This lecture provides a rough overview of four decades of research into psychedelics in Europe and the US.

Research “started again” in the mid-eighties, when European and American researchers penetrated through administrative barriers. Early MDMA psychotherapy research began in the end-1970s, modern German studies into mescaline and MDEA began in the late 1980s. Since 1985 the founding of the Swiss Physicans Society for Psycholytic therapy (SAEPT) and the European College for the Study of Consciousness (ECSC) by Leuner, Albert Hofmann and others triggered these developments. The founding of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) in 1986 and the  Heffter Research Institute (HRI) in 1993 and later marked the stabilization of developments. A lot of research studies was initiated since the beginning 1990s, especially in respect to MDMA. MDE and psilocybin.

Since 2010 the scientific climate changed, partially because of ineffective antidepressants and malign side-effects of psychopharmacological medications. Another track came from the realization of the complexitiy of brain function. Substances which were formerly called “dirty drugs” for being not specific to one receptor (system) became interesting again because they may configurate a matrix of brain-functioning helpful for healing. Psychotherapy-promoting drugs like some psychedelics may become relevant therapeutic options in the future.

A retrospective view suggests a wave-like pattern of interest in psychedelics. Appropriate recognition of the limits of using these substances in everyday psychiatric/psychotherapeutic practice is discussed.


Torsten Passie (*1961) is currently Visiting Professor at Harvard Medical School (Boston, USA). He studied philosophy, sociology (M.A.) at Leibniz-University, Hannover and medicine at Hannover Medical School. His medical dissertation was on existential psychiatry. He worked at the Psychiatric University Clinic in Zürich (Switzerland) and with Professor Hanscarl Leuner (Göttingen), the leading European authority on hallucinogenic drugs. His extensive research at Hannover Medical School covers the psychophysiology of altered states of consciousness and their healing potential, including clinical research with hallucinogenic drugs (cannabis, ketamin, nitrous oxide, MDMA, psilocybin). He is an internationally known expert on altered states of consciousness and the pharmacology of hallucinogenic drugs. His publications appeared in Journal of Psychopharmacology, Neuropsychobiology, Addiction, CNS Neuroscience and Therapeutics, Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease and others.