Friday 6 February 2015

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

The LSD Experiments of the 1950s and 60s [Videos & Documentaries] by Omar Cherif, One Lucky Soul

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 — among other psychedelics and were interviewed and monitored, first for the sake of research then for therapy. 

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

The word ‘psychedelic’ is derived from Ancient Greek; literally meaning “mind-manifesting”. From ψυχή (psukhḗ, “mind, breath, life, soul”) + δῆλος (dêlos, “manifest, clear, visible”) + English -ic. 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 below videos, where in 1955 he administered mescaline to Christopher Mayhew, a British member of parliament.

The Birth of LSD

We know that Albert Hofmann synthesised 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.

LSD sheet depicting Bicycle Day on April 19th - The LSD Experiments of the 1950s and 60s [Videos & Documentaries], One Lucky Soul
Humanity’s first LSD trip on Bicycle Day (April 19th) 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 [then] 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. 

The LSD Experiments of the 1950s and 60s [Videos & Documentaries] by Omar Cherif, One Lucky Soul
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.

You can find out about my wackiest experience with shrooms on Out-of-Body Experience and Ego Death on a “Heroic Dose” of Mushrooms

The LSD Experiments of the 1950s and 60s [Videos & Documentaries] by Omar Cherif, One Lucky Soul

On a more sinister note, psychedelics tests were not always as peaceful. Because of their magnanimous potency, there were also used in attempt to behaviourally 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.

On a parallel note, psychedelics can indeed mess with the minds and lives of certain people, particularly those whose mental health may not be too stable. One clear example is Syd Barrett the creative founder of Pink Floyd who apparently overdid it and who is often considered an Acid casualty. Another may be Charles Manson who seem to have used LSD as a tool to psychopathically brainwash his followers in the late 60s.  

The Outbreak

When in the early 60s LSD 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 popularised 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 epitomised 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 Grateful Dead, Hunter S. Thompson and Stephen Gaskin, along with Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, and Allen Ginsberg — 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 other article.

The LSD Experiments of the 1950s and 60s [Videos & Documentaries] by Omar Cherif, One Lucky Soul

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.

Here is a colourful selection of LSD quotes by some brilliant minds on Goodreads.

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 circles, 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
descendants 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 find it quite 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 while 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 them. How could cannabis and mushrooms be illegal? How could Nature be illegal?

The LSD Experiments of the 1950s and 60s [Videos & Documentaries] by Omar Cherif, One Lucky Soul

The Experiments

Now, let us us review 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 hold that it would be beneficial if all mentally healthy people had at least one psychedelic experience before they die — like the Eleusinian Mysteries. Once should be enough 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 experiment from 1955 involves Dr. Nicholas Bercel and a 34-year-old artist — at the Department of Physiology at the University of Southern California Medical School (USC). “Bill” here ingested 100 micrograms of LSD.

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.” [typical]
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 quite the same after that first trip. And the man already knew. Also notice how eloquent and descriptive he is while tripping.

Nevertheless, pioneer chemist Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin had this to say about the experimentation in his book Pihkal: A Chemical Love Story.

I don’t know if you realize this, but there are some researchers — doctors — who are giving this kind of drug to volunteers, to see what the effects are, and they’re doing it the proper scientific way, in clean white hospital rooms, away from trees and flowers and the wind, and they’re surprised at how many of the experiments turn sour. They’ve never taken any sort of psychedelic themselves, needless to say. Their volunteers - they’re called ‘subjects’, of course — are given mescaline or LSD and they’re all opened up to their surroundings, very sensitive to color and light and other people’s emotions, and what are they given to react to? Metal bed-frames and plaster walls, and an occasional white coat carrying a clipboard. Sterility. Most of them say afterward that they’ll never do it again.”

Thinking about my own first MDMA experience in 1996 then the first LSD trip in 1997 and how they affected my life and relationship with psychedelics for the following 25 years, I absolutely agree with him. Then again, we are talking about the 1950s when most still knew almost nothing about it.

Unlike the above two ‘stable’ subjects, the next two featured in the 2CBS 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’ seems to actually be quite normal, even healthy. In many cases, suppressing our feelings and emotions for too long is what eventually lead to mental breakdowns.

LSD: The Spring Grove Experiment — Part 1

LSD: The Spring Grove Experiment — Part 2

The property of psychedelics that makes them a useful healing 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 which 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 realise 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 criminalised the drug and made it illegal on October 16, 1966. Until today in the U.S and UK, LSD remains scheduled as Class I, which is the most restrictive class of drugs that includes heroin. The same goes for mushrooms (psilocybin and psilocin) imagine?

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, organisations like MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) had resumed the work that was left off decades prior. 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.

Professional artist on LSD part of experiments conducted by psychiatrist Oscar Janiger starting 1954 - The LSD Experiments of the 1950s and 60s [Videos & Documentaries], One Lucky Soul
In other similar experiments conducted by 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 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 have been 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 demonised all psychedelics while pumping billions into Big Pharma, who do not seem to be in the business to create cures, but rather 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 fairly certain 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 once again, one is compelled to note that ingesting LSD in such set and setting may have not been the best of experiences for the soldiers; even compared to, say, 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.

As mentioned, however, this wasn’t even the 60s yet and, again, no one really knew much about these mind-manifesting substances. 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 Dr. 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 — part of a Psilocybin Cancer Anxiety Study. Titled “A Patient Speaks by Patrick H. Murphy”, in the video she is sharing how a single trip positively and truthfully affected her as well as her condition. It certainly is a fascinating account, which brings a tear to your eyes upon watching it.

A Patient Speaks from Patrick H. Murphy on Vimeo.

In summation, psychedelics, and drugs in general, are not for everyone. In the right hands, however, these consciousness tools seem to cause enlightening journeys of self-discovery, which are extremely educational and highly revealing. They allow us to explore that sacred space... that 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 considered or even thought about — the other side of the coin.

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 mystical and transcendental insight. They work like an enlightenment enhancer, if you will. That glimpse may be later deepened and developed with the help of various esoteric practices such as mediation and yoga, which in today’s busy world may not be enough — since one would 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 Alan Watts puts it: When you get the message, hang up the phone. Simply because they are nothing but tools — magnificent colourful tools.

The topic is so vast and gripping, I shall stop here to leave the rest for the book. Enjoy the videos and 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


*This research exposé was cited and quoted in the 2017 book Drugs and Society — 13th Edition by Annette E. Fleckenstein, Glen R. Hanson, and Peter J. Venturelli

Cary Grant’s Autobiography 

Timothy Leary’s Autobiography Flashbacks

The Doors of Perception / Heaven and Hell by Aldous Huxley

Pihkal: A Chemical Love Story by Alexander Shulgin
Animals and Psychedelics: The Natural World and the Instinct to Alter Consciousness by Giorgio Samorini 

MDMA-assisted program for treatment of PTSD and Psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy by MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) 

LSD Experiments on videos by Dr. Sydney Cohen, Dr. Nicholas Bercel, YouTube

LSD: The Spring Grove Experiment, YouTube

Footage of LSD experiments on American and British soldiers, YouTube

Dr. Humphry Osmond mescaline experiment involving Christopher Mayhew, YouTube 

A Patient Speaks part of the NYU Psilocybin Cancer Anxiety Study, Vimeo

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