Edition #2: Origins of “Snake Oil Salesmen”

This week's edition also covers LSD, Flu Shot Skeptics, Peace Sign Origins, and a place called Heligan.

Welcome to your weekly dose of weird, where I share new age trends and dig up gems from the counter culture. You can sign up for the newsletter or find previous editions here.

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Landmark LSD microdosing trial  

I read on Third Wave about a new landmark new study testing the safety of microdosing LSD. Researchers had 48 healthy adults take 5, 10, or 20 micrograms of LSD every four days for three weeks. 

The results? 

“LSD was well tolerated, and the frequency of adverse events was no higher than for placebo. Assessments of cognition, balance, and proprioception revealed no impairment. Our results suggest safety and tolerability… and support further clinical development of LSD for the treatment and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease (AD).” 

I’m hugely excited about the destigmatization of psychedelics, and the promise of drugs like LSD to be used for therapy. 

Also good news: Nearly U.S. 100 cities are considering decriminalization of psychedelics.

Snake oil salesmen

The phrase “snake oil” used to describe the hawking of fake goods that overpromise results, new age products notwithstanding. I was curious where the phrase comes from. Is it literal? 


Reading this great NPR piece, I learned that Chinese railroad workers in the 1800s brought Chinese snake oil when they immigrated.  

Turns out, the OG version of this snake oil had real benefits:

“Made from the oil of the Chinese water snake, which is rich in the omega-3 acids that help reduce inflammation, snake oil in its original form really was effective, especially when used to treat arthritis and bursitis. The workers would rub the oil, used for centuries in China, on their joints after a long hard day at work.” 

Word got out and enterprising Americans decided to make their own…except there were no Chinese water snakes in the American West. So used rattlesnakes oil, which contained less than 3 times the amount of EPA (fatty acid) found in OG Chinese snake oil.

The racket reached its end in 1916 when one of the biggest snake oil salesmen, Clark Stanley, was shut down for selling “snake oil” that contained no snake oil at all.

In the coming editions of Hippiecritical, I’ll be exploring modern forms of snake oil that abound. Can you hear the crystals ringing? 

Flu shot skeptics (longer rant) 

A couple months ago, I got the flu shot. Then I got the flu. Then I got pissed my flu shot didn’t work.
Turns out, about 40% of Americans skip their flu shot, with the top reasons being “concern about side effects (36%), concern about getting the flu from the vaccine (31%), and because they never get the flu or they do not think the flu vaccine works (31%).” (They should really parse out that last statistic.) 

This is called vaccine hesitancy, and less kindly referred to as anti-vaxxers. It’s not all just crazy people out to ruin society. Here’s a story of someone who decided to get vaccinated as an adult – and explains how she was shamed by her community for a decision.

I ended up on a Google rabbit hole and learned that flu shots vary in efficacy, but that many vaccines are grown in chicken eggs. Whaaa?

Here’s an image of how vaccines are made: 

Source: https://cen.acs.org/pharmaceuticals/vaccines/Flu-shots-arent-always-effective/98/i1

However, flu shots are generally safe (CDC) and even if you do get sick this season, getting the flu shot still reduces the likelihood of transmission to the people around you. 

Influenza can – and does – kill people. If you’re on the fence about getting the flu shot, talk to a medical professional. 

Where does the peace sign come from? 

This is a fascinating read on the origins of the peace sign and the man who created it. 
Gerald Holtom (1961-1985) was a designer and activist who created the “ND” – nuclear disarmament – symbol. The symbol was first used in a 1958 peace march, and it’s use proliferated since then. 

Wikipedia’s page has some interesting facts on the peace symbol’s design. The “N” and “D” are represented via flag symbols (“semaphore”), and also reference artist Goya’s iconic Third of May 1808 painting. 

“At first [Holtom] toyed with the idea of using the Christian cross as the dominant motif, but realized that ‘in Eastern eyes the Christian Cross was synonymous with crusading tyranny culminating in Belsen and Hiroshima and the manufacture and testing of the H-bomb.”

Ironically, in 2013 a Dutch Christian school destroyed 3,000 calendars because the peace sign contained was confused as the satanic Nero cross.

Aside: The hand version of the peace symbol (“V sign”) has just as interesting of a history. Did you the hand sign is very close to how you’d say “stupid” in American Sign Language

This place actually exists

I’ve seen this photo surface here and there, and I always thought it was Photoshopped for some reason. 

Turns out this is a real place called the Lost Gardens of Heligan, a tourist site you can visit in Cornwall (southwestern England). It was apparently a rich estate “lost in the brambles of time” after WWI, and was restored & opened to the public in 1990. 


Closing Circle

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Oz Chen

Oz Chen

Oz is the host of Hippiecritical, a blog and podcast exploring new age trends with both skepticism and an open heart. He's a designer + writer by day, hippie whisperer by night.

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