I am currently working on a second book with the working title Boundless: Experimental Drugs, Cold War Science, and the Future that Never Arrived. Based on research in private and public archives in London, Los Angeles, the Bay Area, and Washington DC, as well as extensive interviews, the project is a revisionist narrative of a key moment in the history of science, when experimental drugs from psychedelics to hormones escaped the laboratory and became a force in society, long before the 1960s.
Boundless is the history of a failed dream, and of the people who pursued it. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, a generation of researchers and writers became convinced that a new category of experimental drugs—psychedelics like LSD, experimental hormones like DES, and a host of lesser-known drugs used in “narco-hypnosis”—held the key to reshaping society toward peaceful, even utopian ends. These drugs were newly invented, appearing during the years of rapid technological change immediately before and during World War II, and their study was buoyed by the surge of government funding for experimental research that followed in the wake of Los Alamos. The result was the emergence of a new science of “mind-expanding” drugs that focused not just on treating disease or addressing psychiatric symptoms, but on enlarging the limits of human potential itself. In the process, however, the researchers involved got in over their heads. Ultimately, their work revealed the transformative potential of twentieth-century pharmacology — but it also unleashed sinister new powers of control.
If you are interested in the topic of experimental drug research pre-1965, and in particular if you know of any relevant archives or living participants in this story who are open to being interviewed, please get in touch! Email me at bebreen [at] ucsc [dot] edu or find me on Twitter.
Image credit: details of audience members in a 1950 Dianetics “auditing” session conducted by L. Ron Hubbard, photographed for The Los Angeles Times.