Friday, 6 February 2015

The LSD Experiments of the 1950s and 60s [Videos & Documentaries]




The 1950s and 60s were a time when a wide range of human experimentation took place. Perhaps the CIA-funded MK-Ultra is the first name that comes to mind when pondering such topic. The following tests, though, do not involve horrific torture or chemical sleep. The subjects in those experiments were given LSD — Lysergic Acid Diethylamide — and were interviewed and monitored, first for the sake of research then for therapy. 


Since there is a full sub-chapter about psychedelics in my upcoming book, I find this a good opportunity to share a few things. 

The word ‘psychedelic’ is derived from the Greek; literally meaning “mind-manifesting”. It was first suggested by British-born Canadian psychiatrist Humphry Osmond (1917-2004) in a letter to Aldous Huxley. Osmond
is in one of the interesting experiments featured in the videos below, where, in 1955, he administered mescaline to Christopher Mayhew, a British member of parliament.





The Birth of LSD


We know that Albert Hofmann synthesized LSD-25 for the first time in 1938 in Basel, Switzerland where he was working as a chemist for Sandoz Pharmaceuticals. LSD is a naturally occurring psychoactive hallucinogenic substance found in ergot; it can also be synthesised as a chemical produced by a specific type of fungus, which grows on grains like rye and wheat. However, the hallucinogenic effects of LSD remained unknown until April 19th 1943 — now dubbed Bicycle Day — when Hofmann accidentally ingested a tiny dose of the drug.

Soon after, a research project under W. A. Stoll, a psychiatrist and nephew of one of the Sandoz directors, was set up. Interestingly, the directors of Sandoz Pharmaceuticals tried LSD themselves. More than 40 subjects participated; the majority of which were busy, corporate people. I would have loved to be an observing fly on the wall then.

Next, psychologists began experimenting with LSD as a ‘psychotomimetic’ drug — one that causes the user to temporarily mime the condition of psychosis. After some tests on animals, it had quickly become recognised for its potential therapeutic effects on humans, as a possible treatment for schizophrenia, as well as a research tool in studying mental illness.

Patented and marketed as Delysid in 1947, Sandoz gave out those brown-glass vials to research institutes and doctors to use in psychiatric experiments on both healthy and mentally ill subjects. Between the late 1950s and the early 1970s, LSD was legally distributed to practitioners of psychiatry mainly across the U.S, the UK, and Canada to experiment with. Psychiatrists, therapists and researchers administered ‘acid’ to thousands of people — the number publicised is about 40,000 subjects. Though I believe this figure must exclude the countless MK-Ultra victims.

Psychiatric students were also encouraged to use LSD as a teaching device to help understand schizophrenia.

Humanity’s first LSD trip on Bicycle Day commemorated as blotter art

Most of the subjects were given the new medication as a treatment for alcoholism and drug addiction; as well as for mental illnesses like anxiety and depression. Schizophrenics, obsessive-compulsives, depressives and autistic people were all dozed with LSD in hope to cure them. It was also administered to people considered mentally ill with sexual perversions, such as homosexuality.

One of the famous subjects of said experiments was Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, who became an avid supporter of the use of LSD to treat alcoholism. Another famous first experimenter was Ken Kesey, who played a major role in getting the drug from the lab to the streets of America. 

Cary Grant devoted an entire chapter in his Autobiography to talk about the benefits of LSD

It is worth noting that LSD was not the only psychedelic that was tested in the 50s and 60s. Mescaline and psilocybin — the main psychoactive ingredient in magic mushrooms were also administered to subjects.

From 1960 to 1962, experiments were conducted by psychologist Timothy Leary at Harvard University under the Harvard Psilocybin Project. Unlike MK-Ultra, his subjects willingly chose to partake in those tests, while the doses and frequency were carefully and humanly regulated.

According to Leary’s autobiography Flashbacks, the results were that out of the 300 professors, graduate students, writers and philosophers who had taken LSD, 75 percent reported the experience as one of the most educational and revealing ones of their lives.

Leary also directed the Concord Prison Experiment, which was conducted by a team of Harvard University researchers between 1961 and 1963. Along with psychotherapy, psilocybin was administered to young prisoners in attempt to inspire them to leave their antisocial lifestyles behind once they were released. Results were positive here as well.



On a more sinister note, psychedelics tests were not always as peaceful. Because of their magnanimous potency, there were also used in attempt to behaviorally engineer individuals and control them. In a series of secret MK-Ultra experiments that lasted through two decades, LSD was given to CIA employees, military personnel, doctors, other government agents, and members of the general public in order to study their reactions, often without their knowledge. A horrible thing to do, I tell you.

It was also given to mental patients, prisoners, drug addicts and prostitutes — “people who could not fight back” — as one officer put it. In one particular case, a mental patient in Kentucky was dosed with LSD continuously for 174 days. Most of those vile experiments ended with considerable amount of damage.

A total of 44 American colleges and universities, 15 research foundations or chemical or pharmaceutical companies and the like including Sandoz (now Novartis) and Eli Lilly and Company, 12 hospitals or clinics (in addition to those associated with universities), and three prisons have participated in MK-Ultra.

Many years later, 127 victims sued both the United States and Canadian governments for unwillingly taking part in the MK-Ultra experiments. Eventually the case was settled out of court for $100,000 each. But, is there really a price for messing with someone’s brain and life so barbarically?

You can learn more about this dark chapter in history from this earlier two-part research exposé of mine, MK-Ultra Then and Now — A Thorough Analysis of Mind Control.



                                                                  
The Outbreak


When in the early 60s LSD had escaped the controlled settings of the labs and reached the population, it eventually lead to a large-scale revolution of consciousness. Everything changed then. The music, the lifestyles, and the whole culture were affected by this happening. The world was Turned On. And all Heaven and Hell broke loose. A kaleidoscopic expansion of consciousness took place, shifting paradigms and forever changing the lives of millions of souls.



Initially, LSD began to be popularized through the acid tests of Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters in the American West coast. And in a more academical fashion in the East coast, through Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (Ram Dass) and their own experimentation.



Psychedelics had already been epitomized in art by pioneers such as Aldous Huxley, who wrote The Doors Of Perception after taking mescaline. A few years later, more famous figures hopped on the wagon of Love. The Greatful Dead, Hunter S. Thompson and Stephen Gaskin, along with Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, and Allen Ginsberg who were the leading figures of the Beat Generation, were a great influence behind the whole counter-culture phenomena of the ‘younger’ Hippies. Learn Why Hippies Are Sometimes Called Bohemians on this article of mine.



LSD also gave birth to psychedelic rock. From Jefferson Airplane, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream, the Doors and Pink Floyd, to the Beatles, Bob Dylan and the Beach Boys. Huge musical festivals like the Fillmore East and West and Woodstock were a natural Furthur expansion to the whole psychedelic movement.

Another more recent advocate of LSD was Apple’s Guru, the late Steve Jobs, who once said:

Taking LSD was a profound experience, one of the most important things in my life. LSD shows you that there’s another side to the coin, and you can’t remember it when it wears off, but you know it. It reinforced my sense of what was important—creating great things instead of making money, putting things back into the stream of history and of human consciousness as much as I could.

Note that Jobs wasn’t another psychonaut like, say, Leary or Terence McKenna. Nevertheless, just like them, his visions did change the world.

More LSD quotes by some great minds on Here.


Early Trippers


We know from history that pursuing the natural yearning for altering consciousness has been known to mankind for aeons.
From kids spinning in circle, drinking coffee and tea to meditations, dancing, drugs and alcohol, the yearning appears to be instinctive — possibly out of curiosity or boredom, or a certain degree of both.

In fact, humans are not alone to yearn for altered states. A wide variety of species in the animal kingdom are known to willingly ingest natural psychoactive substances to alter their consciousness — or less formerly, to get high. A compelling book discussing this topic in length is Giorgio Samorini’s 2002 Animals and Psychedelics: The Natural World and the Instinct to Alter Consciousness.


That said, before the discovery of LSD, hallucinogens, or drugs in general, have existed since the beginning of time. Most ancient cultures had some plant they used for ceremonial purposes to connect with the spirit world. Shamanic cultures specifically have always used psychoactive plants to see, to know, to grow.


Some millennia ago, the Blue Lotus (Nymphaea caerulea) was used medicinally and spiritually by the priesthoods of Ancient Egypt; and later by Hindus and Buddhists alike.

For the Greeks, the substance of higher consciousness was a beverage called Kykeon that was ingested during the annual Eleusinian Mysteries festival, which took place for 2000 long years.

Let us remember that we are part of the same species that ate the mushrooms, the cactus, the lotus, Ayahuasca, Haoma (Sauma), Pituri, the Mayan’s Balché, El Toloache Moonflower (Datura inoxia) of the
Chumash People of California, the famous Vedic medicine soma, and its Iranian variety haoma.

Accordingly, I do find it ironic that such experiences that were once considered normal, insightful, and mystical by many cultures are now considered illegal by most of today’s modern societies. At the same time, other more acceptable drugs are marketed to the population and considered “safe” like alcohol, tobacco and sugar; as well as all the pharmaceuticals prescribed by doctors.

It appears that for
the powers that be, some drugs are more important than others, depending on who uses them and how much money can be made off of them. How could marijuana and mushrooms be illegal? How could Nature be illegal?



The Tests


Now, let us us watch those educational flashbacks from history.

The first video here is of Dr. Sydney Cohen interviewing a ‘stable’ L.A house wife after dosing her with LSD at the Los Angeles Veterans Administration Hospital. The test is followed by a few words about the topic from the philosopher and historian, Gerald Heard.



Everything is beautiful and lovely and alive. This is reality.”

I can see all the molecules, I’m part of it. Can’t you see it? I wish you could see it.” 

Can you tell me about it, the doctor asked her. She paused and responded:
I can’t tell you about it. If you can’t see it then you’ll just never know it. I feel sorry for you.


Her reaction was exactly how I felt when at 19 and first experimented with MDMA then LSD. I wanted to share the beauty with all my loved ones, so they may get a taste of the “other side” and join me. And I did. But a few trips were enough for most of them.

I sincerely believe that it would be beneficial if everyone had at least one psychedelic experience before they die — like the Eleusinian Mysteries, once will be enough for most to tune in. Echoing with the following Terence McKenna quote:

I think of going to the grave without having a psychedelic experience like going to the grave without ever having sex. It means that you never figured out what it is all about. The mystery is in the body and the way the body works itself into nature.


The next test involves the Department of Physiology at the University of Southern California Medical School and an 34-year-old artist.



The fact is I will never eat a hamburger again. It’s so vulgar” sums up lots of things about LSD. I love how he said it so genuinely. Remember this was way back then when burgers were the norm.

As an observer....I wish you were enjoying it with me.”
Again, there is a compulsion to share the new found reality. It is truly a highly unselfish drug.

This is purple, huh.”
No, this is black.

Very benevolent.

Do you still have that pleasant feeling that you described before?
Yes, I still have it. I’ll never get over it. I’ll never be the same.”

Indeed, you’re never the same after that first trip. And the man already knew. Also notice how eloquent and descriptive he is while tripping.


Unlike the above two ‘stable’ subjects, the next two featured in the Spring Grove Experiments CBS documentary had been mental patients. One is an alcoholic man, the other is a housewife with some inner issues. Though based on today’s standards, this woman who felt that her life is ‘empty’ is actually normal, even healthy. In many cases, suppressing our feelings and emotions for too long is what eventually lead to mental breakdowns.



The property of psychedelics that makes them a useful tool is that they teach the mind how to cope with the original deep-held, often repressed traumas, which are usually the cause of the illnesses. The lucidity and openness that come while ‘tripping’ end up by setting things straight in the psyche — for it truly is mind-manifesting.

Also, one must ride the trip, and not the other way round. Once you got it together, you’ll realize that psychedelics do not actually change things; they just give you the opportunity to look at them differently; they add you with a new perspective. And that’s how the change comes about.


Despite the early success, almost all psychedelic therapy ended when the U.S government officially criminalized the drug and made it illegal on October 16, 1966. Until today in the U.S and the U.K, LSD — and mushrooms too, imagine? — remains scheduled as Class I, which is the most restrictive class of drugs with cocaine and heroin.

Paradoxically, LSD ranks as 14th out of 20 in the league table of drug harmfulness. Given the footage featured herein, it makes one really think if that was/is a wise choice.

Fortunately, organizations like MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) had resumed the work that was left off. They are already achieving considerable results in the domain of psychedelic therapy, one of which is the MDMA- assisted program for treatment of PTSD that started operating legally in 2004.

Another program is the psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy, known to help reduce anxiety associated with terminal cancer diagnoses among other illnesses. One of the videos below is about one of those cases. 

On a parallel note, you can view the interesting timeline of the history of MDMA and how scientists eventually won the war that was waged against it by the DEA on Here.

In other similar experiments conducted by the psychiatrist Oscar Janiger starting in 1954 and continuing for seven years, LSD was given to over 100 professional artists to measure its effects on their artistic output and creative ability

Decades later after these early experiments, we now know much more about psychedelics as well as about the human mind. Today, psychedelics practically treat anxiety associated with life-threatening illnesses, advanced-stage cancer and PTSD, end of life, even OCD and managing cluster headaches. And that’s exactly what MAPS are doing with their clinical psychedelic therapy.

After watching the tests, you may agree with me that it is somewhat absurd how much they knew of the great potential of psychedelics at the time, yet the U.S government still made it illegal. Obviously, they never wanted smooth, cheaper remedies. So, they demonized all psychedelics while pumping billions into Big Pharma, who are not really in the business to create cures, but to create customers.

Psychedelic research was also restricted due to how LSD became so widespread between the general public in just a matter of several years. I’m sure this was of significant concern, knowing that it was the CIA and the government who first got it out to the light. Now the genie was roaming free.
It was actually dangerous for them to have all these people turned on — people with free minds who are capable of critical thinking.


On a lighter note, the following videos are of two other LSD experiments involving US and British soldiers. Even though they are funny to watch today many decades later, but ingesting LSD with such set and setting may have not been the best of experiences for the soldiers, say, compared to the housewife and the artist. One thing for sure, these tests were not as intellectually stimulating. Besides, there sure must be some kind of pressure being young soldiers tripping for the first time in front of their superiors.

However, this wasn’t even the 60s yet and, again, no one really knew much about psychedelics, so it was all about experimenting. Enjoy the hilarity.



And the same with British soldiers



“After one hour and ten minutes, one man climbed a tree to feed the birds,” also sums up LSD.


The following two experiments involve different kind of psychedelics. The First is from 1965 when Humphry Osmond administered mescaline to Christopher Mayhew. 



The second is from a much later time in 2012. It involves a 65-year-old grandmother, Estalyn Walcoff, who, under the guidance of two New York University psychotherapists, took mushrooms after being diagnosed with a type of untreatable lymphoma. She is sharing here how that single experience positively affected her. It truly is fascinating.

A Patient Speaks from Patrick H. Murphy on Vimeo.


In summation, psychedelics, and drugs in general, are not for everyone. However, in the right hands, these consciousness tools can cause enlightening journeys of self-discovery that are extremely educational and highly revealing. They allow us to explore that mental place, which is already within us.

Apart from their therapeutic effects, psychedelic experiences give people a chance to re-evaluate their entire life philosophy. They show you a side of existence that you may have never even thought about — or the other side of the coin, as Jobs described it.

Psychedelics have the ability to catalyse a sense of life meaning and purpose, as they catalyse imagination, creativity and personal growth. They offer you a chance to know the true self and understand the inner psyche, which, if used the right way, could lead to metanoia. For the Kingdom of Heaven is truly within us.


Another property of psychedelics is that they have the ability to catalyse profound spiritual experiences and facilitate feelings of interconnectedness. They allow us to get a glimpse of transcendental and mystical insight. They work like an enlightenment enhancer, if you will. That glimpse, however, can later be deepened and developed by various esoteric ways such as mediation and yoga, which, in today’s world, may not be enough since one will need a considerable amount of time to reach such higher states of consciousness.

Similarly, as we have seen, those same tools can alter behaviour in beneficial ways that are not easily attainable through conventional therapy. In fact, in most cases, psychedelics have shown to be more effective then the addictive pharmaceuticals. Unlike the conventional pills that numb you like a zombie, with psychedelics the experimenter reaches the root of the problem, so they are able to let go of it and move on. One does not have to live on medications.

Even though each trip is different than the other, but after some time, psychedelics may no longer be necessary or useful. Or as Allan Watts puts it: When you get the message, hang up the phone. Because, again, they are nothing but tools — magnificent, colourful tools.


The topic is so vast and gripping, that I will stop here and leave the rest for the book. Enjoy the documentaries.


“‘Turn on’ meant go within to activate your neural and genetic equipment. Become sensitive to the many and various levels of consciousness and the specific triggers that engage them. Drugs were one way to accomplish this end. ‘Tune in’ meant interact harmoniously with the world around you—externalize, materialize, express your new internal perspectives. ‘Drop Out’ suggested an elective, selective, graceful process of detachment from involuntary or unconscious commitments. ‘Drop Out’ meant self-reliance, a discovery of one’s singularity, a commitment to mobility, choice, and change. Unhappily my explanations of this sequence of personal development were often misinterpreted to mean ‘Get stoned and abandon all constructive activity.’”
— Timothy Leary




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