Yesterday’s post gave a brief history of LSD and the 19th century quest for higher consciousness.
If you missed reading it, it’s helpful if you do so before reading this entry.
Before I get into the rest of the story, it seems fitting that I first discuss LSD’s inventor in more detail.
Albert Hofmann was born in Baden, Switzerland, in 1906. It seems he was always attracted to mystical experiences of one form or another. He had a creative mind and considered studying the arts or the humanities at university. Instead he pursued chemistry, because:
Mystical experiences in childhood, in which Nature was altered in magical ways, had provoked questions concerning the essence of the external, material world, and chemistry was the scientific field which might afford insights into this.
After having discovered LSD in 1938, he didn’t really pursue it until 1943. When he resynthesised it that year, he inadvertently absorbed some of it through his fingertips. Later, at home:
I lay down and sank into a not unpleasant intoxicated[-]like condition, characterized by an extremely stimulated imagination. In a dreamlike state, with eyes closed (I found the daylight to be unpleasantly glaring), I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors. After some two hours this condition faded away.
He became the director of Sandoz Laboratories’ natural products department and studied more hallucinogenic substances. He was able to synthesise psilocybin and identified active hallucinogenic compounds in certain plants.
Before he died at the age of 102, he said that LSD was
medicine for the soul.
Hofmann criticised Western counterculture of the 1960s for misusing the drug, which several countries declared illegal in the mid-1960s. Some would say CIA programmes were also responsible. Hofmann’s product was ‘pure’, whereas experiments by others produced an impure LSD.
Hofmann was keen to see the drug used in a clinical setting under proper supervision. Swiss medical authorities approved new experiments in December 2007, which psychotherapist Peter Gasser undertook.
In theory, the drug should not be addictive. Furthermore, every trip should be as pleasant as Hofmann’s.
However, in reality, we know this is not the case. Timothy Leary said that LSD requires ‘set and setting’ (emphases mine):
the “set” being the general mindset of the user, and the “setting” being the physical and social environment in which the drug’s effects are experienced …
If the user is in a hostile or otherwise unsettling environment, or is not mentally prepared for the powerful distortions in perception and thought that the drug causes, effects are more likely to be unpleasant than if he or she is in a comfortable environment and has a relaxed, balanced and open mindset.
There are also reports of flashbacks in a minority of users. No one really understands how this process actually works. LSD supporters do not believe users experience flashbacks. I knew a woman who did. She took it with her boyfriend over a two- or three-year period. She had very disturbing ones and, just as bad, ended up on disability allowance because the drug left her with brain damage. Never once did I hear her string a sentence together. She could barely function. She certainly could not have held down a job.
She told me to never experiment with drugs; they were too risky, she said: ‘And I’m proof’.
The 1998 film Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas adapted from Hunter S Thompson’s book, has these lines in the script which seem to describe the druggy reality for many:
We are all wired into a survival trip now. No more of the speed that fueled that 60’s. That was the fatal flaw in Tim Leary’s trip. He crashed around America selling “consciousness expansion” without ever giving a thought to the grim meat-hook realities that were lying in wait for all the people who took him seriously… All those pathetically eager acid freaks who thought they could buy Peace and Understanding for three bucks a hit. But their loss and failure is ours too. What Leary took down with him was the central illusion of a whole life-style that he helped create… a generation of permanent cripples, failed seekers, who never understood the essential old-mystic fallacy of the Acid Culture: the desperate assumption that somebody… or at least some force – is tending the light at the end of the tunnel.
Now back to Timothy Leary and others from the 1960s, courtesy of ‘The Sequoia Seminars — A History’. Emphases in bold in the original, unless citations come from Wikipedia; purple highlights are mine.
I mentioned yesterday that Leary met CIA agent Cord Meyer in 1948 when the former was in graduate school at UC Berkeley and the latter was infiltrating un-American organisations.
It’s possible that Leary was doing some work for the CIA after that time, since Meyer had asked for his help. The CIA was also doing research via military and civilian institutions into work on a ‘truth serum’ or ‘truth drug’ which would help the US interrogate enemies.
Between 1954 and 1959, Leary was the director of clinical research and psychology at the Kaiser Foundation Hospital in Oakland, California. It seems that, during this time, he developed the psychometric test — the Leary Interpersonal Behavioral Test — which the CIA used when assessing prospective employees.
One of Leary’s grad school classmates, Frank Barron, was a CIA contractor during this period. He worked at the CIA-staffed and funded Berkeley Institute for Personality Assessment and Research.
In 1960, Barron was asked to head the government-funded Harvard Psychedelic Drug Research Center at Harvard University. Leary joined him at Harvard that year and worked as a lecturer in psychology until 1963.
Also working with or at the Center was former OSS psychologist Henry ‘Harry’ Murray, one of the monitors of the ‘truth serum’ experiments in the 1940s. One of Murray’s 1960s subjects was Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber. Kaczynski’s Wikipedia entry states:
While at Harvard, Kaczynski was among the twenty-two Harvard undergraduates used as guinea pigs in ethically questionable experiments conducted by Henry Murray. In the experiment each student received a code name. Kaczynski was given the code name “Lawful”. Among other purposes, Murray’s experiments were focused on measuring people’s reactions under extreme stress. The unwitting undergraduates were submitted to what Murray himself called “vehement, sweeping and personally abusive” attacks. Assaults to their egos, cherished ideas and beliefs were the tools used to cause high levels of stress and distress. These experiments were conducted at Harvard University from the fall of 1959 through the spring of 1962.
In 1963, Harvard fired Leary and fellow colleague Richard Alpert — who later became the celebrated Ram Dass. The two moved to Millbrook, New York, where they established the International Foundation for Internal Freedom (IFIF) – later renamed the Castalia Foundation. They later found themselves in trouble with future Nixon adviser G Gordon Liddy, then the Dutchess County district attorney, for their black market LSD manufacturing operation.
Leary made public appearances and was seen as a counterculture hero. He was best known for a motto that Marshall McLuhan gave him:
Turn on, tune in, drop out.
Leary had scrapes with the law, served time in prison, associated with underground radicals and was married several times. He continued to be a public speaker in later years. He died in 1996.
The CIA and LSD
LSD supporters blame the CIA for ‘bad acid’ and other derivatives which hit the streets. They say the CIA deliberately laced good LSD with strychnine to create propagandistic ‘horror stories’ to put people off taking it.
These products were known as ‘psychedelics’ and comprise:
- STP, developed by Dow Chemical in 1964 to incapacitate an enemy;
- PCP, used in conjunction with LSD between 1955 and 1975, tested on enlisted men at Edgewood Arsenal in Maryland;
- BZ, or brown acid, developed by Hoffmann-LaRoche (no relation to Albert Hofmann), and tested at Edgewood.
All of these have very serious side-effects which can last for days.
Incidentally, Frank Zappa’s father Francis was a chemical warfare specialist who worked at Edgewood Arsenal for several years.
Connecting with the arts and music world
Ronald Hadley Stark was a CIA operative who could speak five languages and had many senior contacts both in government and the private sector.
It was Stark who supplied LSD to Beat novelist Ken Kesey and his friends, the Merry Pranksters. Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test describes their journey across the US in a dayglo bus.
Stark gave them thousands of LSD doses which the Merry Pranksters distributed across the country.
Later, in 1969, during a shortage of LSD ingredient ergotamine tartrate, Stark managed to get production back on track. With financing from a bank in the Bahamas and help from a French pharmaceutical firm, a new type of LSD derivative entered the market: orange sunshine.
Stark was also connected with a Scientology breakaway sect called The Process Church of the Final Judgement. It attracted many rock ‘n’ roll stars of the 1960s as well as Charles Manson and his followers. Manson and his followers are thought to have taken orange sunshine prior to committing the Tate-LaBianca murders in 1969.
Orange sunshine was more bad acid. It eventually put an end to the so-called love-ins and hippie utopias. By the mid-1970s, all that had died out.
My Sunday/Monday post will conclude on LSD and hallucinogens with Aldous Huxley’s extensive involvement in MK-Ultra which he was able to start contributing to in the 1930s — before it was even devised.