Monday, March 24, 2014

lsd was a cia weapon


salon | The idea that LSD could produce mental disorganization encouraged the CIA to start using it in experiments similar to those carried out by the Nazi doctors. CIA operatives began administering the drug in secret to different subject populations (or indeed to each other). Like the Nazis, the CIA used different populations of helpless individuals such as prisoners, drug addicts, and mental patients in their experiments, often with appalling results. The CIA not only performed experiments on individuals but also came up with schemes for contaminating the water supply of potential enemies with LSD so as to incapacitate entire hostile populations. For this they would need large amounts of the drug, at one point ordering the equivalent of 100 million doses from Sandoz. When they found out that obtaining such a large amount as this might be somewhat problematic they turned to Eli Lilly and Company, whose capable chemists broke the secret Sandoz patent and assured the CIA that they could produce LSD in tons or similar amounts. Thankfully for the future of humanity, this eventuality never came to pass. In the end the CIA concluded that the effects of hallucinogenic drugs like LSD were just too unpredictable for general use in the Cold War, and should just be reserved for very specific circumstances. Nevertheless, in the atmosphere of general paranoia that pervaded the postwar era, the CIA maintained an important role in manipulating the developing drug culture. CIA operatives acted as drug suppliers if they were interested in observing drug effects under particular circumstances, and infiltrated different drug-using groups with political points of view deemed to be of “interest” so as to relay information back to Washington.

However, it was not just the CIA who started the nascent drug culture simmering in the United States. As we have seen, Gordon Wasson had published his article on the use of psychedelic mushrooms in Mexico in Life Magazine in 1957, and this was very widely read and discussed. Aldous Huxley was another individual who greatly enhanced the awareness of the potential of psychedelic drug use. His interest in this subject clearly preceded the drug revolution of the 1960s as his famous book “Brave New World,” which had described the use of psychotropic drugs to control an entire society, had been published in 1931. Of course, much of the research on hallucinogenic drugs at the time was not just being performed at the behest of the CIA. There was enormous excitement in the psychiatric community about the possible uses of hallucinogens in psychiatry. Not only was there the idea that these drugs could be psychotomimetic and represented models of psychosis, but simultaneously other theories were being proposed suggesting the potential use of these same drugs in the treatment of mental disorders. Hence, LSD was simultaneously viewed as being psychotomimetic and a treatment for psychosis, reflecting the ferment in the psychiatric research community that the arrival of such a powerful drug had stirred up. LSD-mediated psychotherapy became highly popular and film stars such as Cary Grant were treated in this way, becoming propagandists for the drug.

In the vanguard of LSD research in psychiatry was Humphrey Osmond, whom we have already encountered as the man who introduced the word psychedelic and who, along with John Smythies, suggested the endogenous psychotogen theory of schizophrenia. Osmond attempted to use LSD as a treatment for a variety of disorders such as alcoholism, and claimed to have had considerable success. Aldous Huxley became aware of Osmond’s writings and volunteered to be a subject in one of his experiments. So, in May 1953 Osmond agreed and travelled to Huxley’s home in California to supervise his drug experience. Huxley was duly impressed and continued experimenting with the drug on subsequent occasions. Huxley’s final novel Island, published in 1960, summarized his views on the use of hallucinogens (called moksha in this novel) as an integral part of an ideal society. When he died in 1963 Huxley had his wife administer LSD to him on his deathbed as he slid into the hereafter. Other writers such as the “Beats,” including Allan Ginsberg and William Burroughs, also experimented with hallucinogens. Their book “The Yage Letters” (1963) details their sojourn in South America experimenting with ayahuasca.

It can therefore be seen that in the 1950s hallucinogenic drugs including mescaline, psilocybin, and LSD had become a widely discussed topic in medical, political, and artistic circles. However, in order for the use of hallucinogens to really take off in society in general, something else was needed. Proselytizing leaders were required, and one was soon at hand.

In 1960 Timothy Leary was a 39-year-old psychology lecturer at Harvard. He clearly had a bright career ahead of him, having carried out important basic research in behavioral psychology. Leary read Wasson’s article in Life Magazine and, like many others, was intrigued. That summer he traveled down to Cuernavaca in Mexico with friends and obtained some samples of psilocybin mushrooms. Leary was profoundly impressed with his experience. Basically, he was bored with the kind of life he was leading as a faculty member at Harvard and saw that hallucinogens represented an entirely new path for the exploration of the psyche. Soon after returning to Boston he was sharing psilocybin with students and faculty alike and, together with his colleague Richard Alpert, set up an entire psilocybin-based research project which included “experiments” such as the Marsh Chapel religious event discussed in the previous chapter. Eventually Leary was also introduced to LSD, and this became his experimental drug of choice. However, the authorities at Harvard had soon had enough of Leary’s antics, self-promotion, and his entire modus operandi. In 1963 both Leary and Alpert were dismissed from their faculty positions.

However, Leary was not deterred in the slightest. Initially he and Alpert started their own organization, the International Federation for Internal Freedom (IFIF) for the further study of the religious and psychological potential of hallucinogenic drug use. The IFIF was headquartered in a Mexican resort town. However, the reports of wild orgies and other unseemly behavior caused the Mexican authorities to evict the group, and Leary was back in the United States once again. By this time experimenting with LSD had developed a cachet that was attracting the attention of many high rollers throughout the country. Eventually Leary encountered the fabulously wealthy William Mellon Hitchcock (aka “Mr. Billy”), the grandson of the founder of Gulf Oil. Mr. Billy took to LSD and to Timothy Leary and offered him and his acolytes the use of his 64-room country estate. Here at the Millbrook estate Leary established the Castalia Foundation, named after the priestly sect in Hesse’s novel The Glass Bead Game, which was dedicated to the scholarly study of LSD and its spiritual applications. Apparently Leary saw himself as a latter-day Joseph Knecht and proceeded to hold court with anybody who cared to visit, partake of the LSD experience, and discuss the matter with him. As a guide to the direction and understanding of LSD-induced psychedelic experience, Leary used the Tibetan Book of the Dead which deals explicitly with different states of consciousness. Leary reinterpreted this so that it ended up as a sort of mixture of Buddhist wisdom and Scientology. Clearly at this point Leary had become the high priest of an LSD-fueled religion complete with its own bible. Millbrook was visited by a wide variety of high-profile individuals from the arts and politics, and its place in the general public’s consciousness rapidly increased.

However, it was not only Leary who catalyzed the popularity of LSD. In 1960 Ken Kesey, who had graduated from Stanford’s creative writing workshop, answered an advertisement for human guinea pigs to take part in one of the CIA-sponsored research studies on psychedelic drugs at a local hospital and ended up working there in the psychiatric ward. Here the ample availability of both psychedelic drugs and mental patients inspired him to write his first novel, “One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest”—a considerable critical and popular success. The money that he earned from the book allowed Kesey, like Leary on the East Coast, a certain degree of freedom. While continuing to write, a group of like-minded and frequently stoned associates began to form a loose association with him.

Kesey’s take on the use of the LSD experience, however, was very different from Leary’s. He saw himself as a sort of agent provocateur whose role was to shake up the entire bourgeois establishment. In 1964, together with his band of “Merry Pranksters,” he purchased a bus, painted it in bright Day-Glo colors and, with the Pranksters attired in outrageous garb, traveled across the country handing out LSD—or “acid” as it was becoming known—to anybody who wanted to try it. In this way Kesey began to democratize the use of LSD, and things began to take on the characteristics of the drug counterculture movement of the 1960s. While in New York, Kesey and the Pranksters visited Leary at Millbrook in what clearly could have been an interesting meeting. However, the presence of two egos as large as theirs was too much even for the 64 rooms of Millbrook. Indeed, Leary did not deign to meet personally with Kesey, and the latter was not impressed with the priestly atmosphere pervading the upper class Millbrook estate where, in spite of everything else, attempts were made to study the effects of LSD on behavior in a conventional sense. So, the result was a culture clash—East coast versus West Coast, upper class versus working class, exclusivity versus egalitarianism. Kesey wanted to popularize the entire “acid trip” in a way that was fundamentally different from what Leary was doing. Following his return to California, Kesey began to mount a series of “Acid Tests,” basically the precursors to hippie happenings where acid-laced “Electric Kool-Aid” was readily available accompanied by the latest music played by Kesey’s favorite rock group, The Warlocks, soon to reemerge as The Grateful Dead.

In 1965, when large amounts of easily available acid hit the streets of US cities, American society was a powder keg ready to explode. The combination of the Vietnam war, the assassination of Malcolm X, the race riots in Watts and other cities, and the volatile mood on US college campuses, all contributed to the general ferment. Society was becoming increasingly radicalized and many young people felt completely disillusioned with their government and society in general. They sought to distance themselves from the status quo and to distinguish themselves as revolutionaries in as many ways as possible.