In the 1960s, a psychologist and former Harvard teacher named Timothy Leary coined the phrase ‘Turn on. Tune in. Drop out.’ The slogan was inspired by advertising jingles, but Leary wasn’t pushing a product, he was promoting a drug: LSD.
LSD was little more than a scientific curiosity in the early 1960s when Leary first took it. Developed by a Swiss pharmaceutical company, the drug had been sent out into the world in the 1940’s and 50’s with no clear idea of what it might do. At first, researchers used LSD to mimic psychosis in an attempt to study the origins and nature of schizophrenia. It was also given surreptitiously to soldiers in the search for a military application. But the most promising use of LSD was as an aide in psychotherapy, particularly when aimed at problems like alcohol addiction or depression and anxiety in terminal cancer patients.
And then along came Timothy Leary. He had conducted research at Harvard with psilocybin, another psychedelic drug derived from mushrooms. But after trying LSD, he became convinced the drug had even greater potential beyond the scientific realm and began preaching that young people could change their lives with an LSD trip. Before long, as the drug grew more popular, the stories about the dangers of recreational street use grew an it was declared a schedule one drug – the class of highly dangerous drugs with high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use.
But today, scientists are studying psychedelics once again, in the latest twist in the long, strange story of LSD.