Had you suggested, at the 1962 White House Conference on Narcotics, that in just four short years America would resemble what Time magazine described as a "psychedelic smorgasbord," you would have been laughed from the podium. Marijuana and heroin were the chief concerns back then; LSD barely rated a footnote. The general consensus was that, "in spite of lurid statements by some popular writers," psychedelics were a fringe phenomenon, limited to "long hair and beatnik cults."1 That people other than kooks might seriously believe a drug could expand consciousness, or propel one up the evolutionary ladder, had seemed too ludicrous for words.
But no longer. Nineteen sixty-six was the year America awoke to the gravity of the psychedelic movement and reacted with all the cultural power it could muster. Before the year was half over, the governors of California and Nevada were publicly competing for the prestige of being the first to sign anti-LSD legislation, an eagerness that was more than matched by their peers in Washington, where three different Congressional subcommittees convened hearings to study the LSD problem—the Juvenile Delinquency Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee; the Subcommittee on Intergovernmental Relations of the House Government Operations Committee; and the Subcommittee on Executive Reorganization of the Senate Subcommittee on Government Operations. This last had originally been scheduled to hear testimony on the problems of the handicapped, but at Robert Kennedy's urging the subject was switched to LSD.
By July open-ended research would be a thing of the past, as the PDA and the NIMH sharply curtailed existing projects; by August the first agents of the newly formed Bureau of Drug Abuse Control (BDAC) would be rooting out underground sources of supply; by October possession of LSD would be illegal in every state of the Union.
Although the backlash against LSD had been gathering strength since the early Sixties, it wasn't until 1965 that concrete evidence of its danger appeared. That was when William Frosch, a psychiatrist working at New York's Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital, began noticing an increase in LSD-related admissions. From a handful a year the figures jumped to two or three a month, then to five or six. Most were young men—median age twenty-two—and all were middle class, which was a significant departure from the usual narcotic patient. Several were the children of physicians; one was a judge's son. Besides being well educated and well-to-do, they shared two other variables: all had taken LSD in the hope that it would improve personal insight, and all had a history of previous psychiatric disorder.
What the critics of Leary's enthusiasm had feared was coming to pass: unstable personalities, exposed to LSD in uncontrolled settings, were disintegrating.
Between March and December 1965, Frosch treated sixty-five patients whose etiology fell into three broad categories. By far the largest group were those admitted in an anxious or panicked state, what the Pranksters would have called "freaked." These were given Thorazine and released after a few hours. They were lucky: approximately a third of Frosch's patients were admitted in a fully psychotic state, for which there was nothing to do but hope that eventually one or another of the treatments would work. Without question these were the most serious of Frosch's patients, but the gravity of their condition was matched by the scientific curiosity of the final category, which contained people who had taken LSD, often with no complications, except that months later, while sitting in a restaurant or strolling down the street, the drug state had suddenly reasserted itself. This reoccurrence became known as a flashback, and while its existence and implication was hotly debated—some researchers never encountered a flashback; others saw them all the time; still others dismissed them as no big deal: moments of depersonalization and hallucination happened frequently to people who had never touched an illicit drug—it quickly became a journalistic staple.
For six years the media had blown hot and cold on the subject of psychedelics, but in early 1966, as Frosch's data began to be replicated in other cities, particularly those with student populations, the breeze turned decidedly chill. Time magazine in March 1966 announced that America was in the midst of an LSD epidemic:
The disease is striking in beachside beatnik pads and in the dormitories of expensive prep schools; it has grown into an alarming problem at UCLA and on the UC campus at Berkeley. And everywhere the diagnosis is the same: psychotic illness resulting from the unauthorized, nonmedical use of the drug LSD-25.2
According to Time, LSD psychotics were literally flocking to the nearest emergency rooms.
Time was exaggerating, of course. No hard data existed as to how many people were suffering from LSD-related problems. Within the research community the most frequently quoted figure was 2 percent—2 percent of those who took LSD in unsupervised settings were experiencing the sort of complications that Frosch was seeing at Bellevue. And of that 2 percent, about a third were becoming psychotic. That meant that for every thousand people who took LSD, seven would suffer a breakdown. That was seven too many, but it was hardly epidemic material. Which was perhaps why the qualifying figures had a way of disappearing, until instead of a third of 2 percent it became a third of 100 percent.
When William Frosch presented his Bellevue data before one of the three Senate subcommittees who had convened hearings on the "LSD problem," he was careful to stress that his findings were limited to the 2 percent of the psychedelic community who had problems with the drug. That's what went into the Congressional maw. What came out was the perception that
One of the most common recurrent reactions to LSD use is a psychotic breakdown of an extended but unknown duration. What this means, of course, is that many LSD abusers become insane in a few short hours under the influence of the drug.3
Even Frosch's statement that it tended to be those with a history of psychiatric disorder who experienced complications underwent a subtle transformation, until it was thought that what he had really said was that anyone who took the drug was "already psychologically deranged, or can be, or at least the predominance that are using it in that way."4
But if the LSD psychotic was of questionable statistical reality, in an aesthetic sense it seized the public imagination and didn't let go for the rest of the decade. Scarcely a week went by that this curious creature wasn't in the news columns, either raping or murdering or committing suicide in stories that were usually anonymous, uncheckable, and bizarre. It is difficult to pinpoint the precise moment when the LSD psychotic first entered the public consciousness, but a good starting point would be April 1966, when the FDA invited reporters in to examine its LSD dossier. Among the stories contained therein was the one about the psychiatrist, a three-time user of LSD, whose breakdown had distinct megalomaniacal shadings; for a month he hatched grandiose scheme after grandiose scheme, the most grandiose being his plan to invade Sandoz and capture the world supply of LSD. Subsequent retellings of this story improved upon it until a few actually had him breaking into the lab. Another file told of a fifteen-year-old girl who became involved with a college professor who hosted weekend LSD orgies. The girl came home acting a bit strange after attending one of these parties and was promptly hospitalized by her family. She escaped, however, and tried to stab her mother.
Following the PDA's lead, police departments around the country opened their own files to reporters eager to get a local angle on a breaking national story. The result was an almost geometric intensification of LSD's negative image. "Cases of attempted rape, assault, murder, suicide and self-mutilation," began one Los Angeles police-file story, before going on to tell about the seventeen-year-old who had attempted to tear out his eyeballs and the twenty-year-old who, postingestion, cruised the suburbs looking for a girl to rape. Spotting a fifteen-year-old outlined against the window shade of her living room, he tore off his clothes and stumbled inside, only to be thwarted by the girl's quick-witted younger brother, who telephoned the police. Then there was the heavy user who, believing LSD had transmutated him into an orange, refused all human contact for fear of being turned into orange juice.5
Given the cavalier way the press treated research statistics, it is prudent to ask how credible most of these stories were. Aside from their uniform tone of vague anonymity, certain discrepancies exist that support a moderate amount of skepticism. It is interesting to contrast, for example, the Congressional testimony of Commander Alfred Tremblay, head of the LAPD Narcotic Division, with newspaper stories published within a few weeks of his appearance suggesting that his files were full of LSD-inspired rape, murder, and mutilation. As a committed opponent of drugs and drug-users, one would have expected Tremblay to choose his most heinous cases to present to Congress. But there was little of that in Tremblay's testimony, which verged on the weird rather than the horrible, offering anecdotes like the time the LAPD found two guys sitting on a suburban lawn eating the grass and nibbling on tree bark. Or the time they received a complaint that a young man was standing beside the Coast Highway making obscene gestures at the traffic. When the police arrived, the guy dashed into the ocean, fell to his knees and began to pray, all the while yelling "I love you! I love you!" Then there was the time someone reported screams in a downtown apartment building and the police found a boy and girl having sex in the hall and shouting "GOD" and "LIFE" at the top of their lungs. In fact the only example of violence that Tremblay had to offer occurred the day before he flew east to testify, and involved a naked man who rampaged through a local housing development, smashing windows with a two-by-four.
Again, reading the Los Angeles newspapers, one would have thought that scarcely a day passed that LSD didn't contribute to some calamity, usually involving teenagers. Yet police files show that in the first four months of 1966, out of 543 juveniles arrested for narcotics, only four involved LSD.
So where did all the horror stories come from? Part of the problem may have been the media's ignorance of psychosis. No matter how often researchers like Sidney Cohen stressed that rage was a rare occurrence—unless it was self-rage, leading to suicide—rage was the emotion the journalistic community most often associated with LSD; kids eating grass and bark just didn't fit the stereotype of the crazed psychotic.
But there was another possibility besides ignorance, one that had to do partly with journalistic style and partly with the way the dominant powers of a culture influence the value system of that culture. Addressing the problem of truth versus fancy during one of the Congressional hearings. Senator Abraham Ribicoff remarked that, "Only when you sensationalize a subject matter do you get a reform. Without sensationalizing it, you don't. That is one of the great problems. You scientists may know something, a senator may know something, but only when the press and television come in and give it a real play because it hits home as something that affects all the country, do you get action."6
Halting the spread of LSD had become part of the national agenda; thus it was necessary for the press to sensationalize the subject. And the press was an old hand at sensationalizing dangerous drugs. The prevailing style was the one perfected by Harry Ainslinger back in the Thirties, during his "reefer madness" campaigns against marijuana. Ainslinger had maintained a voluminous file of anonymous marijuana horror stories, which he periodically fed to a credulous press. One began:
The sprawled body of a young girl lay crushed on the sidewalk the other day after a plunge from a fifth story of a Chicago apartment house. Everyone called it suicide, but actually it was murder. The killer was a narcotic known to America as marijuana.
It was an unprovoked crime some years ago which brought the first realization that the age-old drug had gained a foothold in America. An entire family was murdered by a youthful addict in Florida
... the boy said he had been in the habit of smoking something which youthful friends called "muggles," a childish name for marijuana.7
It was a curious thing, but if you changed a few nouns in any of the antimarijuana stories of the Thirties, you ended up with a reasonable facsimile of the standard "LSD madness" story as it began appearing in the spring of 1966.
Not that there weren't legitimate examples of LSD-inspired violence. The most famous, occurring in late April, involved a New Yorker named Stephen Kessler who stabbed his mother-in-law dozens of times with a kitchen knife. When the police came to arrest him, Kessler reportedly said, "Man, I've been flying for three days on LSD. Did I kill my wife? Did I rape anybody? What have I done?"8
A Harvard graduate (class of '57) and a medical school dropout, Stephen Kessler had a history of psychiatric problems; a few weeks before the murder he had checked himself into Bellevue for treatment, and while he was there his wife had moved back with her parents in Brooklyn. Apparently it was this separation, exacerbated by the LSD, that precipitated the murder. Although the press characterized the Kessler case as an "LSD KILLING," most of the experts were less assured. Two things bothered them. One was the infrequency of rage as an LSD reaction; Time quoted Sidney Cohen to the effect that suicide was much more likely than murder. But more troublesome was Kessler's claim that he had been "flying" for three days and could remember nothing of what had happened. Unless one kept taking LSD, constantly upping the dosage to offset body tolerance, the effects wore off after twelve hours. And the whole uniqueness of the experience was the fact that one remained relatively clearheaded throughout; it was not an alcoholic fog or stupor. So the Kessler case was a toss-up. In terms of his psychiatric profile, Stephen Kessler was a perfect candidate for a psychotic episode had he taken LSD. But given his educational background, he was also astute enough to realize that LSD, in the spring of 1966, was the perfect alibi for what might have been nothing more than a common act of rage and revenge.
To be fair, after the years of positive sensationalizing that Leary had indulged in, a certain amount of negative sensationalizing was inevitable. Confronted with a pro-LSD password like "instant nirvana," the opponents countered with "chemical Russian roulette." Expanded consciousness? Distorted consciousness! Or, as James Goddard, the new commissioner of the FDA put it, "pure bunk."
Goddard, because of his position within the health bureaucracy, was the point man in the campaign against LSD. In April he sent more than two thousand letters to college administrators warning that
Both students and members of the faculty are being secretly approached to engage in hallucinogenic "experiences." There is direct evidence of widespread availability of a number of drugs which have profound effects on the mental processes. I wish to alert all educational administrators to the gravity of the situation and to enlist their assistance in combating an insidious and dangerous activity.9
He was a fixture at the Congressional hearings, appearing in all three venues. Asked to judge the magnitude of America's LSD problem, he estimated a user population of around 3.6 million, a figure far in excess of Leary's personal guess of one hundred thousand. Goddard arrived at this number using a curious differential: for every reported incident of illegal drug use, the PDA assumed that ten thousand went unreported. And LSD had come to the Agency's attention 360 times.
Who were these 3.6 million? Not the evolutionary vanguard of Leary's rhetoric, but "middle-aged underachievers, stale artists, and post-teenagers."10 "They are life's losers," said Sidney Cohen. "Dissatisfied, restless people, afflicted with problems they can't handle. A lot of them wallow in self-pity and denigrate those who have made it in the 'square' world."11 Maladjusted failures. Nonconformists. At one point during his Congressional testimony. Captain Tremblay of the LAPD pulled out a photograph taken at one of Kesey's Acid Tests and passed it to the congressmen, saying, "I'm sure you'll agree that this young lad is certainly a nonconformist. He is presently under the influence of LSD when this photograph, this colored photograph was taken. He has painted his face and his jacket, the nonconformist signs on the back of his jacket together with his face would certainly indicate the young lad was a nonconformist with our society as we know it today."12
In the end it wasn't the horror stories or the juggled figures on psychotic breakdowns that worried the congressmen. That, as Senator Ribicoff understood, was just the necessary PR froth: good for headlines, but largely beside the point. The real reason LSD needed to be eliminated wasn't because it was making a tiny percentage of its users crazy, but because of what it was doing to the vast majority. Contrary to what Captain Tremblay believed, LSD wasn't attracting nonconformists so much as it was creating them.
Back in 1963 Grinker had warned that LSD was "subtly creating a psychopathology"; by 1966 the contours of that pathology were clearly visible:
Those who use (LSD) frequently or chronically almost inevitably withdraw from society and enter into a solipsistic, negativistic existence, in which LSD is not merely an experience in the totality of living, but becomes synonymous with life itself. These individuals, colorfully described by their confreres as acidheads, engage perpetually in drug-induced orgies of introspection and are no longer constructive active members of society ... they withdraw not only from society but also from meaningful family ties. Were the numbers of such individuals to increase markedly, such a group could constitute a real threat to the functioning of our society.
This was the real message the opponents of the psychedelic movement brought to the Congressional hearings. LSD was eroding the work ethic, it was seducing the young into religious fantasies, it was destroying their values. "We have seen something which in a way is most alarming, more alarming than death in a way," testified Sidney Cohen. "And that is the loss of all cultural values, the loss of feeling of right and wrong, of good and bad. These people lead a valueless life, without motivation, without any ambition ... they are deculturated, lost to society, lost to themselves."13
If psychedelics continued to spread, then America ran the risk of becoming a society of spaced-out mystics; a communist society no doubt, since the drugs would have sapped the will to confront Soviet aggression.
It was an odd debate, with the opponents arguing that LSD had the potential to destroy America, while the proponents claimed the exact opposite. For them, LSD was therapeutic; it corrected the neurotic excesses brought on by a consumer culture; it jarred one free of mental ruts, allowing old problems to be seen from new angles; it accessed higher levels of information, some of which were spiritual in nature. If America was to remain a world power, it could not afford to turn its back on such a useful tool.
Curiously, the one thing both sides agreed on was that LSD was capable of altering personality in a fundamental way. But was this really true? Bill McGlothlin, a psychologist who had participated in several of Oscar Janiger's early studies, published a study in the summer of 1966 that offered some interesting answers to this question. To study the problem, McGlothlin recruited seventy-two graduate students through a blind newspaper ad. After screening out those with doubtful profiles, he divided the group into thirds and gave them a complete battery of personality tests, measuring things like creativity, anxiety, personal values, etc. The first group then received a full dose of LSD, the second a tiny one, while the third received amphetamine. Then the personality tests were repeated, once immediately after the drug trip, and again at an interval of six months. McGlothlin found that statistically the changes in personality were minimal, despite the subjective impression that enormous changes had taken place. Only in one area did significant change occur, the Ways-to-Live scale. After three doses of LSD, McGlothlin's subjects were suddenly having second thoughts about settling into a nice corporate job, they were now leaning toward something a bit more contemplative.
But even this change wasn't permanent; it faded with time and the absence of LSD. After six months the changes in the Ways-to-Live scale had diminished, only to be replaced by significant changes in the "Self-Perception" and "Self-Approval" categories.
McGlothlin's paper was part of a healthy crop of LSD-related research that found its way into the technical journals in 1966; a varied and frequently confusing bounty that may explain why the popular press generally avoided the scientific aspect of the LSD story. It was too complex, too partial in the way that most basic science is.
A researcher at UCLA's Neuropsychiatric Institute, for instance, announced that LSD seemed to help severely autistic children, but was counterproductive in those with milder autism. An NIMH study of forty-three alcoholics undergoing LSD therapy reported that twenty-three had not resumed drinking, seven were drinking occasionally but were able to hold jobs, and two had fallen back off the wagon. Another researcher, studying the good trip/bad trip problem, suggested that extroverts were constitutionally equipped to enjoy the Other World, whereas introverts often had hellish experiences. Intriguing stuff, all in all, but hardly in the same league as an LSD murderer or a mad scientist scheming to seize control of a powerful multinational drug company.
Even within the therapeutic community itself, which had enthusiastically embraced other classes of mind drugs, the tranquilizers, the antipsychotics, LSD research was given short shrift. The old problem of replication remained, and with it the charge (never proven) that much of the research was counterfeit. The alcohol studies drew the most heat in this regard. Some, like the one mentioned above, achieved marvelous results; others were unable to cure even a single alcoholic. The former tended to attribute their success to the sensitive way in which they wielded this powerful new tool, while the latter muttered about bad science and charlatans. But even among those researchers who were pro-LSD there were deep divisions as to the worth, and the ethics, of certain kinds of work, particularly the personality-change therapy that was going on at places like Myron Stolaroff's Foundation. "How should one evaluate the outcome if an individual were, for example, to divorce his wife and take a job which paid him less but which he stated he enjoyed more than the one which he had previously held?" asked one critic. "If a person were to become more relaxed and happy-go-lucky, more sensitive to poetry or music, but less concerned with success or competition, is this good?"14 Change and be happy was a direct challenge to the adjust-or-else ethic that had reigned supreme during the Fifties, and in this sense the in-house skirmish over the direction LSD therapy was taking reflected a much larger battle that was being waged over therapy's appropriate social role.
But most members of the therapeutic community had little time or patience for the nuances of the LSD argument. Unpredictable was probably the word most of them associated with LSD—an unpredictability that manifested itself in the personages of Tim Leary and Dick Alpert, who were seen as cautionary tales on how not to conduct promising careers. But the fact was that there were casualties wherever LSD therapy had gained a foothold, either therapists who had gone crazy or developed cult followings or ones who, post-LSD, had abandoned the traditional methods as too conservative and had begun exploring the kind of esoterica practiced at places like Esalen, the spa turned New Age academy midway up the California coast at Big Sur. Group therapy. Nude therapy. Water therapy. It was no accident that the group leaders at Esalen's first public seminar were all veterans of the psychedelic movement.
This then, in broad outline, was the mindset of the therapeutic community on the eve of Time's announcement that LSD psychotics were flocking to the local emergency room. The result, not surprisingly, was panic. The New England Journal of Medicine, declaring that "There is no published evidence that further experimentation is likely to yield invaluable data," called for an end to all LSD research, which must have come as a surprise to the NIMH, who were funding thirty-eight different LSD projects at a cost of $1.7 million.15 Apparently the editors of the NEJM were convinced they had another thalidomide scandal on their hands, a fear that might also account for Sandoz's decision, in early April 1966, to sever all corporate ties to its problem children, LSD and psilocybin. On April 7, Sandoz telephoned the FDA and announced that they were terminating all research contracts and would be willing to turn over their entire supply of the two drugs to the federal government. LSD had become a public relations disaster: Sandoz received dozens of phone calls from journalists and doctors every time it made the news, each requesting a copy of its LSD bibliography, which was now nearly ten inches thick.
Researchers were ordered to return all supplies of LSD and psilocybin to Sandoz, and then resubmit their research proposals to the NIMH for reapproval. Confusion reigned. Letters to Science lamented the "state of hysteria" that had driven Sandoz to the unprecedented move of disowning its own discovery. "For Sandoz to be so timorous suggests the Cowardly Lion of Oz," wrote one scientist. "Who is our Dorothy? The PDA? The NIMH? The National Research Council? Who will assume the responsibility for the necessary investigative work with LSD?"16
But the scientific bureaucracies lacked the pluck of Frank Baum's Kansas heroine. Researchers attempting to resuscitate projects halted by Sandoz's decision encountered obfuscation and foot-dragging. A typical experience was that of John Pollard, a researcher at the University of Michigan, who had been in the early stages of an experiment measuring LSD's effect on behavior and performance when the "send-it-all-back-to-Sandoz letter" had arrived in his mailbox. Told he must reclear his research proposal with NIMH, Pollard had immediately set out to do so. Since the NIMH had already given him one grant for LSD research, he anticipated little difficulty. But things had changed. After a "summer of oneway correspondence and long-distance phone calls" he was told that while he had the approval of NIMH he must now secure the PDA's okay. "I had spoken to only four different individuals at NIMH," he wrote to Science. "But after speaking to five at the Food and Drug Administration, I despaired and hoped that my correspondence would eventually filter through to the appropriate person. The summer passed, the research assistant worked on his thesis, and I ran up a phone bill."17
In this midst of this confusion, in mid-June a conference on LSD opened in San Francisco. Chaired by Frank Barron, it was the last time that all the factions in the psychedelic debate were together under one roof. Within weeks politics and public opinion would render scientific debate on the danger/usefulness of LSD moot. In fact, the opprobrium was already so strong that friends of Barron urged him to dissociate himself from the conference, warning that to go ahead would be professional suicide. And Berkeley, at the very last minute, refused to let the conference take place on its campus, so it was hastily moved to an off-campus building associated with the UC extension service.
Barron opened the proceedings by observing that there was still no scientific proof that LSD expanded consciousness. What was needed, he said, was more research. Not just to answer the basic questions, but also to address the reason why so many of the brightest students were turning to LSD "in the hope that it will tell them something about themselves."18 Barron was followed at the podium by Sidney Cohen, who warned that "just as hypnosis was lost to use for fifty years—while it was used on the vaudeville stage and in the parlor— the same is going to be true of LSD."19 "We are losing control," he said, and while he clearly felt that the majority of the blame belonged to irresponsible enthusiasts like Leary and Kesey, Cohen also urged that the medical model be modified to allow certain professionals-he suggested theologians, philosophers, and anthropologists—access to the psychedelic experience.
A bit of excitement occurred when one of those irresponsible enthusiasts, Allen Ginsberg, arrived at the auditorium and was greeted with a standing ovation. This actually was an act of displeasure directed toward Barron's superiors, who had crossed Ginsberg's name off the list of speakers on the pretext that he was not a scientist. But aside from that, the Conference was a model of professional decorum. Abram Hotter, Humphrey Osmond's former colleague, reported that his cure rate with alcoholics was running close to two-thirds. And Eric Kast, a researcher at the University of Chicago's Medical School, sent along a paper describing LSD's therapeutic potential with the terminally ill. Of eighty patients who had taken the drug with Kast, seventy-two wanted to repeat the experience.
Given the newsworthiness of LSD, one might have expected significant media coverage. But that wasn't the case. The newspapers seemed to be perplexed by the multiplicity of opinions—"everything you hear about LSD is nonsense, including what I'm telling you," quipped one pharmacologist at the beginning of his talk20—and what little coverage there was tended to focus on the eminently quotable duo of Dick Alpert and Tim Leary, both of whom addressed the conference. Alpert, whom Newsweek dubbed an LSD "High Priest," in contrast to Leary's "LSD Messiah," suggested that the government solve the problem of illicit use by establishing an Internal Flights Agency, which would license prospective LSD users, and provide them with up-to-date maps of the Other World. Leary, "radiating light in white chinos and tieless white shirt," with a "dazzling blonde traveling companion" on his arm, spent most of his time soliciting funds for his legal appeal.21 But he also delivered what Myron Stolaroff thought was "the most carefully prepared address I have ever seen him give."22
Unfortunately, wrote Stolaroff to Humphrey Osmond, Tim quickly reverted to "his usual inconsistent, confusing self. After having recently appeared on TV requesting a one-year moratorium on all psychedelics, he ended this address by exhorting the audience to do their own private research and not let anyone stop them."
It had been a difficult few months for Leary, what with the Liddy raid following so closely on the heels of the Texas marijuana conviction. Although he had often joked about the usual fate of prophets, the reality left him subdued and dejected; his number-one priority changed from raising consciousness to raising money, as his lawyers scrambled to keep him out of jail.
It was at this low ebb that Leary agreed to testify before one of the Congressional subcommittees, joining Allen Ginsberg and Art Kleps, among others, on the advocate side of the aisle. Kleps, you will recall, was one of the Millbrook-trained guides. Since then he had gone on to form an LSD-based religion called the Neo-American Church, of which he was Chief Boo Hoo. ("Are you really called a boo hoo?" one of the senators asked him. "I'm afraid so," said Kleps.)23 Although Leary was not active in the Church, he was, Kleps informed the senators, a holy figure, the equivalent of Jesus Christ or Mohammed. "On the day the prison doors close behind Tim Leary," warned the bearded Chief Boo Hoo, "this country will face religious civil war. Any restraint we have shown heretofore in the dissemination of psychedelics will be ended."
After such a dramatic build-up, the senators must have been a bit nonplussed when Leary sat down before them in his old professorial tweeds. He began by stating his bona fides: 311 personal LSD trips; three thousand guided trips. LSD was a form of energy, he said, consequently some sort of control was necessary: "I believe that the criteria for marijuana, which is about the mildest of the psychedelic drugs, should be about those which we now use to license people to drive automobiles, whereas the criteria for the licensing of LSD, a much more powerful act, should be much more strict, perhaps the criteria now used for airplane pilots would be appropriate."24
Training centers, modeled after Castalia, should be established around the country, with LSD lab courses a part of every college curriculum. This was too much for Senator Ted Kennedy. "And what is going to happen to the boy who doesn't get to college?" he asked sarcastically.
"There would be special training institutes for him," replied Leary, refusing to be drawn. "Are we going to have high school courses as well?"
"I would let research, scientific research answer the question as to at what age the nervous system is ready to use these new instruments."25
All in all, it was a temperate performance—too temperate for zealots like Art Kleps, who concluded that Tim's legal problems had destroyed his nerve. An assessment that received further confirmation a few days later when Leary publicly proposed a year-long moratorium on LSD use. "I do not say we should stop studying consciousness expansion," he told a crowd of eight hundred gathered at New York's Town Hall. "But we must learn to have psychedelic experiences without the use of drugs."26
But by June he had regained some of his old flair. After delivering his paper at Barron's conference, Leary called a press conference and announced that 2 million doses of bootleg LSD were about to descend upon California. Not surprisingly, all thoughts of alcohol cure rates vanished from every reporter's thoughts, as they raced to take down what Tim was saying, which was: "Our social duty now is to publish manuals, give training sessions, and prepare the young to use this powerful, consciousness-expanding drug."27
Whether he realized it or not, by calling that press conference he had managed to sabotage the whole point of the Conference.
Myron Stolaroff had driven up to San Francisco principally to hear Abram Hoffer's paper. In truth, he was no longer part of the LSD research scene, his Foundation having lost its license to investigate new drugs—a forfeiture for which it was difficult not to blame Mr. Leary. Eighteen months earlier, while Tim was in India immersing himself in the ancient wisdom, Stolaroff had been on the verge of a major coup. During a trip to Washington, Bill Harman, the Foundation's associate director, had completed the groundwork for a project that would bring selected federal officials to Palo Alto for a thorough initiation into the potentials of psychedelic drugs. "I don't know what more we could want," Stolaroff wrote to Osmond:
I can't think of anything that would help the overall cause more at this time than to have selected persons well placed in the government receive first hand exposure to our work. Al [Hubbard] has assured us that he will be on hand to insure that their exposure is complete, and that they will not get away without having had a profound look at the situation.28
But then, while the project was still in the planning stage, the political climate surrounding psychedelics had changed. Black market LSD, once a trickle, had become a sizable flow; and the impressionable young, stimulated by the claims of Kesey and Leary, had begun taking it wherever and whenever they could, with the upshot being the kind of fallout Frosch was seeing at Bellevue. Instead of being invited to give LSD to selected members of the government, Stolaroff now found himself pressed for funds, as grants that he had counted on were suddenly withdrawn.
When it became apparent in early 1965 that psychedelic therapy was no longer economically feasible, Stolaroff and Harman redirected the Foundation's energies toward the private sector: if the government no longer wanted to fund individual therapy, perhaps industry could be persuaded of LSD's problem-solving potential. In one sense this was a return to Stolaroff's first impulse, when he and Hubbard had dreamed of using LSD to transform Ampex into an enlightened super-corporation. But with a difference. In the interim Stolaroff had become a bit more sophisticated where presentation was concerned: you didn't just waltz into the president's office and invite him to sample a strange drug. You needed documentation, graphs, hard data. You needed a pilot study, which is what the Foundation set about doing, rounding up thirty different professionals—physicists, furniture designers, architects, mathematicians, engineers—who were alike insofar as each had a problem that was eluding solution.
The architect, for example, was wrestling with the design of an arts and crafts shopping center. He came into Stolaroff's office, took the LSD, and later wrote this account of what happened:
I looked at the paper I was to draw on. I was completely blank. I knew that I would work with a property 300' square. I drew the property lines and I looked at the outline. I was blank.
Suddenly I saw the finished project. I did some quick calculations ... it would fit on the property and not only that... it would meet the cost and income requirements.
I began to draw ... my senses could not keep up with my images ... my hand was not fast enough ... I was impatient to record the picture (it has not faded one particle). I worked at a pace I would not have thought I was capable of.
I completed four sheets of fairly comprehensive sketches. I was not tired but I was satisfied that I had caught the essence of the image. I stopped working. I ate fruit... I drank coffee ... I smoked ... I sipped wine ... I enjoyed.
But all this work came to naught when Sandoz decided to withdraw its patronage, leaving the PDA and the NIMH as principal arbiters of what constituted proper research. As far as the health bureaucracies were concerned, lack of creativity was not a disease. Consequently to use LSD in that manner verged on abuse. Al Hubbard flew to Washington to argue the point—he carried with him a letter pointing out that numerous industries, as well as NASA, had used psychedelics to solve specific problems—but he got nowhere.
The simple fact was that priorities had changed; the political breezes were blowing cold; research congruent with that view was funded, while the rest was left to die a benign bureaucratic death; when the IND's (official government permission to experiment with an Investigational New Drug) of this latter group came up for renewal, they were rejected. This was what happened to Hubbard and Stolaroff and dozens of others. Even Jean Houston and Robert Masters, who were about to publish The Varieties of Psychedelic Experience, which was unquestionably the best scientific account of what happened beyond the Door, even they lost the right to do LSD research.
But if anyone exemplified the dilemma of the LSD research community, it was Sidney Cohen. Since the publication of The Beyond Within in 1964, Cohen had been the most visible champion of sensible research—a clear-eyed "LSD expert" who was capable of articulately demolishing the propaganda of Leary while refraining from the sort of offbeat speculations that had apparently disqualified Humphrey Osmond from being invited to the Congressional hearings. The man who had coined the word psychedelic, who had given Aldous Huxley mescaline, was perhaps too eccentric to qualify as an expert; Cohen, who preferred the term unsanity when talking about the psychedelic state, was far more acceptable.
Cohen was popular on the lecture circuit, appearing often with Richard Alpert, who played the psychedelic radical (328 personal LSD experiences) to Cohen's scientific moderate (seven carefully controlled ingestions). By appearing on the same stage with Alpert, Cohen risked the ire of his colleagues, who accused him of adding to Alpert's—and by extension Leary's—legitimacy. "True he broadcasts a point of view with which you and I disagree," Cohen replied. "What should we do about this? Should he be ignored, insulted or ostracized? None of these will be effective; in fact they would help him. He must be engaged, and his views effectively answered."
Alpert, on the other hand, tended to see Cohen as a hypocrite. It was okay for him to turn on Henry and Clare Booth Luce, but let anyone else try that and Cohen would start lecturing about strict medical use. But Alpert liked Cohen nevertheless; he was a nice guy "who is using the cards he's got in his hands to play what he can. Playing in the middle, all the way through."30
What Alpert didn't appreciate, though, was just how difficult a balancing act staying in the middle had become. To refute the public statements of enthusiasts like Leary, moderates like Cohen were forced to paint increasingly bleak pictures of what would happen should the spread of psychedelics continue unchecked. Unfortunately, the very negativity of their rhetoric was creating a climate in which it was difficult to justify even basic research: if LSD was that volatile, how could anyone be safe ... !
A variation of Gresham's law occurred, as sensationalized rhetoric replaced rational debate. By the autumn of 1966, opponents were hinting that LSD probably caused long-term brain damage. Their evidence? The fact that so many kids, post-LSD, showed little desire to adjust to the corporate-suburban lifestyle embraced by their parents. Without a blink, the ethic of adjustment had been elevated to an organic process of the brain.
Leary, not to be outclassed, countered with an equally outrageous gambit. Interviewed by Playboy, he announced that LSD was the most powerful aphrodisiac ever discovered. "Let me put it this way," he said, "compared with sex under LSD, the way you've been making love—no matter how ecstatic the pleasure you think you get from it—is like making love to a department-store-window dummy." And as a coup de grace, he added: "The three inevitable goals of the LSD session are to discover and make love with God, to discover and make love with yourself, and to discover and make love with a woman."31
Was it any wonder that moderates like Sidney Cohen concluded things were out of control?
Pondering LSD's strange career, Cohen thought he could detect three distinct phases. The first phase was a scientific one. In LSD researchers had chanced upon a tool capable of unlocking the Dark Room of the Unconscious. But just as they were digesting and arguing over the rather astonishing things they had found in there, a parallel plot had appeared: the science story had turned into a religion story. Shepherded by Aldous Huxley and Gerald Heard, LSD had become a way to accelerate evolution, creating the possibility that for the first time Man would truly merit the title Homo sapiens. But then the religion story had become a cultural revolt of the lowest possible character—"a mindless sensory wingding" was Cohen's description.
Instead of Homo sapiens, LSD had created Homo hippie!
1 "in spite of lurid statements ... long hair beatnik ..." White House Conference on Narcotics, 1963.
2 "the disease is striking ..." Time, March 11,1966.
3 "one of the most common ..." Congressional Hearings, May 1966.
4 "already psychologically deranged ..." Congressional Hearings, May, 1966.
5 "cases of attempted rape ..." LA Times, July 12, 1966.
6 "only when you sensationalize a subject..." Rufus King, The Drug Hangup, p. 294.
7 "the sprawled body of a young girl ... it was an unprovoked crime ..." Harry Ainslinger, Marijuana: Assassin of Youth.
8 "man I've been flying for three days ..." Time, April 22,1966.
9 "both students and members of the faculty ..." Young and Hixon, LSD on Campus, p. 17.
10 "middle-aged underachievers, stale artists ..." LA Times, May 4,1966.
11 "they are life's losers ..." Tine, March 11,1966.
12 "I'm sure you'll agree that this young lad ..." Congressional Hearings,
13 "we have seen something which in a way ..." Congressional Hearings, Senate Subcommittee of Organization and Coordination, 1966, p. 147.
14 "how should one evaluate the outcome ..."JAMA, 187:758,1964.
15 "there is no published evidence ..." New England Journal of Medicine, Dec. 2,1965.
16 "for Sandoz to be so timorous.." Science, July 8,1966.
17 "summer of one-way correspondence ..." Science, Nov. 18,1966.
18 "in the hope that it will tell ..." Young and Hixson, p. 99.
19 "just as hypnosis ..." LA Times, June 19,1966.
20 "everything you hear about LSD is nonsense ..." LA Times, June 19, 1966.
21 "radiating light in white chinos ..." Newsweek, June 27,1966.
22 "the most carefully prepared ..." Stolaroff letter,
23 "are you really called a boo hoo ... on the day the prison doors close ..." Kleps, pp. 122,125.
24 "I believe that the criteria ..." Congressional Hearings,
25 "and what is going to happen ... are we going to have high school courses ... I would let research ..." Congressional Hearings.
27 "our social duty now ..." San Francisco Chronicle, June 17,1966.
28 "I don't know what more we could want..." Stolaroff letter.
29 "I looked at the paper I was to draw on ..." Stolaroff archive,
30 "who's using the cards he's got..." Stafford,
31 "let me put it this way ..." PofE, pp. 106-107.
Was this article helpful?