The 1960s were a time of great change in official drug policy in the U. S. Just over a decade after LSD (commonly known as “acid”) was synthesized by Swiss chemist Albert Hoffmann in 1938 it became popular among college students as well as counterculture and literary figures. During the mid-1960s, behavioral psychologist and Harvard professor Timothy Leary became an outspoken advocate for the use of psychedelics as agents of social and political change, urging people to “turn on, tune in, [and] drop out.” Legal drug use skyrocketed. In 1965, for example, doctors wrote 123 million prescriptions for tranquilizers and over 20 million for amphetamines. Drug use became an escape from conventional ways of living.
Both marijuana and LSD were widely available in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood in San Francisco, and a distinct culture around illegal drugs developed among the “hippies” (often young, white, middle-class Americans) who lived there. Their recreational use of psychedelics served as a means of protest against what they considered a repressive establishment. Marijuana and LSD became unofficial components of their new collective identity. Drugs were considered “consciousness-expanding,” providing a way for people to attempt to change society through personal transformation.
Unpopular legislation and regulation of psychedelics and marijuana in the mid-1960s prompted active campaigns to oppose their criminalization. Some posters featured in this exhibition illustrate the influence—stylistic and otherwise— psychedelic drugs had on artists, and the means by which activists sought to make their case to the larger public.
Image: Artist Unknown. American, 20th century. Turn On Your Loved Ones, before 1968. Lithograph printed in color on paper. Purchased. Photo: Petegorsky/Gipe