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The Hippie Era: How 60s Drugs Use Shaped Modern Trends

The hippie era in the 60s was a time when young adults were protesting – well – pretty much everything.  They wanted to be free spirits, and to be able to build their world with their own rules.  The conventional way of life was seen as old and boring, and the baby boomers were ready to shake it up.  Breaking the rules was something to be proud of, and one way in which the hippies of the 1960s broke the rules was with drugs.  Using drugs was considered normal for the adolescents and young adults at the time, and anyone who wasn’t at least trying them was considered “square”.  Drugs were as much a part of the culture as bell- bottoms, peace signs and tie-dye. And when you look at some of the drug trends of the 60s, you see how certain drugs were made to look more like a right of passage than something young adults should stay away from.

One drug that became popular during the 60s was marijuana.  Though this drug had been around for years, it was During the hippie era that people started using it more openly.  Yes, the drug was illegal, but this was well before the “War on Drugs” started, and even before it was classified as dangerous.  The baby-boomers were in their teens and young adulthood, which meant a large portion of the population were beginning to question the norms set up by their parents.  The smoking of pot was rampant, and most young people at the time had begun to use it regularly.  According to Marjorie, a woman who was in her teens at the time, more people would smoke pot than drink.  Drinking was considered something that their parents did: Marjorie described drinking as “uncool”.  As far as she and her friends were concerned, “only the unpopular kids drank, while the cool kids, might have a beer or two, but were mainly doing drugs.”

Marijuana was a large part of this but so were psychedelics. Mind altering drugs such as LSD were considered something that could take you a different state of consciousness.  By the mid 60s, it became common for young hippies to try these drugs in order to understand themselves.  A popular book of the time, The Psychedelic Experience (published in 1964) was written by three psychologists who studied these drugs and reported the therapeutic benefits of using LSD.  The main idea was that by taking LSD or other psychedelic drugs, you would be able to enter a different state of consciousness and thus heal the wounds of the past.  This concept captivated young people of the hippie era, and the use of LSD skyrocketed.  When looking at the history of drug culture, the 1960s and 70s are considered the psychedelic era, where these drugs became tremendously popular.

Another popular drug fad in the 60s were what Marjorie called “uppers”.  The main drug in this category was speed, but cocaine and similar drugs were also increasingly used..  Both speed and coke have the ability to make the user stay awake for hours on end, and many who use it report feeling more focused.  Though these drugs were not as popular as marijuana and LSD, they still were used often to extend parties to the wee hours of the morning.  In the hippie culture of the 1960s, people were encouraged to “live free”, and part of this meant the ability to be open and willing to try pretty much anything.  This attitude towards life was made more popular by celebrity superstars such as The Beatles and Bob Dylan, who reportedly used “uppers” to stay awake for a multi-night bender.  Drug use has always  been popular among the creative types, but the immense stardom of The Beatles made the use of drugs more appealing to people from all walks of life.

When looking at the popular drugs of the 1960s hippie era, you can see how they influenced future drug fads.  The psychedelic drugs such as LSD continued to be popular in the 70s: this was the main drug of choice for almost the entire decade.  Cocaine overtook LSD in popularity by the late 70s, and continued to be snorted in bathrooms throughout the 80s. Eventually this trend began to fall away to even harder drugs, but the impact of the hippie era had already taken place.

The one drug that got the most spin-off from the hippies of the 1960s was marijuana.  Pot has been tremendously popular in every decade since, and has more recently become known for its therapeutic benefits.  Since the early part of this century, marijuana has become a legal medical drug in many places in the world. Even more recently, it has become completely legal throughout Canada, several US states, and a few other countries around the world.  Though other drugs still have prohibitive laws aimed to inhibit their use, there has been much debate recently about decriminalizing all drugs in order to combat illegal sales.  We are far from making any decisions about this issue, but there has been a great shift in how we perceive drug use in our society.  It will be interesting to see where these debates go, but change will not happen quickly.  How this will play out in the future is unclear, but what is clear is that we would not be where we are in terms of drug use if the hippie era hadn’t encouraged experimental drug use.

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