High Society: Can Dope Give Us Hope?

high societyGraham Hancock recently blogged for boingboing on the recent resurgence of the use of psychedelic drugs in medical research. Now there is an exhibit in London at the Wellcome Collection entitled “High Society.” The official description says:

From ancient Egyptian poppy tinctures to Victorian cocaine eye drops, Native American peyote rites to the salons of the French Romantics, mind-altering drugs have a rich history. ‘High Society’ will explore the paths by which these drugs were first discovered – from apothecaries’ workshops to state-of-the-art laboratories – and how they came to be simultaneously fetishised and demonised in today’s culture.

Jake Wallis Simons reviews the exhibit for the Telegraph:

…this Thursday, the Wellcome Trust will open the doors on High Society, an exhibition exploring the history of mind-altering drugs. In keeping with the Wellcome ethos, the exhibition blends a scientific and cultural approach, with curiosities such as a 20 metre opium pipe – an installation by the Chinese artist Huang Yong Ping – sitting alongside more scientific (if no less bizarre) exhibits, such as a Nasa experiment that studied the strange webs spiders spin after they are given different types of drugs.

Amid the debate about drugs, one thing is often ignored: their surprising potential in medicine. Most people are familiar with the idea that cannabis can be used therapeutically, chiefly in relieving pain or the nausea caused by chemotherapy, but also to moderate autoimmune and neurological disorders. But according to Amanda Feilding, Countess of Wemyss and director of the Beckley Foundation – a charity that promotes research into drugs and consciousness – we have not fully harnessed its potential. “The prohibition of the past 50 years has dramatically slowed the advancement of knowledge in the area,” she says. “In combating the recreational use of cannabis, the baby has been thrown out with the bath water.”

More surprising is the fact that harder drugs may also have therapeutic potential. Class A substances such as LSD and ecstasy, Feilding claims, may have a wealth of health benefits. “We need to wash these substances of their taboo by using the best science,” she says. “Opium and heroin are already widely used in hospitals. Hallucinogenic drugs, however, are victims of a prohibition that came into place in the Sixties.”

Feilding is something of a fringe figure, having earned the nickname “The Cannabis Countess” from the tabloids, and pioneered the art of trepanation, or drilling a hole in the cranium (in order to expand one’s consciousness). But hers is not an isolated view: the past five years have seen an increase in psychedelic research, to the extent that a full scientific conference is being organised on the topic in April.

“The potential of Class A hallucinogens for clinical use is tantalising,” says Mike Jay, curator of the exhibition…

[continues in the Telegraph]

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