Are psychedelics invaluable therapeutic medicines, or dangerously unpredictable drugs that precipitate psychosis? Tools for spiritual communion or cognitive enhancers that spark innovation? Activators for one’s private muse or part of a political movement? In the 1950s and 1960s, researchers studied psychedelics in all these incarnations, often arriving at contradictory results. In American Trip: Set, Setting, and the Psychedelic Experience in the Twentieth Century (MIT Press, 2020), Ido Hartogsohn examines how the psychedelic experience in midcentury America was shaped by historical, social, and cultural forces—by set (the mindset of the user) and setting (the environment in which the experience takes place). In this interview, Hartogsohn discusses the roles psychedelics have played worldwide, and what renewed interest in their medical value can offer individuals and society.
Emily Dufton is the author of Grass Roots: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Marijuana in America (Basic Books, 2017). A drug historian and writer, she edits Points, the blog of the Alcohol and Drugs History Society.