Lesson Plan

Hallucinogens as Treatment?


This 11-minute video shows students how LSD was once a legal and widely studied drug whose potential uses attracted the attention of psychiatrists, the C.I.A., and the U.S. military. After becoming intertwined with the youth culture of the 1960s, it was banned, and research was largely suspended. The video connects this past with an emerging future in which researchers are pioneering new ways to use hallucinogens in monitored clinical settings for patients with stubborn symptoms. Useful as a way of illustrating the controversies surrounding the classification of psychoactive drugs, the video fits in well with units focused on the biological bases of behavior and the physiological and psychological effects of drugs.

Content Advisory:

This video includes depictions of illegal drug use.


  • How LSD was researched by scientists and the U.S. government during the 1950s and 60s.
  • How the recreational use of LSD became intertwined with the youth culture of the 1960s, and how this led to its prohibition under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.
  • How modern researchers are exploring the therapeutic uses of hallucinogens within clinical settings.
  • Social Studies
  • Psychology
  • Science
  • Civics & Government
  • U.S. History
  • Cultural and Social Change
  • Domestic Policies
  • Richard Nixon
  • 1950s America
  • 1960s America
  • 1970s America
  • War on Drugs
  • Health
  • The Modern Era (1980-Present)
  • The Postwar Era (1945-1980)
For Teachers

Introducing the Lesson

LSD, or lysergic acid diethylamide, is often remembered as the hallucinogenic drug that gave 1960s America hippies, Dr. Timothy Leary, and so many bad health effects that it was banned.

But that perception is only part of the story. LSD entered the national consciousness in January, 1967, when thousands gathered in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco to celebrate the birth of a new culture based on peace, love, and psychedelic drugs.

Leary, a former Harvard professor turned prophet for consciousness raising through LSD, urged the crowd in San Francisco: “Turn on, tune in, drop out.”

The message took hold for thousands of teenagers who streamed into San Francisco over the next few years, making the city the center of 1960s counterculture.

But the fallout quickly followed, as the street-use of LSD filled the media with reports of bad trips, damaged chromosomes, and accidental deaths.

In 1970, the Controlled Dangerous Substances Act banned LSD and other hallucinogens as dangerous drugs with “no accepted medical use.”

The Act dried up funding for promising clinical research that had been ongoing since the 1950s and which had indicated that hallucinogens could be effective in treating a range of mental disorders.

Within the last few years, though, there has been renewed interest in the therapeutic use of hallucinogens, as dozens of clinical studies have indicated they can be effective in treating drug addiction and chronic depression.

For some who have benefited from such clinically-administered treatments, the experience is not about “turning on” or “dropping out, but rather tuning in to oneself.

Essential Questions

  • How did LSD become a street drug in the late 1960s? Who was Timothy Leary? How did LSD become intertwined with the 1960s counter-culture?
  • In 1970, how was LSD classified under the Controlled Substances Act? What “schedule” was it included in? How did this affect medical and scientific research of the drug?
  • Before LSD became an illegal drug, why were research psychiatrists experimenting with it? Why were the C.I.A. and the U.S. Army interested in it?
  • What therapeutic uses of hallucinogens are being explored by modern researchers?

Lesson Procedure

  • Why do you think LSD was frightening to President Nixon and Ronald Reagan? Why do you think hallucinogens like LSD are sometimes perceived by authority figures as more disturbing to the social order than depressants or stimulants?
  • What is the difference between recreational self-dosing with hallucinogens, and the use of hallucinogens within a controlled clinical setting? How do managers of a clinical setting limit the risks of hallucinogens, while enhancing potential therapeutic benefits?
  • The U.S. military experimented with LSD to see how it would affect soldiers in battle. Why do you think they ultimately chose not to dose soldiers with LSD prior to combat?
  • Do you think LSD or other hallucinogens will become a routine aspect of psychiatric care in your lifetime? Why, or why not? Given the psychoactive properties of hallucinogens, why is it more complicated to treat patients with hallucinogens than with standard psychotherapeutic drugs like anti-depressants?

Additional Resources

Transcript for "LSD Gets Another Look"Retro Report 
“LSD-Like Drugs Are Out of the Haze and Back in the Lab”Retro Report 
Audio Interview: "LSD Gets Revival as Scientific Research Turns Psychedelic"WNYC 

Describe how biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors influence behavior.

1.1: Explain how psychological treatments have changed over time and among cultures.

Skill 1.B: Explain behavior in context.

Questions? Tips? Concerns? Reach out to our Director of Education, David Olson: dolson@retroreport.com