The Politics of Consciousness - Part II
An excerpt from Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream,
Harper & Row, Publishers, ©1987 by Jay Stevens. ISBN 0-06-097172-X
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." That people
other than kooks might seriously believe a drug could expand consciousness,
or propel one up the evolutionary ladder, had seemed too ludicrous
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 problemthe 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
FDA 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
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 menmedian age twenty-twoand 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
What the critics of Leary's enthusiasm had feared was coming to
pass: unstable personalities, exposed to LSD in uncontrolled settings,
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
debatedsome 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 drugit 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
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.
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 percent2 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.
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."
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 FDA'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 windowshade of her living room, he tore off his clothes
and stumbled inside, only to be thwarted by the girl's quickwitted
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
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
occurrenceunless it was self-rage, leading to suiciderage
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."
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 Anslinger
back in the Thirties, during his "reefer madness" campaigns
against marijuana. Anslinger 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.
It was a curious thing, but if you changed a few nouns in any
of the anti-marijuana 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
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,
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
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
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 FDA 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 postteenagers." "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."
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."
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
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. "
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
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"
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
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?" 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
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 LSDan 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. 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 FDA? The NIMH?
The National Research Council? Who will assume the responsibility
for the necessary investigative work with LSD?"
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 one-way correspondence and long-distance phone calls"
he was told that while he had the approval of NIMH he must now
secure the FDA'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."
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." Barron was followed at
the podium by Sidney Cohen, who warned that "just as hypnosis
was lost to use for fifty yearswhile it was used on the vaudeville
stage and in the parlorthe same is going to be true of LSD."
"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 professionalshe suggested
theologians philosophers, and anthropologistsaccess to the
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 Hoffer, 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 talkand
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. But he also delivered what Myron Stolaroff
thought was "the most carefully prepared address I have ever
seen him give."
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.) 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."
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
All in all, it was a temperate performancetoo 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."
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."
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 drugsa 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.
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 supercorporation. 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 professionalsphysicists,
furniture designers, architects, mathematicians, engineerswho
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.
It was a magnificent day.
But all this work came to nought when Sandoz decided to withdraw
its patronage, leaving the FDA 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 pointhe carried with him a letter pointing
out that numerous industries, as well as NASA, had used psychedelics
to solve specific problemsbut 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 researcha 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'sand by extension Leary'slegitimacy. "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
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."
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 loveno matter how ecstatic the pleasure
you think you get from itis 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."
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 whingding" was Cohen's description.
Instead of Homo sapiens, LSD had created Homo Yippie!