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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Strengthening Psychedelic Collections: From Classic to Underrepresented Resources


In July 2020 the Library Collections Enhancement Initiative funded “Before Big Pharma: Enhancing the UW-Madison School of Pharmacy/AIHP Pharmaceutical Trade Catalog Collection.” Monies were used to enhance the scope of the existing collection through the purchase of 26 additional texts, and efforts are currently underway to digitize these materials with the help of the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections Center (UWDCC). This project builds on that earlier proposal through a focus on 1) the enhancement of psychedelic pharmaceuticals materials, as well as 2) pharmaceutical trade catalogs in non-US and non-European contexts (which incorporate psychoactive products).

The project will lead to acquisition of printed materials that enhance psychedelic studies as an interdisciplinary field. In 2021, UW–Madison saw the establishment of the country’s first MS program in psychoactive pharmaceutical investigation and this interdisciplinary master’s degree has seen significant enrollment in its two admissions cycles. The MS program’s curriculum contains coursework in the areas of pharmacology, medicinal chemistry, pharmacokinetics, and statistics. This distinctive program also has classes situated alongside humanities and social science courses focused on, for example, the history of psychoactive and cannabinoid drugs. Also in 2021, the campus witnessed the founding of the UW Transdisciplinary Center for Research in Psychoactive Substances, which includes members from multiple units at UW. The Transdisciplinary Center will involve researchers from the wider UW campus to explore how the drugs affect the brain and behavior, investigate the conscious experience in psychiatric therapies, study how perceptions and use of psychoactive drugs have been shaped by culture and politics, and (re)consider policies related to these compounds.

With these developments in mind, the creation or augmentation of print resources to support research by students, staff, and faculty is an important endeavor. Students should have access to not only “classics” in the field of psychedelic studies, but also lesser known “niche” and underrepresented areas that highlight untold stories. That is, the MS curriculum (and promising enrollment numbers) as well as the research focus of the Center suggest the need for a wide-ranging collection of printed material that includes classic and recent treatises about psychedelics and psychoactive research and classic and recent narrative accounts of personal, non-regulated, or self-experimentation in the field.

What would this strengthened collection include? From Timothy Leary to Aldous Huxley to Hunter Thompson, to unheralded women like the wives of psychedelic researchers, there is a rich heritage of Western publications important to those studying the role of psychedelics and psychoactive drugs in the research and community psyche. The inclusion of underrepresented groups, both as patients in terms of treatment protocols and as the traditional purveyors of psychedelic components outside a westernized framework of formal research and treatment, however, is essential to the collection. The voices of Native American, Black, and Brown healers, Shamanism, Aryuvedic practices, Central and South American conventions, American folk medicines, are all essential areas to be prioritized within the collection
including, potentially, the purchase of available ephemeral material like journals and recipe books or ledgers.

Such a distinctive anthology will arguably be as pioneering as the program and Center itself. Similarly, the existing UW-Madison/AIHP Pharmaceutical Trade Catalog Collection, while one of the largest of its kind in the country, currently focuses almost exclusively on the United States (with some representation of Europe). However, the drug trade has been international in scope for centuries, and it is imperative that the UW expands the geographic scope of this collection.


Lucas Richert, Associate Professor of Pharmacy


Micaela Sullivan-Fowler, Co-Principal Investigator and Curator/History of Health Sciences Librarian, Ebling Library for the Health Sciences


Ramzi Fawaz, Associate Professor of English

Alberto Vargas, Associate Professor of Latin American, Caribbean and Iberian Studies

Cody Wenthur, Assistant Professor of Pharmacy

Paije Wilson, Librarian, Ebling Library