Brilliant visions – drawing under mescaline

In 1936 the Maudsley psychiatrists Guttman and Macklay began to study spontaneous drawings (doodles), looking for clues to personality types and forms of mental illness, and compared them with drawing made by their patients. They realised that few of their patients with psychotic disorders had the capacity and drive to depict their hallucinations while they were experiencing them.

During the 1920s mescaline was used by psychologists to study hallucinations. Heinrich Kluver’s influential study showed that the dazzling visual patterns its subjects experienced could be reduced to a series of geometric ‘form-constants’.

Guttman and Mackay began to collaborate with artists who could draw or paint the hallucinations they were experiencing . They decided to recruit professional artists and stimulate hallucinations by giving them mescaline. They approached subjects from the British Surrealist movement, who were interested in the productions of unconscious mind.

Two of the artists left written accounts of their experience: Julian Trevelyan describe them in his memoir ‘Indigo Days’. Basil Beaumont left a written report nightmarish experience which ended with him being confined overnight in a ward at the Maudsley Hospital.

The theme was the subject of an exhibition at the Museum of the Mind, in Bethlem Hospital in London, where I was working as a locus doctor some months ago (I took those pictures while visiting the museum in my lunch break). The exhibition was co-curated by Mike Jay, author of ‘Mescaline: A Global History of the First Psychedelic’ and Kate Tiernan, and provides an insight into the first era of research into psychedelics and mental states.

It is interesting to note that there is current research going on about the use of psychedelic drugs to treat mental health conditions, and the FDA has approved clinical trials of MDMA assisted psychotherapy sessions for chronic post-traumatic stress disorder.

Virna Teixeira

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