A comprehensive collection of publications and documents issued by SOMA, the drug research project founded in London by Steve Abrams that campaigned for cannabis law reform.
First announced in the Oxford University newspaper, Cherwell, in early February 1967, the acronym SOMA stood for Society for Mental Awareness, as well as being a nod to the ritual drink mentioned in the Rigveda and the drug described by Aldous Huxley in “Brave New World”. Initially run as an informal organisation, it was incorporated in 1969 as the SOMA Research Organisation, Ltd., whose directors included Dr. David Cooper, Francis Crick, Francis Huxley, RD Laing, Dr. Anthony Storr, and Professor Norman Zinberg. It had five employees, including Secretary and Archivist Don Aitken, psychologist Derek Blackburn, and Pharmacologist Adam Parker-Rhodes, as well as affiliations with Dr. Ian Dunbar (SOMA’s Medical Director) and Dr. Sam Hutt (Medical Correspondent). SOMA closed in 1970 and Abrams formally disbanded it in 1971.
Best known for the ad. it placed in The Times in July 1967, SOMA’s most significant legacy lies in the 1968 Wootton Report's conclusion that “…the long term consumption of cannabis in moderate doses has no harmful effects… Cannabis is less dangerous than the opiates, amphetamines and barbiturates, and also less dangerous than alcohol… An increasing number of people… are experimenting with this drug, and substantial numbers use it regularly for social pleasure. There is no evidence that this activity is causing violent crime, or is producing in otherwise normal people conditions of dependence or psychosis requiring medical treatment… there are indications that (cannabis) may become a functional equivalent of alcohol.” Home Secretary James Callaghan rejected the Report, telling Parliament that the committee had been “over-influenced” by the “lobby” for “legalisation” responsible for “that notorious advertisement”, adding, “it was wrong for the committee to report on one drug in isolation in the way that it did.” A year later, however, he introduced comprehensive new consolidating legislation that had the effect of implementing Wootton’s proposals, and agreeing with the distinctions made by the committee between hard and soft drugs.
i) Cherwell – The Oxford University Newspaper (February 1, 1967). Tabloid newspaper format (12pp.). Centrespread prints “The Pot Plot” by Steve Abrams, an article that signs off with the first mention of his intention to establish “a national Society of Mental Awareness (SOMA)… concerned with consciousness expansion and its legal, moral, social, scientific, literary and religious aspects.” He later described the article as “a kind of dry run for the Times advertisement”. The front cover is headlined “A Drug Figures Revelation” (the prevalence of cannabis use at Oxford was brought to the media’s attention by Abrams’ contribution to “The Book of Grass” [item #27]). Also: Lindsay Kemp; Robert Kennedy in Oxford.
ii) An early draft of the “Text of Times Advertisement”, featuring several holograph emendations by its author, Steve Abrams. The content differs from the published text in several ways, most notably in the discussion of the Home Secretary’s position that cannabis leads to heroin use (these sections have been scored through with a single line). 4 mimeographed sheets, printed recto and verso, stapled at top corner, including a final sheet featuring the amendments which appeared in the final version. Together with another copy, lacking the amendments sheet, SIGNED by Abrams on the first page.
iii) Final draft of “Text of an Advertisement to Appear in The Times, 24th July”. 3 mimeographed sheets, printed recto and verso, including release form for signatories. SIGNED by Steve Abrams on the first page.
iv) A full-size offprint from The Times, dated July 24th, 1967, headlined “The Law Against Marijuana is Immoral in Principle and Unworkable in Practice”. Printed offset litho, recto only. 60.8x45.9cm. Designed by Mike McInnerney. Pencilled emendations by Steve Abrams to the list of signatories. Old central vertical and horizontal folds; creasing and handling wear; small loss to lower right corner; o/w Very Good.
v) SOMA: A Constitution for the Psychedelic State. October 1967. 3 mimeographed foolscap sheets, printed recto and verso, stapled at top corner. SIGNED on the first page by Steve Abrams. A discussion of drugs and public policy, the research aims of SOMA, services offered, including its cooperation with Release, and a subscription form intended for mailing to Mike Henshaw (accountant to the 'underground').
vi) SOMA - research on psychotropic drugs. Undated (c. 1967). Octavo booklet, 8pp., stapled at spine. Front cover lists the Advisory Council of SOMA (Dr. Francis Crick, Francis Huxley, RD Laing and others). Includes a text on “Utopiates and Public Policy” (3pp.), and 5pp. on the organisation and aims of SOMA. Subscription form laid in. SIGNED by Abrams on the front cover.
vii) A Significant Announcement: Research on Legal Forms of Cannabis (THC). June 1968. 2 mimeographed foolscap sheets, stapled at top corner. SIGNED by Steve Abrams. The document announces that “SOMA is now in a position to begin research on the social and medical uses of synthetic forms of cannabis which are not prohibited by law. The main object of this research will be the development of safe and reliable euphoriant preparations from cannabis which could be placed on general sale”. Details of SOMA’s arrangement with Avalon Botanicals Ltd. follow. The document continues with a section on “The First Year of SOMA”, beginning with a denial of suggestions made in the press “that SOMA is a large organization supported by vested interests, presumably the Mafia. This is untrue”, followed by an account of the change in public opinion effected by the Times ad., and SOMA’s other activities, including its sponsorship of the upcoming Legalise Pot Rally in Hyde Park.
viii) SOMA Newsletters #1-4 [all published], August 1968, September 1968, October 1969, and January 1970. Mimeographed foolscap and quarto sheets; #2 and #3 stapled at top corner. First three issues SIGNED by Abrams. In the third issue Abrams gives his opinion that, following the Wootton Report, the Home Secretary, Jim Callaghan, has little option other than to change the law.
ix) Cannabis: Report by the Advisory Committee on Drug Dependence, January 8th, 1969. Home Office Press Notice printing a summary of the Wootton Report’s findings, conclusions and recommendations. 9 duplicated foolscap sheets, printed rectos only, the first of them on Whitehall headed paper.
x) A printed letter dated January 15, 1969, soliciting a £3 fee for Associate Membership of SOMA, addressed “Dear Ronnie” (Laing) in blue ink and SIGNED by Steve Abrams. A few stains of cannabis tincture.
xi) SOMA Research Association Ltd. Undated (c. 1969). Five quarto sheets, printed recto and verso, side-stapled. Prints a text on SOMA and the Wootton Report, and information on the organisation, research programme and services provided by SOMA. Back cover reprints the Times ad. SIGNED by Abrams on the front cover.
xii) A group of 6 printed SOMA subscription forms and circular letters, including a letter on SOMA headed notepaper (now incorporated as The SOMA Research Association Ltd.) outlining its purpose: “To conduct research into the properties, action and use of psycho-pharmacologically [sic] drugs and other physical means and methods of altering consciousness…. [and] To stimulate public interest in the afore-mentioned topics.”
xiii) The SOMA Manifesto. Undated (c. 1970).Three quarto sheets, printed recto only, stapled at top corner. SIGNED by Steve Abrams on the first page. “The rate of increase in the head population is accelerating, and the concept of the ‘Underground’ is becoming outmoded… Soma has two aims: to perform practical research into the process of turning-on and allied subjects; and to provide extensive Communication facilities to organize and serve the interests of head power.”
xiv) Psychosomantics of Cannabis and LSD. June 1970. Duplicated foolscap sheets, 8pp., stapled. A text by Abrams concerning the psychological and neurological effects of cannabis use and the LSD experience. SIGNED by Abrams on the first page.
Provenance: Steve Abrams.