic drugs are, by their nature, insular, introverted and self-aware. Science attempted to ratify their use by analysis and self-reflection under condition. Whilst trying to control something of this type, personally, may be impossible, keeping it generated as a personal experience was the real triumph of the scientific approach. It didn’t alienate the experience. But as the research was published on both sides of the Atlantic (both in forms of creative non-fiction and scientific discourse) it was interpreted differently by the growing movement of counter-culture.


For a group of youth and young-minded people it was a simple question: “Why should they not be used as a kind of psychic depth charge with which to open up courses of perception that have become severely log-jammed due to the entrenched cerebral habits of our western intelligence?”[ii] For the youth culture, freedom of expression movement and, of course, the hippy’s drugs became synonymous with the popular counter-culture as a sign of rebellion.


The academic counter-culture lost grip of societies blossoming view of psychedelic  drugs and consequentially, they became a symbol of an objective fight for freedom, as opposed to what academics might have said was a reasoned approach to the experimentation of subjectivity. The experiment performed by mass-culture was to apply a personal experience universally. Ultimately this caused modern society’s dichotomy


As the movement waned, so to did its validity as a part of western culture and many of the beliefs it stood for, in opposition of State value, became easy targets for policy makers. Psychedelic drugs lost their popular backing but had already become a necessary form of control for what had become an extinct popular rising. We, the children of this era, are left to contend with a system that doesn’t deal with us personally, and unfairly discriminates against a minority of people using psychedelics. Popularization only led to the killing of a utilitarian harm principle.


One academic counter-culturalist said of drugs: “If one turns to the underground weeklies, one is likely to find much the same narrow obsession with psychedelic problems and paraphernalia. The letters columns bubble with news brews; some of them positively blood curdling. Editorials exaggerate the narcotics laws and dodging the narcotics squad into the Alpha and Omega of politics.”[iii] We are left to decide how best to defend ourselves against the moral high-ground of a past generation, without similarly falling into the trappings of a dated cultural stereotype.


Article originally featured in Fallyrag:


[i] ROSZAK, THEODORE (1995) The making of a counter-culture: University of California Press – Page 158

[ii] ROSZAK, THEODORE (1995) The making of a counter-culture: University of California Press  – Page 158

[iii] ROSZAK, THEODORE (1995) The making of a counter-culture: University of California Press  – Page 162

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