Psychedelics & Pop Culture
Updated: Aug 29, 2022
Psychedelics have recently become a sensational phenomenon in our culture and society at large. With the resurgence of research into these compounds the traditional “drugs are bad” view perpetuated by programs like “Your Brain on Drugs” (Your Brain on Drugs… Your Brain on Science.. get it??? haha) view is being challenged and transformed in a new way.
We're talking about western society and culture here, because many indigenous cultures have long had practices surrounding psychedelics and engage with these compounds in a completely different way. In the western world however, let's be real -- psychedelics have had a long and often arduous relationship with pop culture. They have been perhaps one of the most talked about drugs, especially now, with so many new documentaries and spotlights on celebrities coming out with stories of their own psychedelic experiences. There has been a few pivotal moments in history that have defined and redefined psychedelics in pop culture and society- lets talk about em.
A poster from "The Acid Trips"
We will begin our journey in the good ol’ 60’s. This was known to many as THE psychedelic era. Music, film and art was heavily influenced by drugs such as psilocybin and LSD creating the original psychedelia. This 1960’s counterculture featured a revolutionary music scene, in part created by Ken Kesey, an author who also partook in the CIA led experiments with LSD known as MK-Ultra. After his experiences Kesey wanted to bring this
drug to the masses. He did so through what we know now as "The Acid Tests." These were legendary parties with lights, costumes, LSD, and a band called The Grateful Dead. The small time band from Palo Alto would go on to become part of the unofficial soundtrack to the psychedelic era, a musical score for the flower children of the time. Through these Acid Tests Kesey garnered quite a band of acid acolytes, which became known as the Merry Pranksters. They decided that they would bring psychedelics to the country and by driving their bus from California to New York in time for the 1965 World's Fair and left psychedelic chaos in their wake. Despite their message of love, openness, acceptance, and connectedness with the human condition many thought these were hallucination induced delusions and often they were met with derision. A derision we see to this day.
The Merry Pranksters
Just Say NO
This pushback is perhaps cultivated by the government campaign to bring awareness to the harms of drug use by completely maligning drug use and inciting fear and panic in the people. With the inception of the War on Drugs in 1970 and the “Just Say No” platform Ronald and Nancy Raegan promoted, there was cultivation of public distrust of these compounds. Not only did this completely halt the research and investigations into these compounds but began to spread misinformation about the toxicity of these drugs. Pop culture became heavily influenced by the “This is your brain on drugs” campaign launched in 1987 which was a large-scale anti-narcotics campaign initiated by Partnership for a Drug-Free America. Psychedelics became an underground culture and popularity and acceptance of these drugs plummeted just ~40 years after the discovery of LSD. Most of the portrayal of psychedelics in this period and somewhat to this day are not actually reflective of the experience, but instead an exaggeration of these drugs effects on perception.
We continue to experience the effects of the War on Drugs socioeconomically however, public opinion is changing. There has been a seismic shift in the social and cultural view of psychedelic drugs in part mediated by the resurgence of research but also the openness of celebrities. Miley Cyrus openly discussed Ayahuasca:
“I think Ayahuasca is healing... I loved what it did for me.”
Similarly, Aaron Rodgers came out as one of the first top active athletes to talk about his experience and when asked about it mentioned:
“A lot of healing went on...it unlocked a lot of my heart.”
In an industry such as NFL, which is not known for their mental health awareness, this statement from Rodgers made headlines and effected many staunch non-believers. Among the others to discuss psychedelic use is Mike Tyson, who makes notable monetary contributions to the study of these compounds due to the life changing experiences he has had himself. His journey with psychedelics began about 5 years ago with various compounds ranging from mushrooms to toad venom which he has purportedly done 53 times. He says:
“In my trips I've seen that death is beautiful. Life and death both have to be beautiful, but death has a bad rep...The toad has taught me that I'm not going to be here forever. There's an expiration date.”
This self reflection and inward work was transformative for the champion boxer. Amongst these notable societal influencers there are so many others like Megan Fox, Seth Rogan, Chelsea Handler, and Kerry Rhodes who are now more outspoken about their experiences. This is by no means an exhaustive list of celebrities that have come out with their own stories.
Some current psychedelics documentaries
This post could go on for days with all the important moments in history and pop culture for psychedelics but we will leave you with this- there is a changing in the tides . There is more known scientifically, historically, socioeconomically about these compounds than there has ever been and we think we are in for a lot more in this new wave psychedelia. We will be here ready to document and report to you all!