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Video: How Psychedelics Went From Counter Culture to Medical Therapy

From secret CIA experiments to Timothy Leary’s call to “Turn on, tune in, drop out,” portions of LSD's history carry a certain cultural baggage in the United States. The drug’s name, for many, evokes worries over hidden dangers of going insane or experiencing crippling flashbacks, and associations with the impractical 1960s flower children in San Francisco. While still illegal in most uses, psychedelics are slowly gaining a new reputation—as a medicine.

The latest edition of The New York Times documentary series Retro Report traces the rise of LSD from a research drug developed in a Swiss laboratory to a counter cultural scourge and, most recently, a potential medication for mental illness.

At one 1967 counter-cultural festival in San Francisco, the “LSD flowed like wine,” according to a historian of the drug. However, within just a few years, LSD was blamed for suicides and psychosis among users, demonized by media reports, and subject to intense regulatory crackdowns. Classified in 1970 as a Schedule I drug—the most dangerous class of drugs in the eyes of the U.S. government—LSD research became virtually impossible.

But recently, scientists have begun to reexamine LSD and other psychedelics’ potential as therapeutic agents capable of reducing anxiety and depression, combating addiction, modeling schizophrenia, and more. While the law and lingering perceptions about LSD’s reputation as a dangerous chemical make this kind of research difficult to conduct, small studies have shown it to be effective for a variety of psychiatric uses, as the documentary shows, including helping the terminally ill make peace with the prospect of death.

Read more about the history of LSD research from The New York Times.

All images courtesy The New York Times.

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By Ben Wittick (1845–1903) - Brian Lebel's Old West Show and Auction, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
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Photo of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett, Purchased for $10, Could Be Worth Millions
By Ben Wittick (1845–1903) - Brian Lebel's Old West Show and Auction, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
By Ben Wittick (1845–1903) - Brian Lebel's Old West Show and Auction, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Several years ago, Randy Guijarro paid $2 for a few old photographs he found in an antiques shop in Fresno, California. In 2015, it was determined that one of those photos—said to be the second verified picture ever found of Billy the Kid—could fetch the lucky thrifter as much as $5 million. That story now sounds familiar to Frank Abrams, a lawyer from North Carolina who purchased his own photo of the legendary outlaw at a flea market in 2011. It turns out that the tintype, which he paid $10 for, is thought to be an image of Billy and Pat Garrett (the sheriff who would eventually kill him) taken in 1880. Like Guijarro’s find, experts say Abrams’s photo could be worth millions.

The discovery is as much a surprise to Abrams as anyone. As The New York Times reports, what drew Abrams to the photo was the fact that it was a tintype, a metal photographic image that was popular in the Wild West. Abrams didn’t recognize any of the men in the image, but he liked it and hung it on a wall in his home, which is where it was when an Airbnb guest joked that it might be a photo of Jesse James. He wasn’t too far off.

Using Google as his main research tool, Abrams attempted to find out if there was any famous face in that photo, and quickly realized that it was Pat Garrett. According to The New York Times:

Then, Mr. Abrams began to wonder about the man in the back with the prominent Adam’s apple. He eventually showed the tintype to Robert Stahl, a retired professor at Arizona State University and an expert on Billy the Kid.

Mr. Stahl encouraged Mr. Abrams to show the image to experts.

William Dunniway, a tintype expert, said the photograph was almost certainly taken between 1875 and 1880. “Everything matches: the plate, the clothing, the firearm,” he said in a phone interview. Mr. Dunniway worked with a forensics expert, Kent Gibson, to conclude that Billy the Kid and Mr. Garrett were indeed pictured.

Abrams, who is a criminal defense lawyer, described the process of investigating the history of the photo as akin to “taking on the biggest case you could ever imagine.” And while he’s thrilled that his epic flea market find could produce a major monetary windfall, don’t expect to see the image hitting the auction block any time soon. 

"Other people, they want to speculate from here to kingdom come,” Abrams told The New York Times of how much the photo, which he has not yet had valuated, might be worth. “I don’t know what it’s worth. I love history. It’s a privilege to have something like this.”

[h/t: The New York Times]

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