Purdue Archives and Special Collections takes visitors on trip to better side of psychoactive drugs

July 28, 2010

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - An exhibit at Purdue University is showing there is another more positive side to psychoactive drugs than people usually hear.

"The Science of Psychoactive Substances: Unlocking the Doors of Perception" will be on display in the Virginia Kelly Karnes Archives and Special Collections Research Center on campus through Aug. 13. The Karnes Center, on the fourth floor of the Humanities, Social Science and Education Library in Stewart Center, houses the Archives and Special Collections division of Purdue Libraries.

"This is really the beginning of archival materials that will become increasingly important as we gain a better understanding of how the mind affects healing," said David E. Nichols, the Robert C. and Charlotte P. Anderson Distinguished Chair of Pharmacology, who helped in identifying  what materials to collect. "With this collection from scientists and physicians who have done scientific studies, we're trying to get past the stigma of the 1960s and '70s created by illicit drug use and pull out the legitimate science work. There are a number of scientists doing more research into the benefits of psychoactive drugs to medicine and healing; these are important substances."

Nichols has long held an interest in how so-called psychedelics affect the bio- and neurochemistry of the brain and how that affects consciousness. In conducting his own research, he realized that there was no repository for important documents on the history of the study of psychoactive substances. He is working with Archives and Special Collections to make Purdue that place.

"The study of psychoactive substances really is kind of in its infancy - dating back the last 50 years or so - and my projection is this will become a more mainstream field. As it does, people will want to go back and research how it got started, who was involved and their contributions," Nichols said.

Stephanie Schmitz, the project's archivist, is proud of the role Archives and Special Collections is playing in preserving the historical significance of an important field of study.

"It is important that the work of those involved in this field of research is preserved. The archives plays a crucial role in ensuring that these materials are cared for and made accessible to others in perpetuity," she said.

Among its displays, the exhibit includes such items as an early article written by noted German pharmacologist Arthur Heffter; books autographed by Albert Hofmann, the Swiss chemist who was the first to synthesize LSD; correspondence between English novelist Aldous Huxley and researcher Sanford Unger; and selections from the personal papers of researchers Stanislav Grof, Walter Pahnke and Charles Savage. 

"If you visit the exhibit, you will get an idea of how important this research is. It gives a balanced look at how this research came about and pieces together its history," Schmitz said.

Writer:  Jim Bush, 765-494-2077, jsbush@purdue.edu

Sources:   David E. Nichols, 765-494-1461, drdave@purdue.edu

                   Stephanie Schmitz, 765-494-2904, sschmit@purdue.edu