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An Excerpt from:
The History of Psychedelic Therapy with the Dying
by Stanislav Grof & Joan Halifax
1977
Our experience with persons dying of incurable diseases has been closely associated with the development of psychedelic therapy, a comprehensive program of brief psychotherapy utilizing mind-altering substances such as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and dipropyltryptamine (DPT). Although this treatment is a direct outgrowth of modern pharmacological and clinical research, it has close parallels in various contemporary non-Western cultures and its roots reach back to prehistory and the shamanic rituals and healing ceremonies of many ancient civilizations.

The first suggestion that psychedelic substances could be useful in the therapy of individuals dying of incurable diseases came from pediatrician Valentina Pavlovna Wasson. After many years of intensive ethnomycological studies, she and her husband, Gordon Wasson, became interested in the use of psychedelic mushrooms in pre-Columbian cultures and in contemporary Central America. They made several field trips to Mexico to explore this issue, and finally in June 1955 they became the first Westerners to be admitted to a sacred ritual conducted by the Mazatec curandera, or medicine woman, Maria Sabina. The Wassons were deeply impressed by the powerful effect of the mushrooms that they ingested in this ceremony. Roger Heim, the French mycologist whose aid the Wassons sought, identified the mushrooms botanically as Psilocybe mexicana and its congeners; he then sent samples to the laboratories of the Swiss pharmaceutical company, Sandoz, for chemical analysis.

In 1957 Valentina Pavlovna Wasson gave an interview in This Week magazine about the history of this discovery and her own experience after the ingestion of the Mexican sacred mushrooms. She expressed the opinion that if the active agent could be isolated and a sufficient supply assured, it might become a vital tool in the study of psychic processes. She also stated that as the drug would become better known, medical uses would be found for it, perhaps in the treatment of alcoholism, narcotic addiction, mental disorders, and terminal diseases associated with severe pain. Several years later a team of researchers working in Baltimore independently tested the validity of her unusual vision. A group of psychiatrists and psychologists at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center who were not familiar with the article in This Week conducted systematic studies of psychedelic therapy with LSD, a drug closely related to psilocybin, for exactly the same indications that Valentina Wasson predicted. We ourselves were surprised to discover the newspaper clipping in Gordon Wasson's library during a 1974 visit to his home.