Aldous huxley the doors of perception
It was in 1886 that the German pharmacologist, Louis Lewin, published the first systematic study of
the cactus, to which his own name was subsequently given. Anhalonium lewinii was new to science.
To primitive religion and the Indians of Mexico and the American Southwest it was a friend of
immemorially long standing. Indeed, it was much more than a friend. In the words of one of the early
Spanish visitors to the New World, "they eat a root which they call peyote, and which they venerate as
though it were a deity."
Why they should have venerated it as a deity became apparent when such eminent psychologists as
Jaensch, Havelock Ellis and Weir Mitchell began their experiments with mescalin, the active principle of
peyote. True, they stopped short at a point well this side of idolatry; but all concurred in assigning to
mescalin a position among drugs of unique distinction. Administered in suitable doses, it changes the
quality of consciousness more profoundly and yet is less toxic than any other substance in the
Mescalin research has been going on sporadically ever since the days of Lewin and Havelock Ellis.
Chemists have not merely isolated the alkaloid; they have learned how to synthesize it, so that the supply
no longer depends on the sparse and intermittent crop of a desert cactus. Alienists have dosed
themselves with mescalin in the hope thereby of coming to a better, a first-hand, understanding of their
patients' mental processes. Working unfortunately upon too few subjects within too narrow a range of
circumstances, psychologists have observed and catalogued some of the drug's more striking effects.
Neurologists and physiologists have found out something about the mechanism of its action upon the
central nervous system. And at least one Professional philosopher has taken mescalin for the light it may
throw on such ancient, unsolved riddles as the place of mind in nature and the relationship between brain
There matters rested until, two or three years ago, a new and perhaps highly significant fact was
observed the fact had been staring everyone in the face for several decades; but nobody, as it
happened, had noticed it until a Young English psychiatrist, at present working in Canada, was struck
by the close similarity, in chemical composition, between mescalin and adrenalin. Further research 3
revealed that lysergic acid, an extremely potent hallucinogen derived from ergot, has a structural
biochemical relationship to the others. Then came the discovery that adrenochrome, which is a product
of the decomposition of adrenalin, can produce many of the symptoms observed in mescalin
intoxication. But adrenochrome probably occurs spontaneously in the human body. In other words,
each one of us may be capable of manufacturing a chemical, minute doses of which are known to cause
Profound changes in consciousness. Certain of these changes are similar to those which occur in that
most characteristic plague of the twentieth century, schizophrenia. Is the mental disorder due to a
chemical disorder? And is the chemical disorder due, in its turn, to psychological distresses affecting the
adrenals? It would be rash and premature to affirm it. The most we can say is that some kind of a prima
facie case has been made out. Meanwhile the clue is being systematically followed, the sleuths —
biochemists , psychiatrists, psychologists — are on the trail.