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Outside Looking In: The Imprint of Psychedelics on Cultural, Scientific, and Artistic Developments

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Table of Contents
Philosophers Stoned: Psychedelic Aid and Great Discoveries
Thinking Outside: Scientific Innovations and Psychedelic Awareness
Cultural Artifacts Resulting from Psychedelics
Inspiration: Art and Music derived from the Psychedelic Experience
Post-modern psychedelic consciousness
Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the double-helix DNA structure and psychedelics advocate.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Chemical Collective or any associated parties.

Philosophers Stoned: Psychedelic Aid and Great Discoveries

In life, one can expect a handful of certainties within a degree of unpredictability. But what if we were able to manipulate the concept of unpredictability for our benefit? Many have looked to psychedelic drugs for this reason.

Richard Kemp, a chemist who manufactured LSD for the British in the 1970s under Operation Julie, was a friend of Francis Crick, illustrator and co-discoverer of the double-helix DNA structure. Kemp claimed that at Cambridge University in the 1960s, Crick explained to him that some of the academics there “used LSD in tiny amounts as a thinking tool, to liberate them from preconceptions and to encourage their genius to wander freely in search of new scientific ideas.” Crick also allegedly revealed to Kemp he had perceived the double-helix shape while high on LSD.

I must point out that what Kemp claimed Crick said to him is alleged and is unable to be proven as fact since Crick is no longer alive and never directly admitted to perceiving the double-helix while on acid. When questioned about it later in life, all Crick said was “print a word of it and I’ll sue,” meanwhile going into great detail publicly about his subjective experience with LSD. Crick stated:

“In the case of LSD, for example, you only need 150 micrograms to have all these funny experiences, you see. It’s minute. And that’s because they fit into special places, these little molecules, these drugs which you take. They fit into special places in these other molecules. They’ve been tailored to do that.”  [1]

Crick’s widow made the claim to biographer Matt Ridley that his first experience with LSD occurred in 1967, more than ten years after his discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA. I would not be surprised if this claim is untrue due to Crick’s behavior when questioned about the relationship between LSD and his discovery of the double-helix, if one exists at all.

For the sake of this text, I will be providing a general focus on the recurring use of LSD by arbiters and manufacturers of novel innovation: whether scientific, cultural, or artistic.

Thinking Outside: Scientific Innovations and Psychedelic Awareness

Crick’s psychedelic legacy is not by itself within the scientific community. Dr. John C. Lilly, inventor of the sensory deprivation tank, among other discoveries, would consume heavy doses of LSD and have mind-expansion sessions while inside the tank. He did this striving towards self-realization but later switched to ketamine for these sessions. His applied psychedelic awareness, he believed, allowed him to conceive of the sensory deprivation tank.

Sensory deprevation tanks are known to induce psychedelic experiences.

The discovery of serotonin in the brain is inextricably linked to LSD due to the structural similarities between the molecules. British pharmacologist Sir John H. Gaddum, the leader of a team of scientists that discovered serotonin in the brain, ingested LSD on four separate occasions in 1953 to study its effects. He was also the first person to suggest that some kind of relationship existed between LSD and serotonin. Gaddum also initially postulated that serotonin’s mechanism of action was what resulted in LSD’s consciousness-expanding effects.

Biochemist Dr. Kary Mullins was awarded the Nobel prize in chemistry in 1993 for his illustration of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) by which molecular biologists can replicate single strands of DNA very rapidly. Dr. Mullins has been extremely open about his past use of LSD, having this to say: 

“PCR’s another place where I was down there with the molecules when I discovered it, and I wasn’t stoned on LSD, but my mind by then had learned how to get down there. I could sit on a DNA molecule and watch the [indistinct] go by…I’ve learned that partially I would think, and this is again my opinion, through psychedelic drugs…if I had not taken LSD ever, would I have still been in PCR? I don’t know, I doubt it, I seriously doubt it.”

Steve Jobs used LSD extensively, remarking the LSD experience “as one of the two or three most important things he had done in his life.” Another computational giant who used LSD was Douglas Engelbart. He was the first to suggest using computers to communicate on a network and invented the computer mouse, hyperlinks, networked collaboration, and digital text editing. [2]

Cultural Artifacts Resulting from Psychedelics

The rise of LSD use and the spread of knowledge of psychedelic compounds coincided with a general, widespread environmental as well as sociopolitical awakening. This was due to a variety of reasons, both internal and external. The merry pranksters were a group of artists and musicians that traveled America in the 1960s, spreading sociopolitical and environmental awareness while touting LSD. It is believed they helped assure the passage of the clean air act in 1963. In 1966, Timothy Leary created an organization dedicated to the advocacy for the proper use of LSD, called the League for Spiritual Discovery, which advocated for the legalization of cannabis, peyote, and other psychedelic plants and compounds in the 1960s.

LSD was made illegal by the fearful, authoritarian United States government in 1968; however, its use continued to grow.

In 1970, the first earth day was established, which “brought 20 million Americans out into the spring sunshine for peaceful demonstrations in favor of environmental reform. It was because so many Americans already had a deep-rooted appreciation for nature that Earth Day was so successful, eventually leading to national legislation such as the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. This respect for earth had come out of a counterculture movement which used enhancements to better understand and connect to it.” 1970 also saw the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the first print of the Whole Earth Catalog and the Mother Earth News, both of which were countercultural magazines designed to promote a “back to the land” agricultural revival. 

The Whole Earth Catalog, 1968-1974.

The publications both preached for the hippie style of living, teaching self-reliance and environmental awareness. 

Today, MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Study) globally fights for proper psychedelic usage and for the awareness of the potential benefits these compounds can have. For those battling mental illness and addiction, psychedelics have proved to be of invaluable benefit, and MAPS argues for that. [3]

Inspiration: Art and Music derived from the Psychedelic Experience

One of the more direct ways we can observe the influence of psychedelics is the profound effect that they have on our five senses, and the most pronounced of these are perhaps the changes undergone by our visual and auditory faculties. Innumerable artists and musicians have consulted LSD for inspiration. Some examples of these include the Beatles, the Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Santana, the Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, The Beach Boys, and almost all of the popular artists from the late sixties. 

Alex Grey’s visionary artwork has helped convey the psychedelic experience to many millions of people.

Alex Grey is an American visionary artist who has made a living creating wonderfully intricate representations of psychedelic consciousness. He has used LSD, DMT, and ecstasy, among other psychedelics, and is well respected for providing insight into the psychedelic experience, even for those that don’t trip. [4] Psychedelic art has taken a strong foothold in modernity and will only continue to grow as more and more individuals discover these sacred molecules. 

Post-modern psychedelic consciousness

With the dawn of the new millennium and the birth of the Information Age peacefully coinciding, we are entering into an almost an era of psychedelic saturation. The internet has allowed for knowledge of these substances to become accessible to anyone with a wifi connection. It is exciting to consider what this will mean as more and more are “turned on” to the psychedelic experience. I truly believe that substances like LSD and DMT will one day find their commonplace acceptance with the knowledge of their benefits being so readily available online. It is only a matter of time before we see the extent of the imprint of psychedelics on humankind. 

Together, we are on the brink of a universal awakening.

A. Mayhugh | Community Blogger at Chemical Collective

A. Mayhugh is one of our community bloggers here at Chemical Collective. If you’re interested in joining our blogging team and getting paid to write about subjects you’re passionate about, please reach out to Matt via email at matt@chemical-collective.com


  1. Damn, Crick was into psychedilics? I only knew him from my biochemistry book from uni. Never heard of this facette of him. Thanks for the very interesting article!

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