In this episode, I speak with Stephen Siff, Associate Professor of Journalism at Miami University and the author of ‘Acid Hype: American News Media and the Psychedelic Experience.’ In this discussion, we get into the U.S. news media's role in the promotion, and in particular the "hype," of psychedelic drug use in the 1950s and '60s — initially by prominent public figures and the "Intelligentsia," and eventually the wider population more generally. We also get into the Nixon Administration's role in instigating the War on Drugs, and the role the US media played in propagandizing the government's agenda regarding the prohibition of psychedelic compounds and cannabis.
As a proponent of cannabis and the psychedelic experience, I have become increasingly aware that our popular perception of psychedelic and cannabis use has largely been formed by very prominent cultural forces, in particular the U.S. news media, pro-capitalist interests, and the State. The media has played a major role in the “branding” of psychedelics and cannabis, both in a positive and negative light (depending on the time, and the context of their legal status). As Stephen examines in his book and in this interview, the initial coverage of LSD and other psychedelic compounds was initially very positive, with media outlets “hyping” the use and potential applications of these substances, effectively branding the psychedelic experience as a countercultural phenomenon. Along with this, Stephen discusses the other role the U.S news media has played in our popular perceptions of these substances. Leading up to the eventual criminalization of these substances under the Controlled Substance Act in 1970, the news media shifted its coverage of these substances, playing into the Nixon and successive administrations’ propaganda campaign to demonize and stigmatize psychedelic and drug use more broadly. Considering we are in the midst of a “psychedelic renaissance,” with a renewed interest in psychedelic research and cannabis legalization across the U.S. and the Western world, it is important to frame this subject within the broader historical context of the news media’s role in shaping the perceptions of these substances, in particular with something as valuable and important as the psychedelic experience.
Stephen Siff, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Journalism and the author of ‘Acid Hype: American News Media and the Psychedelic Experience,’ an account of mainstream media’s introduction of new drugs and new styles of recreational drug use in the 1950s and 1960s. His research as a journalism historian examines news coverage and government propaganda about illegal drug use and drug users during the latter half of the twentieth century. He has also published research in Journalism History and Newspaper Research Journal.✦
- Learn more about and purchase Stephen’s book ‘Acid Hype: American News Media and the Psychedelic Experience’ here: http://bit.ly/AcidHype
- Read Stephen’s article ‘The Illegalization of Marijuana: A Brief History’: http://bit.ly/2QHDi1X
- The song featured in this episode is “Voodoo Doll” by Son of Dave from the album Shake A Bone.