Today, the field of psychedelic medicine stands on the shoulders of giants. Here are the stories of five of the most influential psychedelic legends of the century.
1. Amanda Feilding
Amanda Feilding, Countess of Wemyss and March, was born in England in 1943. She is a drug policy reformer, lobbyist and advocate for psychedelic medicine, involved in psychedelic research since the 1960s.
Before ever being introduced to psychedelics, Feilding had an interest in mysticism and consciousness. At age 16, she dropped out of her Catholic convent after the nuns refused to educate her on Buddhism. She instead traveled to Syria and lived with Bedouins. Returning home the following year, Feilding began to study comparative religions and mysticism at All Souls College in Oxford. At age 22, an acquaintance spiked her coffee with a very high dose of LSD, which is when she became fascinated by psychedelics.
In 1998, Amanda Feilding founded The Beckley Foundation, a UK-based organization that focuses on global drug policy and scientific research into psychoactive substances. Through Beckley, Feilding funded the first trial of psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression and the first-ever scans of the brain on LSD. Her work with the Beckley Foundation has led to numerous scientific collaborations with institutions like Johns Hopkins University, Imperial College London, and the University of Oxford. These collaborations have resulted in groundbreaking studies on the potential therapeutic benefits of psychedelics for treating mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Despite having no formal scientific training or formal university degree, Feilding has co-authored more than 50 peer-reviewed studies and has contributed more to science in her lifetime than many other PhDs.
In addition to her scientific endeavors, Feilding has been an active participant in drug policy reform efforts. She has been involved in international policy discussions and has worked with various governments to develop evidence-based drug policies focusing on harm reduction and public health.
Through the Beckley Foundation’s Global Initiative for Drug Policy Reform, Amanda hopes to amend the UN’s drug control conventions. From 1998-2000, Feilding and her colleagues initiated and hosted a series of 11 international seminars at the House of Lords. They discussed cannabis and psychedelics with the public, helping to change public perception and foster growth in research. Neuropsychologist and fellow psychedelic researcher, David Nutt claims, “Her vision and energy have led to transformational changes in international drug policy.”
In 2010, Amanda Feilding made The Guardian’s list of “bravest men and women in science.” This is due to her experiment of drilling a hole in her head with the intent to increase cerebral circulation and expand thinking. Feilding has accomplished much in her lifetime and continues to this day. Her passion and dedication to psychedelic research and drug policy reform have made her a key figure in the growing movement to reevaluate the therapeutic potential of psychedelics and develop more effective drug policies worldwide.
2. Ram Dass
Ram Dass was born as “Richard Alpert” on April 6, 1931. He was an American spiritual teacher, psychologist, and author. He gained prominence in the 1960s and 1970s for his work on the Harvard Psilocybin Project, which explored the effects of psychedelics on human consciousness.
Alpert had his first psychedelic experience alongside trusted friends, Timothy Leary and poet, Allen Ginsberg. He felt a strong urge to be alone and, in doing so, experienced a loss of body, followed by a self-transcending experience of discovering “a place of love” within himself and a sense of “coming home”. This was a transformational moment for Alpert and got him started on his spiritual path.
In 1963, Alpert was dismissed from Harvard due to controversy surrounding his research. He then traveled to India in search of spiritual guidance. Here he met his guru Neem Karoli Baba with whom he felt the same sense of homecoming he had with psilocybin. Baba gave Alpert the name Ram Dass, which means “servant of God.” Under the guidance of his guru, Ram Dass delved deep into spiritual practices, including meditation, yoga, and devotion to Hindu deities. His experiences in India led to a profound transformation, and he returned to the United States as a spiritual teacher, sharing his newfound wisdom with others.
In 1971, Ram Dass published his bestselling book “Be Here Now,” which became a seminal text in the counterculture movement and introduced many Western readers to Eastern spirituality and mindfulness practices. Still popular today, the book emphasizes the importance of living in the present moment, letting go of attachments, and cultivating a deep connection with one’s inner self.
Throughout his life, Ram Dass continued to teach, write, and establish organizations dedicated to spiritual growth, social service, and compassionate care for the dying. His teachings emphasized love, compassion, and service to others, inspiring countless individuals to explore their own spiritual journeys. Ram Dass passed on December 22, 2019, but his legacy as a pioneer in the intersection of psychology, spirituality, and psychedelic research continues to influence and inspire people globally.
3. Albert Hofmann
In the 1930s, a Swiss chemist working at Sandoz Laboratories in Basel, Switzerland, made a discovery that would change the course of the 20th century. Hofmann’s work at Sandoz focused on studying the medicinal properties of natural plant compounds. In 1938, while working with ergot, a fungus that grows on rye, Hofmann synthesized LSD for the first time. At the time, tests at Sandoz deemed the molecule to have no useful properties.
Five years later, in 1943, Hofmann made the unusual decision to reexamine the molecule. While creating a batch of LSD, he accidentally absorbed a small dose and noticed its psychological effects. Intrigued, he decided to conduct a self-experiment on April 19, 1943, by ingesting 250 micrograms of LSD. He believed this to be a minimal dose, but it turned out to be a powerful dose–the equivalent of two and a half tabs of 100 microgram tabs of acid. Hofmann decided to cycle home during the ensuing trip, giving birth to “Bicycle Day,” when the psychedelic community celebrates the first-ever LSD trip.
After his discovery, Hofmann continued to research and advocate for the responsible use of LSD, believing it could have therapeutic benefits for psychiatric patients, artists, and researchers. He also explored other naturally occurring psychoactive substances, such as psilocybin.
Despite the controversy and eventual criminalization of LSD in many countries, Hofmann remained a respected figure in the scientific community. He continued to work at Sandoz until his retirement in 1971 and continued to lecture and write on the potential benefits and risks of psychedelics throughout his life.
Albert Hofmann passed away on April 29, 2008, at the age of 102, but his contributions to the fields of chemistry and psychedelic research continue to influence and inspire researchers and psychonauts alike.
4. María Sabina
María Sabina was a Mazatec curandera (healer) from the small village of Huautla de Jiménez in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. She gained international recognition for using sacred psilocybin mushrooms in traditional healing ceremonies or “veladas.” The mushrooms were known as niños santos or “holy children” by the Mazatec people. During ceremonies, Sabina would enter a trance-like state, enabling her to communicate with the spirit world to seek guidance and healing for those attending the ceremony.
María Sabina’s life took an unexpected turn in 1955 when an American ethnobotanist named R. Gordon Wasson visited her village to learn about the use of psilocybin mushrooms in traditional Mazatec ceremonies. As the ceremonies were typically used to locate missing people and items, Wasson deceived Sabina into allowing him to take part in the ceremony through a made-up story about his missing son. Wasson was the first Westerner to undergo a velada and published an article about his experience in Life Magazine when he returned to the US. This publication brought María Sabina and the use of psilocybin mushrooms to the attention of the Western world, leading to an influx of visitors to Huautla de Jiménez and a surge of interest in psychedelic substances.
Sabina later came to regret her involvement in this process, as it led to widespread attention for her town, resulting in destructive tourism. The local community disapproved, and María Sabina faced backlash, including the burning of her home. Despite her challenges, Sabina continued practicing her healing ceremonies until her death in 1985. Sabina continues to be an inspiring figure today in the psychedelic community for the use of psilocybin mushrooms for spiritual and therapeutic purposes. Her story is one that illustrates the importance of respecting Indigenous peoples and their practices as psychedelics become increasingly mainstream.
5. Rick Doblin
Rick Doblin is an American researcher and activist who has played a significant role in the resurgence of psychedelic research and therapy. Doblin earned his PhD in Public Policy from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, focusing on the regulation of medical uses of psychedelics and marijuana. Driven by his personal experience with psychedelics, Doblin founded Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) in 1986.
MAPS is a non-profit research and educational organization whose mission is to promote scientific research into the potential therapeutic benefits of psychedelic substances and create a framework for their safe and legal use. Under Doblin’s leadership, MAPS has sponsored numerous clinical trials and research initiatives, particularly focusing on MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health conditions.
Rick Doblin has been a tireless advocate for the reevaluation of psychedelics and their potential to revolutionize mental health care. His work with MAPS has been instrumental in changing public opinion, breaking down barriers to research, and paving the way for the potential approval and integration of psychedelic-assisted therapies into mainstream medicine.
How Do We Honor These Leaders at Nushama?
These five psychedelic legends all have a unique and fascinating story. They have been on the frontlines of psychedelic research, and without their contributions, psychedelic medicine would not be where it is today.
At Nushama, we are constantly reminded of these impactful figures and others—our 18 treatment rooms are named after them. Each room displays a short fact sheet outlining their contributions and accomplishments in the psychedelic space to educate and inspire our members.
Another way that we honor these leaders at Nushama is through their wise words. Our staff takes turns writing inspirational quotes on our community whiteboard daily, often coming from our favorite psychedelic luminaries.
One of our favorite quotes that informs the intention of Nushama is by Ram Dass, who says, “We are all just walking each other home.” After Nushama members complete their journeys, they are sent home with a bracelet that says “Home” as a constant reminder of the self-transformation they’ve experienced.
“We turn to these visionaries who have paved varying and significant paths, and we always bow humbly to the Indigenous who have always been the keepers of the secrets of how plant medicines may help to evolve human understanding. Wisdom is passed through generations,” says Nushama’s interior designer, Alexandra Hayden.