Acid Test – 1966
Photo : Ted Streshinsky

Learn | 01.04.2024

Hidden History: Women And Psychedelics In 1950s France

Uncovering how gender influenced medical psychedelic treatment.

Imagine it’s the 1950s and 60s in Paris, France, and your doctor prescribes you… psychedelics

This scenario wasn’t a far-off fantasy but a reality for many women in France during a period marked by groundbreaking research in psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy. 

In this era, France emerged as a significant hub for psychedelic research, particularly exploring the use of substances like LSD to treat various mental health conditions.

Women, especially, found themselves at the center of this experimental therapy. Dr. Zoë Dubus, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Saskatchewan, offers essential insights into this period in her contribution to Expanding Mindscapes: A Global History of Psychedelics, published by MIT Press.

Dr. Dubus’s work reveals a gender-based disparity in the prescription of psychedelic treatments, with women more frequently subjected to these therapies than men.

But there’s more to this story than just prescription trends. In a time when personal autonomy in healthcare was often a contested terrain for women, refusing psychedelic treatment could be perceived by physicians as an aggravation of the patient’s illness, a stark reflection of the gender dynamics in play.

The use of psychedelics during this time in France was part of a broader movement exploring their potential in psychotherapy, known as ‘psycholytic therapy.’

However, as Dubus points out, the momentum of psychedelic therapy in France, as in many parts of the world, faced a downturn. By the end of the 1960s, the use of psychedelics in therapeutic settings was curtailed, and these substances were later classified as illegal in France. 

The resurgence of interest in psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy in recent years only underscores the importance of revisiting these historical narratives. 

In recalling the experiences of these women, “Expanding Mindscapes” does more than document the past; it provides a lens to view the current psychedelic renaissance with a broader, more informed perspective.

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