Enter the shamans of science and the psychonauts of psychiatry

In the spirit of psychedelic psychotherapy, child and adolescent psychiatrist Ben Sessa begins The Psychedelic Renaissance by describing his own journey—the libertarian, creative childhood, through a near-death experience to raves and hippie hangouts, and into a medical career in which he became keen to understand the traumatic roots of mental illness, especially when pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy failed to reach many of his patients. Alongside his psychiatric studies, Sessa read of psycholytic lysergide (LSD) therapy in the 1950s, when British psychiatrist Ronald Sandison brought home some of the first LSD being distributed to interested psychiatrists by its discoverer, the then Sandoz chemist Albert Hofmann.

Before his death in 2010, Sandison described to Sessa the excitement of an era when psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy seemed to be the next big thing in psychiatry for otherwise treatment-resistant patients. In the USA especially, the talk was also of psychedelics as psychotomimetics—tools that could mimic psychosis for research, and that, in the clinic, seemed to have potential in the treatment of alcoholism.
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