"I could feel my tongue getting thick, and I couldn't answer questions quite properly. It felt as though the messages were all coming into the switchboard, and messages were going out all right, but that the switchboard was congested and the two weren't coordinating. As though the operator had something else on her mind or too much to do, and was just letting things get all jammed up" (from LSD session report, October 1955).
The point of the Cohen-Fishman study was to compare the functioning of an individual under the drug and in his individual state. For this a battery of psychological tests were devised to measure the functioning of the individual as himself and after having taken the drug. In order to accomplish this, there were a number of tests chosen for measuring different aspects of the person: general intelligence, psychological functioning, psychological makeup, maturity, and general functioning ability as shown by the difference between the drug and non-drug states. Drug dosage was assigned according to body weight of the subject. Comparisons were made between the drug and non-drug states to get insights on the drug being tested.
In this battery, the individual tests had been given in some of the psychological tests like the "Draw a Person" (DAP), where the individual draws a picture about how he feels about himself and other people. The description of the drug experience continues.
"Then I saw the color of the wall waxing and waning - ebbing and flowing. The extraordinary character of light and color...There was a third-dimensionality to color - and a constant change. And there would be a symphony of variations on what ordinarily is a plain brown wall...This was interesting - how dimension and color all were mixed up in that they were all part of the whole pulsating ebb and flow, and it took enormous effort to try and separate things out sufficiently to describe accurately what was happening."
"Just before the colors hit and the curtain started down between sections of my brain, I had that wonderful relaxation which I had known before - the awe-inspiring relief, the letting go of psychological barriers which has come to be identified in my thinking with the relaxation of the ego. I could feel myself being drawn into a mystical experience - the sense of unity with all things in the universe. But as I felt the relaxing of the self boundaries, there was this flood of grateful tears which I stopped because of the three men present."
Searching through the accordion-pleated files of time for the context of that experience takes me back to 1955, to the beginning of LSD research in the western United States and to my own first knowledge of the drug. There was that notice on the UCLA Psychology Department requesting a graduate student for a doctoral thesis on the effects of a new and unusual drug. In the recesses of another fold of memory from who knows where or when, came: "I'll bet that research is about LSD!" (There had been an article in LOOK magazine.)
I yearned to apply to Sidney Cohen, M.D., the author of that request, but I couldn't; I had almost completed the work for my own infertility studies, and the time loss was much too great for my own dissertation on infertility. Next best was to send a friend, and one was handy, Lionel Fishman. He hadn't seen the notice, but was very interested. However, before telling him the details, I extracted his promise that I be the first subject if indeed the research were on LSD. Lionel, or Fish, as we called him, talked to Dr. Cohen, signed on with enthusiasm, and didn't forget his promise. After Dr. Cohen and Fish had their own trial experiences with LSD, I indeed became their first research subject. The original quotation at the beginning of this was part of the report on the LSD session.
I remember my intense interest in their study, but I didn't have much time to kibitz, as I was dragging myself out of bed at 4:30 a.m., trying to finish my dissertation. I had passed the write doctoral exams at UCLA the spring of 1955, the same year that my son arrived to join his three-year old sister. (I figured that gave me an M.A. at least twice over - at school and at home.) I was pretty far along on my dissertation, too, as I remember, at the point of getting judges to categorize the Rorschach responses of the women who couldn't get pregnant as contrasted to women who had at least two children and no difficulty getting pregnant. At the same time, I was doing that pre-sunrise scene in order to write on the dissertation. I was in no position to add any other activities.
But I did add just one - serving as subject for the Cohen-Fishman study. Lately, just recently, all I could remember of that first LSD experience was that I was constantly being interrupted in my LSD experience in order to take tests. In the Draw-a-Person I remembered the courtly French cavalier type I drew for the man. (In contrast, my report - thank heaven for the necessity to write a report:
"I wanted to draw Little Lord Fauntleroy...I didn't want to put it down. But my honesty made me do it, although my defensiveness changed it into a courtier at the time of one of the Louis'. That way it was more acceptable.")
With the Draw-a-Person, one first draws the way one sees oneself. I had just remembered the courtier more strongly. Also, as I first remembered, the woman I drew was in a hoop skirt, I remembered this from the same period. (Ah, memory! The actuality of the first figure I drew, a woman, was quite different, thank heavens for records!)
"I drew an old-fashioned little girl - and at the same time I really didn't want to - knowing I was drawing myself. And I came up with a little girl where the head didn't belong to the body. The legs were all grown up but the head was a vapid child's head. And the dress was of the Victorian era."
It was a terrible experience to reveal oneself so clearly, and it was also humiliating to be asked to perform tasks when I couldn't concentrate; I couldn't think; and the tasks seemed meaningless and irrelevant. For instance:
"It was the word association test, and I was completely set to cooperate and to give associations. But with the first word I realized that it was impossible. There was no association present at all. It was as though the word had been released into a great bubble of space-time and hung suspended there. It had no relationship to anything. And since it was completely irrelevant, I couldn't even attempt to find a word to go along with it. It would be like trying to answer a question on color with a bar of music."
"I tried to tell them what it was like - it was as though I was in the middle of a wide wonderful pasture - free and green and full of sunlight, and something was going on back at the fence that they wanted me to do. I was in the pasture, but the word association test was part and parcel of the fence - which is only an artificial barrier with no real intrinsic meaning to the freedom of the pasture. It was trivial, and there was no association of any kind, so I begged off. It was almost impossible to see how intelligent people could expect to find meaning to life (which was the pasture) in contemplating designs of the fence. And suddenly I saw the difficulty. Life is the warmth and the flowing and the three-dimensionality - but it comes overwhelming to a man who must compress it into one dimension and flatness and barrenness in order to deal with it. And this necessity to deal with it comes when he tries to go somewhere. It is the motion of trying to go - trying to get some place is the difficulty - it is the cause of the descent from Eden. Because the minute that one tries to go someplace or to "be" someone or something, then one is not content to let things be. In our ardor to "be" something, we lose personal life - and must content ourselves with this poor, flat, tawdry imitation... the illusion had become a reality."
Pretty heavy material!
In the session of January 10, 1957, I remembered telling Sid Cohen that I felt that LSD was a therapeutic drug, and that there were profound therapeutic implications to be examined with respect to its use. After my first LSD on October 10, 1955, I had worked very hard and finished my doctorate - not in March of 1956 because both kids got the mumps - but by the end of July. I had been meeting with Sid periodically about the LSD work because of the fascination I felt after my first session despite the frustration of being pulled back to reality to perform the tasks. Sid gave me numerous reports of people who had taken LSD and what they had to say about their experiences. There may have been some mescaline reports among the LSD reports too.
As I remember, the majority of reports came from Al Hubbard's file. Al was the grand old man of LSD, of consciousness change. How he heard about the LSD, I'm not sure, but he had worked with mescaline and other substances, and he was the first explorer of the LSD universe on the West Coast. He was reputed to be a millionaire, and after he first tried LSD, he reportedly ordered
43 cases from Sandoz, and got them! And, "Captain" or "Dr." Hubbard was the one who first gave LSD to Humphry Osmond, and perhaps Aldous Huxley and Gerald Heard. Al had worked with the mescaline before with Humphry Osmond. In fact, Al met Humphry because of Humphry's report on his working with mescaline.
Al also explored every mind-changing drug he heard about. My first memory of him is his arrival at our house carrying a tank of nitrous oxide and conning everyone present to having a whiff by extolling its virtues for psyche and soul.
Just wasn't only nitrous oxide that Al had - he had developed his own pharmacopoeia to "blow out the stuff" that stood in the way of a good LSD session, which to him meant having a mystical experience. He was for the preliminary "clearing away the problems," and then giving one large dose to produce a transcendental experience. For instance, he had little white pills, called, I thought, mescaline-amphetamine, which caused people to open up and talk. In retrospect, I think it was methedrine with Al's fancy name. But even more important, as I remember it was on a later visit, he had tanks of oxygen and carbon dioxide. This was the first time he had experienced or seen the Meduna technique of inhaling "carbogen" for altered states of consciousness in order to help deal with psychological problems. I was to find that 6 to 10 inhalations, or "sniffs" helped as preparation for my second LSD session and then was useful in working to dissolve problems which arose afterwards.
Much later Ernie Katz and I were taught by Lee Sanella to use carbogen (70% oxygen, 30% carbon dioxide) along with Ritalin - a technique which really "blew out the problems." This was a remarkable technique which patients hated more than any other but also knew how effective it was in helping solve psychological problems. I applaud it for the remarkable work it accomplished.
What a buccaneer Hubbard was - large, rambling, and with his own private plane and special island on Puget Sound (which some gossip said belonged to a mysterious sponsor; this was in no way ever confirmed). We all felt as though he traveled with pockets full of magic and gold. From reports that I wrote at the time I can see how much I owe Al and his soft-spoken, insightful wife, Rita, for all they taught us about using drugs and also all the help they game me when I was going through the aftermath of that traumatic second LSD session. The following gives a flavor of Al:
September 23, 1957
Dear Dr. Betty (which he always called me),
"It gave us great pleasure to read your last letter, and to realize that my last one to you somehow jumped the semantic barriers and put across even in a small way which I desired to express..."
"I think I know that you believe I have some sort of block towards academic people, but really Betty, I do not. I think it is just that I expect so much more from them than they are able to give, and it is such a shock sometimes to realize how little it all really counts that I do perhaps rather take the attitude, ^Oh Hell, another dough-head.' Perhaps part of it is the years I have had in this work, and being only human after all, many times have had the experience of knowing that I have done a really good job, and it would not have cost some Doctor anything at all to have said it was good. After all, that is all outside of the knowledge that we are doing good work, and that is all I get out of it. I suppose as I advance in my own development this will all pass away, I sincerely hope so..."
May 7, 1957
".I have no trouble in Canada as I work under authority of the Government of Canada."
"As to your reference to Catholic doctor, I think this is an excellent idea.I am perfectly aware that most of our people with their little personal God do now know my God of the Galaxies, and there is such a vast chasm between their God and my God that in most cases it would be impossible to bridge. The small group of mystics in our church who know what I am talking about and within whose authority I operate, are not very many compared with the five hundred million members."
Al formed The Commission for the Study of Creative Imagination with himself (and his questionable Ph.D.) as research director, with Humphry Osmond, Abram Hoffer, John Smythies, Sidney Cohen, Aldous Huxley, Gerald Heard, Henry Puharich, Hugh Keenleyside and W. Kluhauf of Mexico City on the Board.
October 28, 1957 Dear Dr. Betty,
".I believe there are certain common experiences for all people in these things, and I believe as I believed before, one must have spiritual grace to allow them to enter into certain dimensions or levels or what you will to call them. Then they have to have the intellectual capacity to turn it into current language of our day, describing the symbolic experience that they went through. Some minds are just not capable of doing this and look upon the enormity of the things brought before them with its fringe of illusion mixed up with some hallucinations, and just say, 'Yes, I have lived many times before.' Then proceed to confabulate until they complete the 'acceptable experience of the objective mind.' This does not mean that the experience has not been valuable to them, but the capacity to appreciate it in full is missing."
Al Hubbard was a real and daring pioneer in drug work. He was first with so many things, and he never received the credit he deserved. But there were a lot of pioneers - Humphry Osmond, with his quiet and charming English gentlemanly way, his penetrating ideas, and his courageous spirit. He and Al Hubbard used to play intricate games in the cosmos after having taken LSD or mescaline. Next there was Aldous Huxley; no need to describe him - everyone knows of his scintillating mind, and what a path-forging person he was. He was also very kind to all of us who worked in the area. In fact, I never knew Aldous to be anything but kind to everyone. I'll never forget an argument he had with Tim Leary - a discussion as far as Aldous was concerned - about the role of the cellular intelligence, to which Tim was assigning total credit with much heat and emphasis. "But, Timothy," Aldous said patiently and gently, "the cellular intelligence is important. But there are other forms or intelligence, too."
Gerald Heard, the English philosopher who was very interested in the LSD work at this time, was just as brilliant as Aldous, but he talked in paragraphs that ran for a page or two, and always had an esoteric association to the insight at hand. I had met Gerald Heard at Trabuco, a meditation retreat he and Felix Greene founded and built in southern California in the 1940's. I will never forget the Benedictine silence at Trabuco, and the meditation room, built in the three descending circular levels and fitted with black curtains so that it was a place where no light could ever penetrate - of the worldly type, that is. Gerald was very shy and reclusive in those days, but the consciousness-changing work made him much more outgoing and more inclined to work with others.
I realize that all this time I haven't described Sid Cohen, who at the time I met him was head of Psychosomatic Medicine at the Brentwood Veterans' Administration. He was the main rock-hard researcher who did not tolerate fools lightly. Sid had the look of an eagle about him, and much of the sharp-eyed, hard-nosed skepticism that might be said to accompany it. He was also enormously subject to data and facts, which made him a true scientist and opened his mind to experiences beyond those with which he might be familiar. He was also a penetratingly intelligent researcher and research supervisor; he should have had legions of devoted researchers to follow their combined hunches -something which he was able to do only for a certain period of time.
But something happened in later years, and Sid, who had done the definitive work on toxic psychosis, all sorts of research on psychedelics, and also wrote articles and a book on LSD, seemed to have his perception change as time passed, into a bias against psychedelics. This might well have developed because of the wide-appearance of the drug culture in the later years of his life. But then he was as excited as all the rest of us about LSD, levels of consciousness, our psychotherapeutic work, and the work and thinking of anyone who was using psychedelics creatively - and properly.
During this period, the fall of 1956 and early 1957, there was a boiling activity. We read report after report - dozens - of people who had taken LSD and/or mescaline. And we discussed them, Sid and I - and Al, and Humphry Osmond when he visited, and people like Tom Powers who came from the east coast to experience LSD, bringing W. Wilson from AA on several trips. Every one of the people wanted to talk about their experiences, experiences which were so unique that each one of us was busy trying to make sense of all the phenomena which were occurring, and to fit them into some intelligible description, category, and understanding.
Through the fascination of all of the personal reports of LSD sessions ran the thread of the therapeutic possibilities of the drug, which confirmed my own intuition from my first experience -fragmented though it was from all the tests I had taken. The more I read, the stronger I felt. I shared my feelings with Sid, and he agreed.
Little did I know though, what I was getting into when I agreed to serve as the first subject (as far as we knew) to test the possible therapeutic potential of LSD. If I had known what was going to happen I doubt that I ever would have taken that fateful 100 gamma, the same dosage I had had at my first LSD session. (The report says my first time I was given 70 + 30 gamma, split.)
This time there was a difference, however. I was at least a little more prepared. I had the good sense to arrange for sitters for the children; I planned nothing for after the session, having learned from the experience following my first LSD. I ended up in chaos and total confusion and found myself putting the undried clothes carefully back into the washer after I had put them from the washer into the dryer.
After that first LSD session, I had to call my husband home from work because I was such a complete mess; I had no conception of what a disorienting experience LSD could be. No one had told me that - or that it could go on for hours or actually even days!
Lucky that I made those arrangements! After the second LSD I ended up, not in chaos and confusion but with the blackest depression that anyone could dream up. Depression had never been a symptom I suffered from.
Many hours afterwards, in despair, I finally forced myself to especially call Sid for help. Sid sat through much of my session. It was shattering to find that our phone was out of order when I went to call. In profound physical and psychological distress, I walked to the corner to a pay phone, forced myself to wait in line, and called, finally reaching Sid.
He refused to take me seriously saying to get a good night's sleep and all would be well in the morning. I clearly remember telling him that it wouldn't look good for the research if the psychologist who was the subject committed suicide. He was unimpressed.
Then I called my closest friend who had been with me through the whole eight hours of my LSD experience. She had taken a sleeping pill and was exhaustedly on her way to bed. The pill had begun to work, and not only was it impossible for her to come and help me, but she couldn't even talk long and coherently enough to help make sense of where I was. I can't remember what I did then in my despair, but I must have walked home. I know that I felt the universe had collapsed on me.
But our hypothesis had been proven! My friend told me as she delivered me home after the session that I had gone through the equivalent of 500 hours of analysis, something she knew only too well since she had been in analysis for many years with Dr. Otto Fenichel, a disciple of Freud's. Fine thing! The experiment was a success, but the patient was about to die!
In any case, in the midst of the profound depression, I may have saved my life and I certainly saved my sanity, by searching through our library, book by book until I came upon what finally helped. All night long I submerged myself in the writings of St. John of the Cross - that long, long night of the dark of my soul!
Thirty five years later, these are the memories which come into being about that session: the beginning with Mozart where there were all sorts of gleaming insects attacking my head, beautifully-colored insects which drilled into my skull; the ice princess and the gingerbread (man) - northern part and southern, warmer parts. But, as before, I had mostly forgotten. From the report, written within the first 24 hours of the session, dated January 10, 1957:
"Actually, I sort of expected a repetition of the freedom from self of the first session. But in reality I lived through a massive reduction of my defenses and habit patterns back to the very beginning of family identifications. All of these appeared in brilliant color, so, although I was conscious of what was going on, I might be said to have been hallucinating. I could stop the process when I wanted to, but I tried to ride the emotional and symbolic wave down to the bottom to understand the whole story."
"Almost the whole process was acute agony - pure hell or purgation - and I realized it as such and spoke of it thus. It was purgation of the spirit through self-knowledge; not just insightful knowledge, but also emotional knowledge of a direct and actual and acute sort. Almost the whole time I realize that I was enclosed in a wall of the defense: I could see and feel the limitation. But several times the light broke through, and at the end when I was beaten and spent I began the ascent to the light of wholeness and integration."
"I remember having the feeling of waiting, waiting - waiting for I knew not what. Then I saw spots of brilliant color in small flecks or squares - the pure color made when a prism diverts pure light. The flecks danced all over to the music and everything in between was gray. To the left was a sly fox with a bushy tail. I realized with anguish - because it became painful at the very beginning - that analysis is my first line of defense: I take reality and break it up into pieces because I cannot deal with it whole and pure. This makes flecks of extraordinary brilliant color, but the whole interplane is gray. And how foxy I think the defense of analysis is!"
"Then I saw a white church and spire against a mauve background, and this reminded me of a cardboard cover for a record - again, a defense against the pure music itself. I fought throughout the session to understand and associate to these symbols. The little white church with the high steeple at times had a woman standing beside it. She was all bundled up in warm clothes - mauve with a white trim - and it was cold. The woman became in turn a madonna, a snow maiden, a snowman, and a gingerbread man...Sometimes the church would show just its bare bones - the ribbing like the prow of a ship, and then the woman became a figurehead. And at times the bare bones of the church changed into a magnificent cathedral with the shadow of the structure still upon it. And I realized that these were the planes of the prism which contaminated the pure soaringness of the church - the bones of my defensive system."
"As I experienced these symbols I relived the myth of Nordic supremacy - to my horror. I was made to feel the coldness, the austereness, the separateness of the myth that Nordic people are superior to others. I realized that this had been built into me from earliest childhood. I felt its austerity and its coldness -anyone who must be superior pays the price of snow and ice. And through these symbols I released the racial intolerance back and down to my childhood where I was brought up in the South - and I loosened part of my own need for feeling superior. The first line of defense: analysis. The second line of defense: prejudice and intolerance. "
"In understanding the symbols I found the madonna and the gingerbread man were two halves of myself which I could not get together into a whole - they were stereotypes of my misperceptions of the masculine and feminine parts of my nature."
"We followed this down - down through my relationships with sensitive men whom I had manipulated so that at times I felt I had driven them to the brink of death or insanity. I felt this in a violent way because the guilt and the misery of manipulation of the vulnerable was so overwhelming for me to face. I felt that I should be my brother's keeper, but instead I had used my brother to my own advantage. I saw this with terrible and excruciating clarity in terms of how I had sided against my brother and father; I who knew how he felt and should have protected him! And how this relationship of fundamental competitiveness had become displaced with the years onto my relationship with men."
"As the guilt piled up, I felt that I killed my father, turned my mother toward insanity and made my brother neurotic and latently homosexual. And it was too much. I went off into a tangential world and knew that I was insane. I could feel the enclosedness of it, the separateness, and worst of all - the symbolization. I saw giant mosquitoes which drilled into my skull and sucked out the brains. They were not alive but were mechanical - huge, impersonal, glittering insects with the flecks of brilliant color that were the sign of my analytic tendencies as decorations on their transparent, beautiful but completely dead wings. And they swarmed around in complete silence. I told the therapists that they would have to pull me through - or I didn't know what would happen."
Well, pull me through they did, by showing me that as a little girl I couldn't have been responsible for all those problems, but enough was left of the massive dose of self-awareness that it precipitated me into that profound depression.
I swore that I would never do that to a patient!
And we never did.
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