Centre Alexandre-Koyré (EHESS, Paris) ; Institut des humanités en médecine (CHUV, Lausanne)
The first clinical trials of psilocybin in France (1956 – 1960)
Professor Roger Heim (1900 – 1979) a prominent mycologist, head of the French National Museum of Natural History, was a friend of the Wasson couple, the American amateur anthropologists that rediscovered the use of psychoactive mushrooms in Mexico in the 50’s. That is why the samples collected by the Wassons were sent to Paris for identification. There, Roger Heim was able not only to identify or describe and name the collected species, but also to develop their cultivation. As soon as the active compounds were identified in 1958, thanks to the collaboration between Heim in Paris and the Sandoz laboratories in Basel, Switzerland, the first clinical trials of pure psilocybin took place at the Sainte-Anne Mental Hospital in the French capital. Today, the knowledge of this pioneering research with psilocybin in clinical psychiatry is limited to a small circle of French-speaking specialists. With my communication, I would like to share the details of these protocols, which were carried out on healthy volunteers or hospitalized patients and led to spectacular results. Thus, a catatonic person began to communicate with his entourage again, a person hospitalized for anorexia was declared completely cured, a person acquired an impressive talent for drawing, painters were recruited to study the creative processes, etc. In doing so, I wish to contribute to the history of European psychedelic research (France’s contribution remains very poorly known) and also to highlight some therapeutic indications that have been forgotten or at least not taken into consideration in contemporary clinical research.
Vincent Verroust is a doctoral student in the history of science at the Centre Alexandre-Koyré (Paris), an associate researcher at the Institut des humanités en médecine (Lausanne) and a co-founder of the French psychedelic society. His investigations, mainly based on the archives of Professor Roger Heim (1900 – 1979), focus on the discovery of psilocybin fungi and its heuristic consequences in France. Vincent coordinated the first international study day on psychedelics in Paris in May 2018, as well as a monthly research seminar in psychedelic studies at the School of Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences. Moreover, Vincent is currently working with a team of psychiatrists in a public hospital for the resumption of clinical trials with psychedelics in France.