Book Review of Ido Hartogsohn's American Trip: Set,Setting, and the Psychedelic Experience in the Twentieth Century
American Trip is at once an erudite and readable social history of psychedelics in North America with special attention to Set and Setting as it shaped not only individual psychedelic experiences during the Sixties
Also the psychedelic experience of the society at large, and its impact upon psychiatry, fashion, art, music, and the digital revolution. Taking lead from Grateful Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow, Assistant Professor of Science, Technology, and Society Ido Hartogsohn elaborates how in the 1960's, America itself went on one epic acid trip.Beginning with Albert Hofmann's serendipitous rediscovery of LSD in Basel, Switzerland on April 19, 1943, and Hofmann's own initial personal experiences with LSD, we learn of the efforts of his employer, Sandoz Pharmaceuticals, to market LSD as Delsyd, and twenty years later, also psilocybin, as psychotomimetic drugs which mimic psychosis, and so, provide psychiatrists or other mental health professionals with insight into the mental operations of their psychotic and schizophrenic patients. This model led to a flourishing of basic and clinical research into psychedelics in Canada and the United States with eventually most of that research being funded by the US military or US intelligence agencies, who were interested in the potential of the psychotomimetics, i.e., LSD and its congeners, as either psychochemical weapons, or as means for gathering intelligence. In this way, healthy volunteers, including Ken Kesey, were recruited, while others were given the drug covertly and unsuspectingly.Soon, though, it became clear to many, both subjects and experimenters, that the drugs were exerting not only disorienting effects, but also beneficent ones.
The new psychedelic therapy as practiced in America, as opposed to parallel low dose psycholytic therapies practiced in Europe, began to emerge, with a veritable paradigm shift occurring. In the new view, the drugs had therapeutic benefits, which could be potentiated and be provided with a better chance of occuring if set and setting were carefully and humanely cultivated.Hartogsohn also explores the psychedelic culture and counterculture that developed, and the great impact of the classical psychedelics in the arts, and later in Silicon Valley. Experiments were conducted with controlled sets and settings designed to maximize the creative benefit of the drugs for solving technological problems.
The theme of co-creation is emphasized, since the prevailing culture (the American Dream) influenced the nature of the psychedelic experiences, whilst the psychedelic experiences inexorably bore their way back into the culture, changing it, and vice versa, through positive feedback, until the proverbial camel could take no more.The author then reports upon the great cessation of research into psychedelics that was decreed in the US on October 24, 1968, grinding the wheels of progress to a screeching halt. For over twenty years, like Rip Van Winkle, the work slept, or went underground, until the rekindling of scientific research and clinical usage in the present "psychedelic renaissance" stretched its legs and began its first tentative steps after its long rest.The last chapter allows Set and Setting to rise and shine. Set and Setting is not just a principle for clinical psychedelic pharmacology, which it most emphatically is, but for pharmacy and pharmacology in general, and actually, for life itself Were the War on Drugs cognizant of its meaning, a softer, gentler, and more educational tone could effect true harm reduction during real time psychedelic experiences, which, like all experiences, are context-bound by Set and Setting.American Trip provides a measured and fluid overview of the 1960's and the psychedelic experience in America, from an academic perspective. Harvard University, at which Hartogsohn did.his postdoctoral fellowship in Science, Technology, and Society (STS), cites on its website the publication of Thomas Kuhn's 1962 The Structure of Scientific Revolutions as a defining moment in the field of STS, which actually had its beginnings in the interwar years. Hargosohn's paradigm-shifting treatise will be of value not only to those in the social sciences, but especially, perhaps, to physicians, pharmacologists, pharmacists, and other clinicians and researchers involved with the use of drugs, especially psychoactive drugs, and most especially psychedelic drugs, in patient care, or research. American Trip will be a suitable textbook for courses on the subject of psychedelics and the Sixties in America, and as well a potent adjuvant to the study of the extra-pharmacological factors that influence and define drug experience, especially but not limited to psychedelic drug experience. Hartogsohn has succeeded in elevating Set and Setting to the level it deserves within the annals of psychopharmacology and the phenomenology of consciousness.The lessons to be learned from American Trip for the participants and practitioners of the psychedelic renaissance are many, but the implications extend to all of medicine, and even to all of life. Since set and setting have such tremendous impact upon shaping experience, it would be worthwhile to cultivate them carefully and thoroughly, when possible, prior to instituting treatments of any kind.
The patient should be assisted through counseling, guiding, or psychotherapy, which may include hypnosis and / or relaxation training, to achieve a positive set, short for a positive mind-set, prior to treatment. This may take a little time, but it will be time well spent. In charting clinical encounters, the therapist should record specifically the set of the patient about to undergo the treatment, be it a psychedelic session or a surgical procedure, or whatever. Set matters. And so does setting ! The wise healer not only helps their patient to prepare for the session, but also optimally readies the session room and ambience for the patient. Again, this pertains whether for an LSD session in a comfortably appointed therapy chamber, or surgery in a gleaming theatre of operations.
The health care delivery team that is aware of the importance of set and setting will take the time to care, and so optimize, in the end, the patient's experience and the clinical outcome. Set and Setting. Pharmacology 101.
The principles have been well known for many years, but Harogsohn's persistent and evocative book brings them forth in poignant and memorable relief. .
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