After nearly four decades of fun and fear, personal insight and political infamy, LSD is getting back on-track as an adjunct to psychotherapy, boost to creativity, sacrament for direct religious experience, and a method of mapping the human mind.
How did LSD start out? What benefits did it promise? How did it get sidetracked? Most importantly, is it getting back on-track? With interviews of many of LSD’s pioneers and archival footage from the 50s and 60s, Hofmann’s Potion addresses these questions with the voices of people who were there.
Several themes interweave in this film to address these issues. LSD’s early days appear in an interview with Albert Hofmann as he sees LSD as a way to explore some inborn capacities of the human mind, as an agent for freeing them, and as an antidote to the nuclear bomb. Myron Stolaroff recounts his judgment that LSD was the most important discovery ever made, and later he recounts his legal LSD work at a facility in Menlo Park, California.
To explore the theme of adjunct treatment for alcoholism, schizophrenia, and other mental problems, Stanislav Grof describes some of his early work in Prague and later at Maryland Psychiatric Research Center. Archival film of the Saskatchewan group catches the movement from a purely psychodynamic view of mental illness to one that includes brain-based approaches to psychological illness and their cures.
The religious theme picks up Al Hubbard’s evangelical proselytizing, even involving some members of Western Canada’s Catholic hierarchy. Hubbard thought LSD could save the world, and started out to turn on “the captains of industry and the princes of the church.” One of the claims that caused problems for LSD was its possible entheogenic role in uncovering the spiritual dimensions of humanity and – as Aldous Huxley called it – a “gratuitous grace” for people who are spiritually lucky.
The discovery – now commonplace – that set and setting are major factors in people’s LSD experiences advanced the understanding of LSD and helped account for its varied effects. But just at this time LSD hit the streets and Timothy Leary makes an appearance here via archival film. As a “brilliant entrepreneur of notions” (Osmond), Leary became the symbol of misuse and “the most dangerous man in America” (Nixon, not on the tape). This lead to LSD’s political infamy and a bonanza for vote-getters: politicians prohibited professional research and (unintentionally) promoted street use.
With its all-star cast – Albert Hofmann, Stanislav Grof, Laura Huxley, Humphry Osmond, Abram Hoffer, Myron Stolaroff, Duncan Blewett, Ram Dass, and Ralph Metzner—Director Connie Littlefield’s Hofmann’s Potion chronicles and demystifies major psychedelic events of the 50s, 60s, and 70. Archival footage of Aldous Huxley, Humphry Osmond, and Timothy Leary captures the excitement of those decades and raises questions about possible useful uses of psychedelics in therapy and religion today.
Where does Hofmann’s potion go from here? As Ralph Metzner points out, other societies incorporate psychedelics within their cultural bounds. Will we do so? Albert Hofmann observes: “Some things take years and years and years to finally find the right solution. I am convinced LSD will find the place it needs in the human culture.” By dispelling public ignorance surrounding LSD, by dispersing irrational fears, and maybe even by defusing political opportunism, Hofmann’s Potion takes us a few steps towards Hofmann’s hope. It may help get the LSD back on-track for responsible research and carefully controlled beneficial, applications.
I use Hofmann’s Potion in my Foundations of Psychedelic Studies class. It’s one of my favorites and the classes’ too. It would also inform and delight classes in sociology, philosophy, drug policy, political science, popular culture, the health professions, psychology, and psychiatry. Hofmann’s Potion is an excellent cross-disciplinary addition to university and medical schools’ tape libraries.
Connie Littlefield, the director, deserves a big “Congratulations and Thank You” for this fine film. It is well-composed, both in content and artistically. Beautiful shots of the prairie, water reflecting light, and other nature scenes raise the tape to an artistic step above the usual documentary. I recommend it for personal interest and as an introduction to psychedelics for college classes and other groups who are unfamiliar with psychedelics’ history and possible uses in addictions, alcoholism, and psychotherapy. It should be in university video libraries.
Thomas B. Roberts
Northern Illinois University
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