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Hashish, ketamine and mushrooms where you don’t expect them

But what nerds all at home and in church, chastised and teetotal, dedicated only to the rational and clear cult of their very innocent laboratory experiments. To progress, science had to get its hands dirty. From Galileo onwards, indeed from a long time before, the scientific method He’s done all sorts of things. Quite a few men with immaculate lab coats have decided to use and try out for themselves those “questionable substances that nature provides them, at the cost of harming themselves, because if they have potential then one must know it, evaluating costs and benefits, at the cost of scandalize, frighten or ruin your reputation. Backing down from knowledge is never an option.” Alessandro Paolucci, author of this, assures this with intriguing prose Amazing history of science just published by Il Saggiatore. The subtitle completes the concept well: «Hashish, ketamine and mushrooms from Avicenna to Oliver Sacks”.

Progress has never been for timid people: only the very high stakes count, and in this perspective of things numerous toxic scientists have achieved prodigious results which without their borderline conduct would probably have remained a dead end.

An Afghan farmer harvests opium sap from a poppy field in Fayzabad district of Badakhshan province on May 30, 2023. (Photo by Omer Abrar / AFP) (Photo by OMER ABRAR/AFP via Getty Images)

OMER ABRAR/Getty Images

Let’s take the aforementioned Avicenna, the “genius with an obsession” (yes, precisely because of that stuff), today “unanimously considered the father of modern medicine” although in the West his name has known less fortune than the usual Hippocrates and Galen. His encyclopedia, the Canon of Medicinein the following eight hundred years «it will be the backbone of medical science and, among other things, he put down on paper everything there was to know about theopium». From direct experience, it goes without saying. Born in 980 in a village near Bukhara (today in Uzbekistan), although a Muslim “he loved to drink wine and exhaust his sexual strength”. It seems that his carnal appetites were immoderate, unspeakable.

Paracelsus (1493-1541), decidedly rustic manners, a self-taught man of Swiss birth, it is not known whether he graduated or not, «he saved patients who had already been considered doomed by other doctors, he didn’t ask for money, and every time he reiterated how incapable and ignorant his doctors were. colleagues… In reality his skill consisted in avoiding the many useless and even brutal therapies of the time, intervening as much as was necessary, calm pain with opium, and then help the spontaneous recovery of patients with diet and good habits.” And to say that it was «the king of taverns, one of those who challenge the drunkards every evening, and win. He was sober maybe a couple hours a day, he would come home late at night drunk and throw himself on the bed dressed, then suddenly he would wake up, draw his sword, wave it in the air, hit the wall and scare his poor assistant to death.” But even in those conditions he dictated enlightening speeches.

Sir Humphry Davy (1778‐1829), patron of English chemistry, he has traveled more dangerous and cursed roads than a vintage Mick Jagger. His specialty? That of transforming «complicated laboratory experiments into parties based on nitrous oxide, better known as laughing gas». Euphoria and laughter galore. It was necessary to verify the effects of these strange vapors on the human body: did they serve to anesthetize us from pain? Did they arouse pleasure? Were they safe or potentially lethal? He stared at it and reported the consequences in his most famous book: «this gas raised my pulse by twenty beats, made me dance around the laboratory like a madman, and since then it has held the my incandescent spirit». After all, the effects wore off quickly, within a quarter of an hour. Then of course, when he tried carbon monoxide, already on the third breath «he felt himself sinking into annihilation with an oppressive sensation and asphyxiation that overwhelmed his strength.” She was saved by a miracle.

The great American mathematician of Hungarian originsthe Paul Erdos (1913-1996) spent the last twenty-five years of his life working nineteen hours a day. «She killed herself with coffee and when it wasn’t enough he took other caffeine pills, he resorted to psychostimulant Ritalin, or you shot 20 milligrams of benzedrine». He wrote far more books in those years than in his entire previous existence, but he too remained in the world through pure divine intercession. And anyway he hadn’t taken them its amphetamines for chemical slavery, but for reasons of service to science”.

Albert Hofmann, 1976 (Photo by Noldi Köng/RDB/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

ullstein bild Dtl./Getty Images

Here is Albert Hofmann (1906‑2008), brilliant Swiss chemist like Paracelsus, «a great rational and rigorous professional, interested only in research, someone who in his youth would never have imagined becoming one hallucinogen experimenter». His name is consigned to history for the (re)discovery (accidental) of LSD, the drug of the hippies. One fine morning in the 1940s he prepared “a shot of the strangely powerful substance he was working with.” That day he told it to his friend and philosopher (and consumer) Ernst Junger: «if you compare the new substance to others that develop similar effects, what is most striking is its extraordinary effectiveness. To generate a state of inebriation, approximately one tenth of the necessary quantity of morphine or cocaine is needed, and one ten thousandth of an active dose of mescaline. During my first, intentional experiment on myself, with a fraction of a thousandth of a gram I already believed I had passed the “customs station”». But then came the “bad trip”, the hallucinations, the feeling that there were too many variables (and therefore contraindications) at play. However, Hoffmann passed away at the ripe old age of 102 springs.

Then it’s time to John Cunningham Lilly (1915-2001), American neuroscientist and psychonaut, who “really tried hard to crack the limits of our mental software, and perhaps he tried a little too hard.” Of Lilly we remember the (failed) experiments to learn to communicate with dolphins and the massive use that she made, from the age of 50 onwards, of ketamine, anesthetic with hallucinogenic effects that «produces a state of unconsciousness that disconnects the brain and can cause disorientation, delirium and hallucinations». And when an episode of the historic program was recorded in 1988 Thinking Allowed, broadcast on PBS, the American public network, «John Lilly was seventy-three years old… In the interview he wore a raccoon hat (the one with the tail) and pearl earrings». To conclude, none other than Sigmund Freudwhich initially had staked everything on cocaine: «He was convinced that research on that powder would make him famous, produce new drugs and scientific progress. We know today that nothing good came of it and that he had embarked on a failed journey… Yet, in the end he too came across a new miraculous continent: psychoanalysis.”

Source: Vanity Fair

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