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Epidemic or False Alarm?

Why The Special Concern About Drug Use?, Questionable Reputations, How Likely Is “moderate” Use?, Conclusion

Turn on, tune in, drop out.” That slogan became a battle cry of the restless young counterculture of the 1960s. It was coined by Timothy Leary, a psychologist and college professor who believed psychedelic mushrooms could be useful in psychotherapy. Personal and group experimentation with those and other hallucinogens, particularly LSD, persuaded Leary that psychedelics were beneficial. He wrote books and lectured widely, encouraging everyone to try LSD. His mansion in New York State became a popular retreat for anti-establishment poets, musicians, and intellectuals.

Leary was one of the first academic and clinical professionals to advocate the use of hallucinogens. He and his followers believed LSD and other psychedelic substances were getting a bad rap from the media and the government. Since then, others have criticized those in authority for overreacting to drug use.

By the early 1980s, many Americans considered the growing use of illegal drugs—especially by children and teenagers—to be the country's worst problem. Federal and local governments passed laws and launched education and rehabilitation programs in what became known as the nation's “war on drugs.” Under programs like DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education), law enforcement officers visited schools to teach young people about the dangers. National leaders described substance abuse as an epidemic that threatened the foundations of society.

Not so, argue those who press for the legalization of many hallucinogens and other illicit substances. They contend that government, law enforcement, education, and community leaders—through the media—have distorted the truth about drugs. They claim sensational news reports alarm the public with negative stories and statistics while ignoring potential benefits of hallucinogens.

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Science EncyclopediaCommon Street Drugs