Ergot of Rye II: The Story of LSD


From our first lecture on Ergot of Rye, our discussion centered mostly around gangrenous ergotism and we touched upon convulsive ergotism as it is thought to be related to incidents of witchcraft. It is now also thought that consumption of ergot was, in part, responsible for population depressions at various times. However, ergot is best known as the source from which Lysergic Acid Diethyamide (=LSD) was first derived. We often hear about the end or the beginning of an era. With the recreational use of LSD, the end of an era and the beginning of a new one that has, for better or worst made the world the place it is today. However, as I have said several times now, history is not made due to a single incident, but rather because a number events that as together are responsible for changes in our society. LSD may possibly have just accelerated what was already occurring.

By the early 1950s major changes were already occurring in the United States. Life was much simpler then, but changes in society’s morals were already beginning:

Alcoholism and addicts: Dan Anderson, addiction treatment pioneer, founder and former president of Hazelden Foundation in Center City, Minnesota, summed up the prevailing opinion of drug addicts and alcoholics, in the 1940’s and ’50s, in a 1998 interview “The prevailing view during the 1940s and ’50s was that alcoholics were weak on willpower, and if they ended up on the streets, they probably deserved to be there. Alcoholics were “a group that was considered at the bottom of the patient pecking order at that time. Everyone looked down on them, including the community, hospital staff, and even our mentally ill patients. The inebriates had a lower status than the schizophrenics and the manic depressives, or even the kleptomaniacs or pedophiles.” However, by the early 1950’s commercials and ads for alcoholic beverages became wide spread and made to sound more glamorous. Double standards, which were not scrutinized as much at that time, probably gradually made this formerly objectionable behavior acceptable. For example, Hall of Fame, baseball player, Mickey Mantle was also well known for his drinking problem, during his playing day, and even after he retired, Mantle was an alcoholic. It was this problem that forced him into early retirement and was responsible for his death at age 63. However, not much was ever said of his problem with alcoholism because being a well known celebrity, going out evening and drinking was something that was expected of him. In 1949, actor Robert Mitchum served 60 days for possession of marijuana. After being arrested he said to his lawyer “Well, this is the bitter end of everything — my career, my marriage, everything.” And it was something that probably would have occurred had he not been Robert Mitchum.

Rock and Roll: As a music form became mainstream during the 1950s. It began with Bill Haley and his Comets in 1954 releases “Shake, Rattle and Roll” and “Rock Around the Clock”. Introduction of 7″ 45 rpm records also began that year. Although looked upon as the beginning of moral decay in society, rock and roll only became more popular as adults continued their criticism. Once it was understood that teenagers represented an untapped group of consumers, the beginning of marketing for teens also began.

Beginning of the Civil Rights Movement: At about the same time, the desire for equal rights began. Some of the significant events that occurred are listed below:

On the December 1, 1955, Mrs. Rosa Parks, a black seamstress, was arrested in Montgomery, Alabama for not standing and letting a white bus rider take her seat. At that time, in the American south black riders were required, by law, to sit at the back of the bus. In the city bus system of Montgomery, black riders were also expected to surrender their seat to white riders if it was needed. A few days later, Martin Luther King led a boycott, of the city’s bus line, which lasted for over a year, until November, 1956, when the Supreme Court stepped in and ruled that Alabama’s laws concerning segregation on buses were illegal. This was the first civil rights demonstration with many more that followed.

On February 1, 1960, four black students in Greensboro, North Carolina, made several purchases, at a variety store then sat down at the lunch counter and ordered coffee. They were refused service. However, rather than leaving, they remained in their seats until the store closed. This was where the term “sit-in” originated. Later that year, both black and white, young people participated in similar peaceful forms of protest against segregation and discrimination. The movement spread quickly in the South and to several places in the North. As a result of the sit ins, many public facilities became desegregated.

In May 4, 1961, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), sent black and white activists called “freedom riders” into the South aboard buses to test segregation laws and practices in interstate transportation. The young white members of the freedom riders were often college students, who later went back to their universities to recruit help for their cause. Thus, began the free speech movement at universities. In 1964, the “Free Speech Movement” began at the University of California, Berkeley campus. Students at that time were not allowed to carry out political activities while on campus. The movement eventually led to freedom of speech on college campuses throughout the country.

The world then was rapidly changing, and young people by this time were often driving these changes. They were now rebelling against the values of their parents, with respect to relationships, drugs, politics, material goods, etc. This was the era in which I spent my teen years.

I first learned about LSD in 1966 while I was a junior in high school, and by that time its use was already common place, with many people advocating its use. The advocates of LSD usage were not necessarily only “hippies” taking it to get high. LSD was, in fact, taken by many as part of their treatment for psychiatric disorders and proclaimed by many as a wonder drug, but by 1968, the use of LSD would become illegal and no longer available even for medical treatment. However, as is the case of all illegal drugs, this did not stop people from using it. Despite the claims as to the benefits of LSD, mainstream America still looked upon it as a harmful drug, and the perception of people that used drugs was largely the same as that of the 1940’s and 50’s Nevertheless, as the 60’s progressed, LSD only became more popular, especially among the young. Other social changes were also coming about. The Beatles and other British groups would change not only music, but fashion, as well.

By the time of the mid 60’s , when the use of LSD was common place, this attitude changed. Slowly, people that were very much in the public eye began admitting to the use of LSD. The first celebrities that we heard about that used drugs were the rock stars, such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. This only confirmed in my parent’s opinion, as well as those of most people of their generations, that rock music and the people that played it should be banned because they were a bad influence on young people. However, then more main stream celebrities began using drugs. One that used it very early on, during the 50’s, as he was undergoing psychotherapy, was Cary Grant. During the late 60’s he admitted using LSD and was a strong advocate for this drug. Grant would say in interviews that LSD turned his life around. It was during this time, when he was 72, that he married Dyan Canyon and had a daughter. So by the late 60’s, the use of drugs no longer signaled an end to an entertainer’s career. In fact, it even enhanced some people’s career. Finally, professional athletes, the last people that our society expected to use drugs, began to admit to this indiscretion.

Some stories even became legends. One story that was published in High Times magazine, in August 1987, was an interview with Dock Ellis who was formerly a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates, in the late 60’s and 70’s. On June 20, 1970, Ellis threw a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres. However, that he did this after having taken three hits of LSD was not known until this interview. According to Ellis, he did not take LSD thinking that he would pitch a better, but did so only because he thought he was to have a day off at tome home that day. It was only after his girlfriend had returned with coffee, donuts and the morning paper that he found out that he was suppose to pitch that day. Although he showed up at the park and suited up for the game, Ellis knew that he was in bad shape and didn’t have any illusions of even making it through the first inning. When he arrived in the locker room he was not even able to find his locker without help. When he finally made it to the pitcher’s mound, Ellis was barely able to see the hand signals from his catcher, Jerry May. His first pitch never reached the catcher and bounced several feet in front of the plate. Then something strange happened that was due to the LSD. May signaled for a fast ball and when the ball left Ellis’s hand, the ball was blazing like a comet and had a fiery tail that remained visible, to him, long after May had caught the ball. Make no mistake about it, the LSD made him feel terrible. He was wobbly and his stomach was churning with acid cramps, but every time he threw the fast ball, he could see the fiery path to the plate, and as long as he kept throwing the fast ball, he could use the path to steer the ball to the plate.

Ellis admitted that he did not pitch a no-hitter because he was throwing so well that day. Part of his success was probably also due to his lack of control. The Padre’s batters felt very uneasy, in the batter’s box because of Ellis’ lack of control and also because of the glazed look in his eyes. In addition, he walked a large number of batters because of his lack of control. Nevertheless, by the end of the seventh inning, when he looked up at the scoreboard and realized that he had not given up a hit. He smacked his catcher on the arm and said, “Hey, look, I’ve got a no-no going!” If you’re a baseball fan, and didn’t know the origin of term “no-no”, this is it. It was said by Ellis while he was too stoned to say “no-hitter.”

Although, I was not happy that we had become a drug oriented society, I had naturally, assumed that it was just the natural order of things. That is, people’s ideas and attitudes had changed with time. After all, the 60’s was also the time of the free speech movement on university campuses, civil right’s marches in the South, rock music seemed to have changed suddenly with what was known as the British invasion that was led by the Beatles, and other changes such in fashion and hair styles also occurred. However, in a book that came out in 1985, there is a claim that the drug culture did not begin because it was the natural order of things, but instead was inadvertently stimulated by the CIA’s interest in LSD. A book that describes events starting from World War II (WW II) that led to the drug revolution in the 1960’s was written by Martin A. Lee and Bruce Shlain and is called Acid Dreams, The CIA, LSD and The Sixties Rebellion. Grove Press, Inc. New York. The book is well documented, mostly with information obtained from the CIA, through the Freedom of Information Act. The story is a fascinating one and involves a number of seemingly unrelated events and key figures. We will go over some of the major players.

The Discovery of LSD-25

The story begins well before the 1960’s, with the discovery of the effects of LSD. The man credited with the discovery of this drug was Dr. Albert Hofmann, a chemist working for Sandoz Laboratories in Basel, Switzerland. It was 1938, and Hofmann was searching for an analeptic compound (a circulatory stimulant) and was testing extracts from ergot. One of the extracts tested was the twenty-fifth extract from ergot that was designated LSD-25. After unsuccessful preliminary studies with laboratory animals, LSD-25 was put aside. It would be five years later, on April 16, 1943, before he would work with this particular isolate of LSD again. His story of this discovery and the many events involving LSD is described, in his own word, in his book, LSD, My Problem Child. This book is available on the internet, in its entirety. It is a well written book that is done in journal form and gives the reader insight as to what Hofmann was doing at the moment LSD was discovered and its affects on him when he inadvertently took the drug. He also writes of the aftermath of his discovery and its impact on the world and the many people that he came into contact with as a result of his discovery. I highly recommend this book.

In preparing a fresh batch of the LSD, as the story goes, Hofmann said: “I was forced to stop my work in the laboratory in the middle of the afternoon and to go home, as I was seized by a peculiar restlessness associated with a sensation of mild dizziness. On arriving home, I lay down and sank into a kind of drunkenness which was not unpleasant, and which was characterized by extreme activity of imagination. As I lay in a dazed condition with my eyes closed, I experienced daylight as specially bright. There surged up from me an uninterrupted stream of fantastic images of extraordinary plasticity and vividness and accompanied by an intense, kaleidoscopic-like play of colors. This condition gradually passed off after about three hours.” How the LSD got into his system was never really established. When asked, Hofmann has always said it may have been inadvertently absorbed through his fingers tips while he was handling it. However, with the minute amount of LSD-25, with which he came in contact, Hofmann just could not understand how it could have affected him in this matter.

Three days later he decided to try the LSD again. This time he measured out 250 micrograms. This is approximately equal to a millionth of an ounce. Hofmann consumed this very small amount thinking that the effects this time would be negligible. However, as he bicycled home with his assistant, he realized that the effects of the LSD was far greater than before. He had difficulty speaking coherently, images were distorted, the bicycle path appeared to have become twisted, and Hofmann compared the path to one of those “carnival” mirrors. At times, Hofmann was pedaling, but felt as though he was on a stationary bicycle.

Somehow Hofmann was able to bicycle home without any mishaps. Once in his home, he laid down on the sofa where his visions continued. During this time Hofmann experienced an “out-of-body” experience. He was suspended in space and was able to see his body lying on the sofa. Hofmann was very frightened at this point. He believed that he was either losing his mind and that he might possibly be trapped in this altered state of reality forever or possibly because of the out of body experience believed that he had already died. A doctor was summoned, but was not able to help him since this was something that was beyond the knowledge of medical science at the time. However, Hoffmann did endure this ordeal and as the hours wore on, the LSD effects began to wear off and by morning he awoke feeling fine.

Meanwhile, At About The Same Time

In 1942, General William Donovan, chief of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the predecessor of the CIA, called together a group of prestigious American psychiatrist in order to develop a speech-inducing drug for the purpose of intelligence interrogations.

These psychiatrist tested numerous drugs, including alcohol, barbiturates and even caffeine. Plant extracts such as Peyote and scopolamine were also tested and eventually marijuana was even tested. Although the latter was somewhat promising, the results were not consistent and was also eventually rejected along with the other compounds tested.

A few years after WWII, in 1947, the CIA was formed. The CIA took over where the OSS had left off in attempting to find a truth drug. The CIA, pursued this project in a much broader scope. They left no stone unturned in their attempt to locate a speech-inducing drug. They developed contacts throughout the globe and with people in various professions, outside of their organization. Liaisons were formed with academics in universities, police departments, criminology laboratories, doctors, psychiatrists and even hypnotists. Contacts were formed to keep abreast of new developments that may occur. Agents were also sent throughout the world to investigate new drugs and even to gather botanical specimens in which drugs would be extracted. Drugs of every kind were tested. Some were prescription type medicines, such as Seconal, Dexedrine, Pentothal and Desoxyn. Others were derived from plant extracts, such as cocaine, mescaline, atropine, heroin and scopolamine. Each drug was tried alone or in combinations. Experiments carried out with these drugs were not limited to laboratory animals, human guinea pigs were also used. These experiments were carried out in collaborations with known Nazi scientist, who had experimented with these same drugs on prisoners at Dachau and other concentration camp. The scientist were brought into the United States to continue their work after World War II. Approximately 600 top Nazi scientist were brought into the United States for this purpose, but again, most of the drugs tested were found to be ineffective for the purpose of interrogation and discarded. Experiments involving hypnosis and subliminal suggestions also were tried, but also without success.

While the CIA was experimenting with various drugs, and looking for the ultimate mind control drug, Werner Stoll, who was a colleague of Hofmann’s was the first to actually investigate LSD-25 and its psychological properties. Tests were carried out with schizophrenic patients. These results were published in 1947 and this was followed, two years later, with another short article entitled “A New Hallucinatory Agent, Active In Very Small Amounts.” Because of the network set up by the CIA to locate this type of information, by 1951, the CIA became aware of LSD and began experimentation. Unlike the other drugs tested, initial testing of LSD seemed to give very promising results. In one experiment, an army officer was given LSD and told a “significant secret” that he was not to reveal. However, when questioned, he revealed all details of the secret, and after the effects of the LSD had worn off, the officer had no memory of revealing the information. In addition to obtaining secret information, some results also suggested that LSD might also help in reviving memories of past experiences.

With these promising results, the entire CIA hierarchy initially felt that they had found what they believed to be the “holy grail” of mind control drugs. However, as research progressed, it was determined that effects of LSD varied with individuals. Information could not always be obtained from people. Some individual experienced a marked anxiety and loss of contact with reality while under the influence of LSD. Others experienced hallucinations which even hindered interrogations. And although most individuals experienced anxiety during an LSD session, some experienced what would be the ultimate draw-back in a mind control drug, a delusion of grandeur and omnipotence. That is, the person being interrogated would become convinced, under the influence of LSD, that he could defy the interrogators indefinitely. When other drugs that were tested and their results did not seem very promising, they were put aside and something else would be tried. However, the CIA didn’t want to do this with LSD because they felt that this unusual and powerful substance still had potential even though it didn’t live up to the CIA’s original expectations. There were too many pluses for them to just discard it. It worked in such minute quantities, caused serious mental confusion, it was colorless, odorless and tasteless, and therefore could be placed in food and beverages.

In keeping LSD, the role of the mind control drug for which they were searching had changed, and the CIA was no longer certain as to what their ultimate goal for LSD would be. At one point, they did a complete reversal and suggested that maybe it could be used as an anti-interrogation substance. This use would be comparable to the suicide pill. Agents would be equipped with a tablet of LSD and if they should be captured by the enemy, they could pop this tablet and would give the interrogator gibberish. At this point, the CIA was very confused since this last use would be very impractical since from their own experiments, the CIA knew that LSD could have just the opposite effect.

Despite this confusion, experimentation with LSD continued. To appreciate why you have to realize what period of time this was in our country’s history. It was the 1950’s and the “cold war” was in full swing. Most of the population, not just the CIA, had a paranoid fear that the United States was being infiltrated by “the commies” and that they would soon take us over. In the case of the CIA, there was also the paranoid belief that the Soviet Union was carrying out similar mind control research with LSD. Although there was never any evidence to indicate that this was the case, the CIA orchestrated a worst case scenario. What would happen if an American spy was caught and given LSD? An agent naive to the ways of LSD may be unable to distinguish a drug induced psychosis from insanity. Therefore, the only means by which the CIA could be certain that their agent would not break down is if they had experienced LSD and realize that its effects are temporary.

In testing it on their agents, the CIA did what would seem to be the most bizarre and dangerous part of their experiments with LSD. At first the agents tested the LSD only on themselves, but later agreed among themselves that they would slip LSD into each other’s food or drinks without prior notice to the individual that was to be drugged. After all, when their agents are out in the field, the doctoring of their drinks and/or food would be without prior notice. This would be a real test This was done randomly and nobody knew when it would happen to them. However, it soon got out of hand, and rather than being an atmosphere where experiments were being carried out, it was soon more like children’s playing pranks on each other. The Office of Security, a branch of the CIA thought that the agency should have exercised better judgment in dealing with a drug as powerful as LSD. However, nothing was done until rumors began that some agents would be placing LSD in the punch during the annual CIA Christmas party.

As a result of this research, by the mid 50’s, the CIA had a definite role for LSD. Instead of relying on it as a means of getting someone to talk, it was now used as a means of attacking a person psychologically in order to confuse them. In this scenario, LSD with the aide of a skilled interrogator, could confuse the people they are interrogating in order to obtain information. This was the method by which the CIA interrogated people from the mid-950’s to early 60’s.

The Use of LSD Outside the CIA

In the 50’s, following the publications, by Werner Stoll on LSD, only a handful of scientists in the United States were carrying out research with LSD. At this time, the field of experimental psychiatry had little funding agencies that were funding their research. The CIA looked upon this as a marvelous opportunity to enhance LSD research. There had not been, at this time, any systematic research on LSD, and with the CIA’s virtually unlimited resources, a whole new series of grants arose through CIA-lined conduits such as the Geschickter Fund for Medical Research, the Society for the Study of Human Ecology and the Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation. Since the CIA was funding these research grants, they could now more readily keep track of all research that was being carried out with LSD.

Many of the research programs carried out would be illegal today and many of the activities being carried out were illegal even at that time. One project took place at the Addiction Research Center of the US Public Health Service Hospital, in Lexington, Kentucky. This institution was a place where heroin addicts would go to break their habit. The patients had no way of knowing that this hospital was an arm of the CIA and that they were being used in the development of mind control drugs. Whenever the CIA came across new drugs, they were funneled into institutions such as this one, to test the drugs. Over eight hundred compounds, including LSD was tested there. When drug users were in need of a fix, they could go to Lexington and volunteer to be guinea pigs. In payment for their service they were given morphine and heroin for their participation in the experiment.

In addition to the CIA, the Chemical Corps of the Army also experimented with LSD, but with a far different goal. The army was experimenting with LSD as a new chemical weapon. A weapon that would spray LSD over a battle field which would disorient the enemy and take away their will to resist. Congress funded the army’s research in this area, based on the argument that this would be a more humane means of incapacitating the enemy. The army funded research at various universities, civilian hospitals and carried out “in-house” experiments as well. The latter experiments involved evaluating soldiers that were under the influence of LSD. Many of the subjects that participated were soldiers who were reported to have volunteered for the experiments. By the mid 1960’s nearly 1500 military personnel had participated in experiments conducted by the army. However, many of these later claimed that they were coerced into “volunteering” by their commanding officers. Many claimed to have be suffering severe depression and emotional problems resulting from these experiments. Ironically, there were also reports that soldiers were stealing LSD from the laboratory for recreational purposes.

When the experiments were all done, the Chemical Corps concluded that LSD was more effective by ingestion than inhalation and they were unable to determine a means of delivering the drug simultaneously to a large group of people. Thus, this precluded LSD as a large-scale battle weapon.

LSD Becomes Goes Public

Captain Alfred Hubbard served as a high level officer with OSS during the second World War and was a spy by profession. He personally filtered millions of dollars through the American consulate to finance numerous covert operations. He later went to make his fortune as a uranium entrepreneur. Hubbard was also a man with many government and business connections who carried out missions of covert operations even though he was no longer employed by the United States. Hubbard would seem to be a very unlikely person to have the title of the “Johnny Appleseed of LSD.” However, he was the first to make LSD available as a recreational drug.

Hubbard was 49 when he was first introduced to LSD by Dr. Ronald Sandison of Great Britain. Following his initial experience with LSD, which apparently changed his life, Hubbard began to seek out others familiar with hallucinogenic drugs. Among those that he contacted was Dr. Humphry Osmond who was interested in psychosis and mental illness and was working with LSD and mescaline. Osmond introduced LSD to many of his patients and nearly a thousand people with which he experimented . Among those that he treated were Aldous Huxley who was later introduced to LSD by Hubbard.

Osmond and Hubbard both believed LSD to be a most remarkable drug and reasoned that if it could help alcoholics and changed the way in which sick people looked at the world, surely LSD could be used to change the world by changing the belief systems of world leaders.

Because of his impressive standing among business and political leaders in the United States and Canada, Hubbard was able to obtain large supplies of LSD which he freely gave to friends and researchers at his own personal expense. Hubbard traveled throughout North America and Europe in his own plane and gave LSD to anyone who wanted to try it. During the 50’s and 60’s Hubbard claimed to have “turned-on” thousands of people from all walks of life. Among those that Hubbard gave LSD were doctors who used them to treat their patients or for recreation purposes.

Dr. Oscar Janiger, a Los Angeles psychiatrist, was among those who Hubbard supplied with LSD. He was part of a small circle of scientists and literary figures in the Los Angeles area who began using LSD at social gatherings in the mid 1950’s. Among those participating in his circle of friends were Aldous Huxley, Gerald Heard the philosopher, Perry Bivens, the deep-sea diver and various researchers. By the late 50’s, LSD was the talk of Hollywood as various movie stars were given the drug by their psychiatrist. Among them were Andre Previn, Jack Nicholson, James Coburn and Cary Grant. Grant surprisingly, among the above people, began actively promoting LSD. Grant stated, “I’ve been searching for peace of mind. I’d explored yoga and hypnotism and made several attempts at mysticism. Nothing really seemed to give me what I wanted until this treatment.” Suddenly psychiatrists who utilized LSD in their therapy were inundated with inquiries.

LSD and Other Hallucinogens Goes Mainstream

In 1957, psychoactive drugs had achieved a certain amount of notoriety with the seventeen page spread, in Life magazine, by R. Gordon Wasson, who was by then retired as vice-president of J.P. Morgan and Company and began to pursue his life-long interest in mushrooms. In this article, Wasson described his experience with psychoactive mushrooms. This article was the first, concerning hallucinogens, that reached a mass audience. The article led hundreds to journey into Mexico to experience the mushrooms.

Among those interested in the Wasson article was a clinical psychologist, Timothy Leary. Between 1954-59, Leary was the director of clinical research and psychology at the Kaiser Foundation Hospital in Oakland, California and had published extensively in scientific journal and had written a highly acclaimed psychology textbook. He would eventually receive an appointment at Harvard University where students and professors had for years been test subjects for the CIA- and military-funded LSD experiments. Although Leary’s background sounded like the American dream for most people, Leary was having second thoughts on his career. He was going through a mid-life crisis and had gone through two failed marriage. His first wife had committed suicide. It was during his trip to Mexico, when he consumed the psychoactive mushroom, Psilocybe, that Leary’s life changed.

Upon his return to Harvard, Leary began research, not with LSD, but with psilocybin, the psychoactive compound from the Psilocybe that he had consumed. Working with Leary on this research was a colleague, Richard Albert, who would be a long time collaborator with Leary. So Leary was a late-comer to the psychoactive research scene. Together they published what were to be well respected research articles, but eventually began experiments that were questioned by other Harvard researchers. Experiments began at Leary’s home where experimenters as well as subjects, himself included, were taking the “mushroom pill” as it was to be called. To Leary, psilocybin was one among a number of known psychoactive compounds and he was of the opinion that if you had tried one you had tried them all. This would change when Leary was introduced to LSD.

Michael Hollingshead who once worked for the British Cultural Exchange, was unemployed at the time that he met Leary in the early 1960s. However, he had come into possession of one gram of LSD, enough for 10,000 doses. The LSD was mixed with powdered sugar and distilled water and placed in a mayonnaise jar. However, he was uncertain as to what to do with the LSD and called upon Aldous Huxley for advice. Huxley, who had met Leary, respected his research and suggested he go to Harvard to see Leary. This would be Leary’s first introduction to LSD and he would be so stunned by LSD that for a period of time he looked upon Hollingshead as his LSD guru. His associate Richard Albert later also took LSD for the first time and from then on LSD became part of their research.

Although there was much research with psychoactive drugs at Harvard during this time, Leary was warned not to let things get out of hand. Leary, being the rebellious sort, ignored this advice and published an article in 1962, in the Journal of Atomic Scientists, warning that the Russians might try to subvert the United States by dumping a few pounds of LSD into our reservoirs of major cities. To prepare for this possible attack, Leary advised that we should dose our reservoirs with LSD so that people would know what to expect. Leary was criticized for this remark by his colleagues, most of whom had CIA connections. Remember that the CIA wanted to keep this research secret.

As Leary’s continued research, with LSD, became common knowledge around Harvard, officials began to worry. During a faculty meeting in 1962, Leary’s opponent had charged that he conducted his research studies in an irresponsible matter. Specifically, trained physicians were not present during his experiment and Leary, himself, got high during the experiments. Although Leary admitted to operating outside of what would be considered the correct medical protocol, Leary did not back down. He emphasized that taking LSD with test subjects was common among psychiatrists and that a qualified physician was not necessarily any more qualified to administer LSD than he was. Especially if he had never taken the drug himself. However, the faculty had misgivings concerning the direction of his research.

The following day, a sensationalized account of the faculty meeting appeared in the Harvard Crimson, the school paper. The story was picked up by the Boston press, which prompted an investigation by the US Food and Drug Administration, which had been assisting the CIA’s drug testing efforts. Leary was soon told that unless a physician was present, he would no longer be allowed to carry out his LSD experiments. Leary and Albert were ordered to surrender their supply of psilocybin and a special committee of faculty members would oversee future experiments. By the end of 1962, the psilocybin project would be terminated. Although Leary did surrender his “stash”, he accused the government and the medical establishment of conspiring to suppress valuable research from the public.

The dispute over Leary’s practices soon became connected with reports that sugar cubes laced with LSD were circulating around the Harvard campus. There were many stories, though unconfirmed, about LSD parties and undergraduates selling sugar cubes on the black market. Although Leary was not accused of dealing drugs, he had the reputation of being a rebel and was eventually dismissed in 1963. However, not for the above charges, but for missing an honors program committee meeting. Albert was dismissed earlier for violating an agreement not to supply LSD to undergraduates. This would be the first time, in the 20th Century, that Harvard faculty members had been fired.

Leary and Albert did not take the firing lying down. They blasted Harvard in the Harvard Review. This was hot news and in the coming months, most of the major magazines featured stories on LSD and Leary became “Mr. LSD,” a title that he welcomed. He took his case to the people, in particular the young people. He was convinced that the hope of the world was in LSD. His philosophy was simple, the more turned ,on the better. The phrase “turn on, tune in and drop out” was made famous by Leary at this time. Leary had become the high priest of LSD. With the extensive coverage on LSD by the news media, this undoubtedly spurred the growth of the psychedelic underground.

The Beginning of the End

The readily available of LSD was about to come to an end. Although there were many examples of the benefits of LSD in medical practice since its inception into the medical community, by the mid 1960s, spokesmen for the American Medical Association and Food and Drug Administration denounced LSD as a means of treatment in psychotherapy. One reason that the medical establishment had a difficult time with LSD was that unlike other establish medicines, LSD was not guaranteed to relieve any specific symptoms. It was claimed to aide in numerous psychological problems and to even help the healthy, but most doctors could not accept the premise that medicine should be administer to people who are healthy.

A new regulation was enacted by Congress requiring that new drugs be proven effective with respect to the condition for which it is marketed, and clearly LSD did not satisfy this requirement. This meant that LSD was no longer generally available to those who wanted it. By designating LSD as an experimental drug, this limited its use for research purposes only, i.e., not for psychiatric practices. However, exemptions were issued to the CIA and the military. Finally, in 1965 Congress declared that the illicit manufacture and sales of LSD to be a misdemeanor. There would be only one other opponent left to fight this policy. Robert Kennedy the Senator from New York inquired as to the reason behind curtailing LSD experimentation. Kennedy had a personal interest in this because his wife Ethel was undergoing LSD therapy at the time.

By this time a large number of people had tried LSD and wanted to keep using it, but now it was no longer available from their therapist. Obviously, people then went elsewhere to get the drug. Black market LSD began to turn up on the streets to meet the growing demand and continued to increased geometrically for a number of years despite the warnings issued from educators, doctors and politicians. Thanks in no small part to the CIA.

The Road to Eleusis

Although LSD became very prominent during the 1960’s, it is now believed by some that ergot was used in ancient Greece. The Road to Eleusis is written by three ethnomycologist, someone who studies the use of fungi in various cultures, Gordon Wasson, Albert Hofmann, and Carl Ruck, who is also a well respected Greek scholar. The Road to Eleusis was available in its entirety on the internet. However, a few years ago, the book was reissued and in order to help stimulate sales, the on line version of the book has been removed.

Eleusis was located about 20 kilometers north-west from Athens, where a special event was celebrated every September. The celebration was to honor the reunification of Demeter and her daughter Persephone, after she had been kidnapped by the god of the underworld, Pluto. The celebration involved a ceremony that was kept secret to all outsiders. Those participating in the ceremony were sworn to secrecy. The penalty for revelation of the ceremony, by the participants, was death. During a key part of the ceremony, kykeon is ingested. Once ingested, the kykeon was said to have cleansed the body and sole. Although important, this was not the entire celebration. The festival would last for nine days. During this time, there was a parade that went from Athens and ended at Eleusis on the only road that was built by the Greeks. A reenactment of the story of Demeter and Persephone would also take place. However, it was the mystery of the kykeon that was stimulated the most interest and despite the threat of death, with so many people involved, it was difficult to keep kykeon a complete secret. By the 7th. Century, there were many users who had described the pleasurable experiences during the ceremony and in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, there was even claims that the ingredients for the makeup of kykeon was water, barley and a mint. However, few believed this recipe since it was apparent that the kykeon was a psychoactive beverage. For many years, several species of psychoactive mushrooms were believed to be the key ingredient to this sacrament. However, in their book Road to Eleusis, Wasson, Hofmann and Ruck believed that the key ingredient was from an extract of ergot.

Mycological Terms

  • Albert Hofmann: Chemist who inadvertently discovered the psychoactive effects of LSD, in 1943.
  • Alfred Hubbard: LSD advocate, who was the first person to make LSD available as a recreational drug. Also made it available to researchers.
  • Gordon Wasson: Published the first article on the psychoactive properties of species in the mushroom genus Psilocybe and its use in religious ceremonies, by Native Americans, in Mexico, in 1957. Article stimulated the interest of Timothy Leary in psychoactive mushrooms, which led him to carrying out research on Psilocybe and later LSD.
  • Kykeon: Beverage ingested during the ceremony at Eleusis, to honor the reunification of Demeter and her daughter Persephone, after she had been kidnapped by Pluto and taken to the underworld. The composition of the beverage is not specifically known, but has been interpreted by Gordon Wasson, Albert Hofmann, and Carl Ruck, in the Road to Eleusis, as being an extract of ergot.
  • LSD: Acronym for Lysergic Acid Diethyamide, A psychoactive drug, derived from ergot, popularized in the late 1950s and 1960s for recreational use, but was also seriously considered a treatment for psychological disorders.
  • Michael Hollingshead: LSD advocate who introduced the drug to Timothy Leary.
  • Psilocybe: Genus of mushroom with many species having psychoactive properties. First made known to public by Gordon Wasson in article in Life Magazine, in 1957. Stimulated interest of Timothy Leary to carry out research in this area, which eventually led to research with LSD.
  • Psilocybin: The psychoactive compound that is present in the Psilocybe mushroom.
  • Richard Albert: Although less well known, he was the long time collaborator with Timothy Leary and research with Psilocybe and LSD.
  • Road to Eleusis: Book authored by Gordon Wasson, Albert Hofmann and Carl Ruck in which they have interpreted the beverage kykeon that is consumed during the ceremony celebrating the reunification of Demeter and her daughter Persephone, after she had been kidnapped by Pluto and taken to the underworld, as being an extract of ergot.
  • Timothy Leary: LSD advocate who believed that it was the hope of the world, and is credited with the popularizing LSD as a recreational drug by making public its psychoactive properties.
  • Werner Stoll: Colleague of Albert Hofmann who published the first paper on LSD, in 1947, concerning its psychological properties and use in treating schizophrenic patients. Article brought LSD to the attention of CIA.
  • William Donovan: In 1942, as head of the OSS, ordered the development of a speech-inducing drug for the purpose of intelligence interrogation. Program was later taken over by the CIA, in 1947, which led to the use LSD for intelligence interrogation.