cover image Psychonauts: Drugs and the Making of the Modern Mind

Psychonauts: Drugs and the Making of the Modern Mind

Mike Jay. Yale Univ, $32.50 (320p) ISBN 978-0-300-25794-6

Before drugs were deemed to be a social scourge, they were part of a long tradition of experimentation practiced by scientists, artists, and average Joes, contends journalist Jay (Mescaline) in this eye-opening entry. The author argues that contemporary interest in using various substances to explore the “hidden regions of the mind” has roots in practices that peaked in the 19th century. During that time, Sigmund Freud conducted extensive personal research on cocaine, which he believed could reenergize patients who’d become exhausted by the stressors of life, while French physician Jacques-Joseph Moreau took doses of hashish that “plunged him into hours of hallucination” and, he posited, offered him insight into the cognitive state of a mentally ill person. For many scientists, drug experimentation also had an ethical component: subjective experience served as valid data, the thinking went, and no scientist should recommend a drug they hadn’t tried. But the 20th century brought a turn toward objective, measurable data, and soon drugs took on connotations of criminality and moral degradation. The history is captivating, and the author does a great job balancing research with vivid anecdotes and fascinating excerpts from cultural figures’ writings. It’s a welcome reconsideration of the role drugs play in life, medicine, and science. (Apr.)