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SPEAKERS

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MIKE JAY
Author

Mike Jay is an author and curator who has written widely on the history of psychedelics. His books include Emperors of Dreams: drugs in the nineteenth century (2000; revised ed. 2011); The Atmosphere of Heaven (2007), on the discovery of nitrous oxide; and High Society: mind-altering drugs in history and culture (2010), which accompanied the exhibition he curated at Wellcome Collection, London. More at mikejay.net

ABSTRACT

FROM PEYOTE TO MESCALINE: THE BIRTH OF PSYCHEDELIC SCIENCE
 

In 1891 the peyote cactus was ritually consumed for the first time by a white man, the Smithsonian ethnographer James Mooney. In 1894 it was introduced to medical science in a series of trials on human subjects. By 1897 it had been sampled by America’s most famous neurologist, her leading psychologist and London’s literary and artistic avant-garde. In 1898 its active chemical was successfully isolated and named mescaline.

Western science’s first engagement with a major psychedelic was in many respects bolder and more far-reaching than that of today. It was driven by self-experiment and subjective reportage; it ranged across a broad spectrum of disciplines from medicine to ethnography, biochemistry to aesthetics, psychology to mysticism; and it combined clinical perspectives with those of writers, artists and indigenous peoples.