I bought this volume at Breaking Convention, the recent interdisciplinary, international conference on psychoactives and I could hardly have made a better choice. Just like that conference Ben Sessa’s work emerges from the interface between medical, legal, counter-cultural and personal discourses around psychoactive, and in particular, psychedelic drugs.
In just under 200 pages the author takes us on a journey, a trip even. This takes in the psychotomimetic and military story of LSD, the various health claims for cannabis, the frustratingly missed opportunity of developing MDMA as an aid to psychological therapy in the late 20th century, and even his role as ‘Psychedelic Consultant’ to the Dirty Sanchez TV Crew (for the 2008 series ‘Sanchez Get High’).
In addition to a solid review of the history of the more well known psychedelic drugs The Psychedelic Renaissance brings us bang up-to-date with a list of who’s who on the contemporary entheogenic scene. It also details, in a very accessible form, some of the latest important research. (In 2009, Sessa became the first person in the UK to be legally given a psychedelic in 30 years, as a volunteer in an fMRI study.)
For me the great appeal of this book is just how intelligent it is. Sessa is quite aware of the various economic, medical and political processes that are currently pushing for reform of prohibitionist legislation. He can see the medical applications of many of these substances but isn’t about to claim that only medics have a legitimate claim on their use. He can see the many postive uses of psychedelics but isn’t shy when it comes to describing the problems which these substances can cause.
The benefit of this book to the already clued up reader is that it can help us envision a future beyond ‘The War on (some) Drugs’. For those who know little or nothing about this subject The Psychedelic Renaissance would I’m sure be an excellent introduction. This is the sort of book that should be required reading by policy makers, medics and educationalists who deal on a daily basis with drug culture. And in its own way The Psychedelic Renaissance is part of that rising chorus of psychedelic savvy voices, in mainstream cultural settings, which are not only calling for change but making real proposals for how to make those changes happen. A most excellent trip.