Beyond LSD: A Broader Psychedelic Zeitgeist during the Early to Mid-20th Century

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During the 1950s and 1960s, there was a tremendous surge in research into the effects of psychedelic drugs. When discussing this period of research, the discovery of the psychoactive properties of LSD in 1943 is often presented as the main, and sometimes only, driving force of the boom in research. This “Great Person,” or “Great Chemical,” historiographical lens fails to acknowledge other factors that were fundamental in setting the stage for the research. In particular, other psychedelic drugs, such as mescaline, were already being probed for their uses in psychotherapy and as models for psychosis before the effects of LSD had been discovered. Psilocybin and other classical psychedelics had also been discovered by Western researchers around the same time as the synthesis of LSD. Additionally, many of the dominant zeitgeists (e.g., pharmacological, psychoanalytic, and humanistic) in psychology during this period were congruent with psychedelic research. This article argues that while the discovery of LSD may have been a catalyst for psychedelic research in the 1950s and ‘60s, there was a broader psychedelic zeitgeist that deserves acknowledgement for setting the stage.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)210-217
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Psychoactive Drugs
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 27 2019


  • Historiography
  • LSD
  • history of psychology
  • mescaline
  • psychedelic drugs
  • psychedelic zeitgeist


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