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Elmira - Steele Memorial Library 1 615.788 SHR Adult NonFiction Book
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Summary

Summary

It's no secret that psychedelic drugs have the ability to cast light on the miraculous reality hidden within our psyche. Almost immediately after the discovery of LSD less than a hundred years ago, psychedelics began to play a crucial role in the quest to understand the link between mind and matter. With an uncanny ability to reveal the mind's remote frontiers and the unmapped areas of human consciousness, LSD and MDMA (better known as Ecstasy) have proven extraordinarily effective in treating anxiety disorders such as PTSD - yet the drugs remain illegal for millions of people who might benefit from them.

Anchoring Tom Shroder's Acid Test are the stories of Rick Doblin, the founder and executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), who has been fighting government prohibition of psychedelics for more than thirty years; Michael Mithoefer, a former emergency room physician, now a psychiatrist at the forefront of psychedelic therapy research; and his patient Nicholas Blackston, a former Marine who has suffered unfathomable mental anguish from the effects of brutal combat experiences in Iraq. All three men are passionate, relatable people; each flawed, each resilient, and each eccentric, yet very familiar and very human.

Acid Test cover the first heady years of experimentation in the fifties and sixties, through the backlash of the seventies and eighties, when the drug subculture exploded and uncontrolled use of street psychedelics led to a PR nightmare that created the drug stereotypes of the present day. Meticulously researched and astoundingly informative, this is at once a personal story of intertwining lives against an epic backdrop, and a compelling argument for the unprecedented healing properties of drugs that have for decades been characterized as dangerous, illicit substances.

Praise for Acid Test

' Acid Test is a superb book. The people Tom Shroder introduces us to are across-the-board fascinating, the reporting he's done is deep and persuasive, and the writing is dazzling. Best of all, though, is what any open-minded reader will feel after finishing Acid Test - In a world of hurt, here is a new version of hope.' David Finkel, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Good Soldiers and Thank You for Your Service

'If you think LSD is a relic of the sixties, or good for nothing except getting high, you need to read this riveting and important book. Tom Shroder is a fine journalist and a terrific writer; in Acid Test , he's written a book that should start a long-overdue national conversation, and someday may help to end a lot of unnecessary suffering.' Dave Barry, author of You Can Date Boys When You're Forty

'A captivating narrative with irresistible characters. It will leave you wondering whether we have the moral right to oppose this breakthrough therapy.' Gene Weingarten, two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Fiddler in the Subway

' Acid Test is a trip of a different kind. Tom Shroder makes the hunt for relief from modern wars' biggest killers - depression and posttraumatic stress disorder - come alive in bright, unforgettable colors, characters, and emotions.' Dana Priest, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter and co-author of Top Secret America

'I read Acid Test with wonder and excitement. Wonder at seeing a controversial topic through Tom Shroder's fresh and lucid eyes. And excitement at the promise of healing that he reveals.' David Von Drehle, author of Rise to Greatness- Abraham Lincoln and America's Most Perilous Year

'Tom Shroder has written a book that is at once captivating and utterly


Author Notes

TOM SHRODER is an award-winning journalist, editor, and author of Old Souls , a classic study of the intersection between mysticism and science. As editor of The Washington Post Magazine , he conceived and edited two Pulitzer Prize--winning feature stories. His most recent editing project, Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State , by Dana Priest and William Arkin, was a New York Times bestseller.


Reviews 2

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* In the 1960s, LSD was hyped and feared. Tripping on acid was dangerously unpredictable. In 1970, the psychedelic drug group including LSD was designated Schedule I (the most restrictive class of controlled substances), the same as heroin. Here journalist Shroder filters the psychedelic world. He explores the use and abuse of these drugs. He examines the motivations and personalities of those who investigate, advocate for, and consume these kinds of psychoactive chemicals. Shroder presents a compelling case for supporting responsible, rigorous research of psychedelic compounds. Although he discusses LSD, mescaline, ibogaine, and psilocybin, it is MDMA (Ecstasy) that garners special attention. That substance shows effectiveness (even after treatment with a single dose) and safety in treating the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but larger studies are necessary. Shroder shares three very different stories about MDMA: a young veteran of the Iraq War suffering from severe PTSD, a compassionate psychiatrist-researcher, and the flamboyant leader of a movement to switch the drug to Schedule III status (which allows prescription by a doctor and permits clinical research). Empty your mind of any preconceptions about psychedelic drugs and enjoy a fascinating trip through the politics, science, history, and promise of these controversial chemical compounds.--Miksanek, Tony Copyright 2014 Booklist


Publisher's Weekly Review

In this psychedelic patchwork of narratives, journalist Shroder (Old Souls) explores the therapeutic possibilities of LSD and Ecstasy (MDMA), and,more broadly,the potential of the human mind. Known as recreational drugs, LSD and MDMA have been proven to treat PTSD and similar anxiety disorders effectively. While Shroder provides scientific support for his arguments, stories trump studies in his descriptions of the prevalence, advantages, and-perhaps most significantly-vivid experiences of drug use. Guided by Shroder's easy narrative tone, readers follow an activist, a marine, and a physician-turned-psychiatrist who developed a philosophy of psychedelic therapy through self-experimentation. Their lives intertwine across an evolving political and cultural climate, as the initial popularity of psychedelics was replaced with widespread backlash and controversy. Although Schroder's story is largely Western, he takes readers all over the world, from the Swiss birthplace of LSD to Iraq, where he relates a soldier's experience with the drug . Readers also learn how popular opinion against psychedelics emerged from misinformation and how this public bias threatens the reception of Shroder's larger message. The debates surrounding the legalization of other currently illicit substances, however, add significance to this brief in favor of psychedelics. Shroder both informs readers about the drugs' shadowy pasts and provides insight into the future of mental health. Agent: Gail Ross, Ross Yoon Agency. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Foreword In 1975 I was a twenty-one-year-old college journalist, home on spring break in Sarasota, Florida, when I noticed a blurb in the local news- paper about a charismatic hippie with a pet wolf who was building himself a spectacular house in the woods near town. I decided to go out and see it for myself. I don't remember anything about the blurb. I doubt it mentioned anything about the inf luence of psychedelic drugs in this project. But I am guessing that I inferred it, because while I didn't much care about techniques of home building--nor would my college-student readers--I was extremely interested in the implications of the psychedelic experience. I'm looking at a taped-together, Xeroxed copy of the story that resulted from that visit. Still no mention of drugs, but there it is between the lines. I wrote about the philosophy of the young builder, a guy named Rick Doblin, just a year older than me. It was about try- ing to live authentically, guided by an inner light rather than society's preconceived ideas; consciously working to discover and create his own destiny rather than trudging along the rutted tracks set before him. These were the kinds of notions floating around a certain subculture in those days; it was evident in the woodland home itself, with its giant, rainbow-themed, spiritually suggestive stained-glass window. Maybe we discussed psychedelics, maybe we didn't. But they were in the air. I myself was not entirely unfamiliar. Under the influence of the psilocybin mushrooms my friends and I had learned to pluck from cow dung in the rural fields not far from campus, then boil into tea and drink, I had seen the world-and myself-from a novel vantage point. It was like being able, for a few precious hours, to climb above your life and view it from on high, a perspective every bit as revealing as seeing a too-familiar landscape from the top of a mountain. Instead of indi­ vidual cornstalks or oak trees or buildings, you saw checkerboard pat­ terns of fields, serpentine forests following the course of a river, villages arrayed around ascending spires of churches. You saw, for once, how it all fit together. One experience stands out in my memory, because it is something that I have carried with me, every day since, for four decades. As the drug took effect, instead of feeling the usual lift, I grew increasingly entangled by anxiety. I began to obsess about an ethical problem I was struggling with, which generalized to feelings of inadequacy in life overall and my inability to find solutions. The more I struggled against these feelings, the weightier and more intractable they seemed. And then s uddenly I had a vision: I saw myself with my arms wrapped around a boulder. I could feel its weight, almost unbearable to hold, and yet I was clinging to it. I knew that the heavy stone consisted of all my doubt s and anxieties, and as I desperately clutched it to my chest, I saw in a flash that part of me chose to be anxious-as a way to avoid making choices and evade responsibility for them. To be free of that awful weight, all I had to do was open my arms, which I did. The stone simply dropped away. Ever since, although it has rarely been easy, I've been able to see negative emotions, on a profound level, as a choice, and the will to let them go as something I could develop, like a muscle. The more I prac­ticed, the better I got, and I no longer needed the mushrooms to do it. There wasn't a moment I decided to stop doing psychedelic drugs. When I left the college environment they became less available, and I gained more responsibilities-a job, a family, a professional reputation­ all of which made any illegal activity, and the potential health risks, unacceptable. But I never lost my interest in those psychedelic experi­ ences, or forgot their profundity, and the lasting good they did me. Ten years after graduation, I had become an editor at the Miami Herald Sunday magazine, Tropic, when I noticed a story in the Tampa newspaper about a perennial college student who was promoting the party drug Ecstasy as a breakthrough in psychotherapy. I did a double take: it was Rick Doblin, the hippie with the house in the woods, the same guy I had written about a decade earlier. I assigned a Herald fea­ ture writer to do a cover story on him. We headlined it: 'A Timothy Leary for the '80s." Twenty years passed. Now I was editor of The Washington Post Magazine, and once again an article that spoke to my lingering interest in the possible positive effects of psychedelics caught my eye. This time it was in the New York Times, about Harvard initiating a study testing the use of MDMA- Ecstasy- to treat anxiety and depression inter­ minal cancer patients. The man sponsoring the study: a very sophisticated-sounding Harvard Kennedy School PhD named Rick Doblin- the hippie in the woods. I got a phone number and Rick answered. When I told him my name, he laughed. He not only remembered me and the two stories from twenty and thirty years earlier, he still had copies of them both. And just that morning, he told me, he'd held up the "Tim Leary" cover of Tropic at a board meeting of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), his nonprofit organization, to demon­ strate how completely he'd remade his image, from a rebellious hippie to the sponsor of cutting-edge scientific research in some of the nation's more conservative institutions. This time I wrote the story myself, focusing on the MAPS­ sponsored research a psychiatrist named Michael Mithoefer was con­ ducting in Charleston, South Carolina, treating with MDMA-assisted psychotherapy mostly female victims of sexual abuse. The story ap­ peared in The Washington Post Magazine in November 2007, and much of it has been adapted here in chapter forty-two. I was pleased enough with the piece as published, but I felt it barely scratched the surface, both because of rapidly accumulating develop­ ments in psychedelic research and because I sensed that the signifi­ cance of any given study could not be fully assessed without a deeper understanding of the people behind the studies, not to mention the century-long struggle of Western culture to come to grips with these powerful and, in some ways, profoundly threatening drugs. This is what I have attempted in Acid Test. Whatever success I have had I owe entirely to the openness and honesty of the principal charac­ ters. Those people listed in the acknowledgments have granted me access to scores of records and privileged documents and agreed to sit for what amounted to a combined total of more than a hundred hours of interviews, unflinchingly answering the most intimate and sensitive questions, revealing things that were personally painful and might very well expose them to negative judgments or significantly compli­ cate their lives. Their reasons for agreeing to all the above are transparent. They accepted my contention that the full and complete disclosure of all the information surrounding the use and abuse of psychedelic drugs, the history of psychedelic therapy, the motivations of the researchers, and the experiences of the subjects is the best argument for continued and extended support of rigorous and responsible investigation. I owe a special debt to those among them who have undergone clinical trials to treat debilitating post-traumatic stress, a disorder that makes it particularly difficult and potentially painful to open up. In particular, I am indebted to Donna Kilgore, Tony Made, and, above all, Nicholas Blackston. They all spent hours reviewing their case his­ tories with me, leaving nothing off the record, as well as giving me permission to listen to or watch voluminous audio- and videotapes of their therapeutic sessions. It is hard to imagine a more naked vulnera­ bility than allowing an outsider to witness hours spent delving into your deepest, most charged and haunting intimacies explored under the powerful effect of MDMA. Yet, these people made that sacrifice willingly, for no other reason than a sense of duty. They felt the ther­ apy benefited them and quite possibly saved their lives, and they believed sharing their stories might help make the therapy available to others. I am moved and awed by their courage. Excerpted from Acid Test: LSD, Ecstasy, and the Power to Heal by Tom Shroder All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.


Table of Contents

Forewordp. xiii
1 Albert (St. Albert's Fire)p. 1
2 Nicolas (A Sign)p. 12
3 Werner and Stan (The Maelstrom of Poe)p. 20
4 Nicholas (What Makes Grass Grow)p. 23
5 Humphry and Aldous (To Fall in Hell or Soar Angelic)p. 27
6 Rick (Brave New World)p. 40
7 Nicholas (Tires, Grille, Kill)p. 51
8 Rick (Hidden Realms)p. 56
9 Nicholas (Dreamland)p. 68
10 Rick (Perilous Terrain)p. 74
11 Nicholas (American Dreams)p. 79
12 Rick (Peak Experiences)p. 84
13 Michael (The Pit)p. 95
14 Nicholas (Taking the Lead)p. 100
15 Rick (Concrete Reality)p. 103
16 Michael (Fertile Soil)p. 111
17 Nicholas ("Man, You're Scared")p. 115
18 Rick (Who Would Be Born)p. 119
19 Michael (Sailing Away)p. 125
20 Nicholas (Going Cyclic)p. 129
21 Rick (Breathing Lessons)p. 136
22 Nicholas (Of Man and Superman)p. 144
23 Rick (Ecstasy and Agony)p. 151
24 Michael (Heal Thyself)p. 158
25 Nicholas ("Got a Light?")p. 164
26 Rick (Forces of Nature)p. 167
27 Michael (Getting to the Root)p. 179
28 Nicholas ("Keep the Glove On")p. 185
29 Rick (Drug Warriors)p. 191
30 Michael (Catnip)p. 206
31 Nicholas (All Gummed Up)p. 213
32 Rick (Full Flower of Depression)p. 222
33 Nicholas (Heavy Duty)p. 226
34 Rick (Hippie of the Year)p. 230
35 Michael (Mather Ibogaine)p. 239
36 Nicholas (Don't Forget to Check Your Guns)p. 243
37 Rick (Machine Elves)p. 246
38 Nicholas (The Maniac In the Mirror)p. 257
39 Rick (Earthquakes and Rainbows)p. 261
40 Michael ("Are You a Psychiatrist?")p. 279
41 Nicholas (Have a Plan)p. 295
42 Michael (Getting Crocked)p. 300
43 Roland Griffiths (A Heating Void)p. 323
44 Nicholas (The Vicious Cycle)p. 337
45 Michael (The Peace Drug)p. 342
46 Nicholas (The Web of Life)p. 352
47 Rick ("Our Lives and Time")p. 392
48 Nicholas (Semper Fl)p. 402
Acknowledgmentsp. 411
Indexp. 413
About the Authorp. 427

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