The Politics of Consciousness - Part I
An excerpt from Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream,
Harper & Row, Publishers, ©1987 by Jay Stevens. ISBN 0-06-097172-X
"The whole goddamn climate changed. Suddenly you were conspirators out to destroy people. I felt like Galileo. I closed my practice and went to Europe. I felt violated."
That was the way Oscar Janiger remembered the change in mood that began in the summer of 1962. Suddenly LSD was no longer innocuous. It was a dagger pointed at the heart of psychiatry, the next thalidomide, a time bomb that was cheerfully being constructed by deluded members of the profession.
"If you want to know, it was Leary and the others who were ruining what we had worked so hard to build."
That was Janiger retrospectively laying blame. At the time no one knew where to point the finger. With the exception of some of the Lab Madness boys, who had been a tad bitter when their work was dismissed as passé, things had been proceeding with benign optimism, new recruits swelling the research ranks every week.
In a major city like Los Angeles, it was as easy to go on an LSD trip as it was to visit Disneyland. Interested parties could either contact the growing number of therapists who were using LSD in practice, or they could offer themselves as guinea pigs to any of the dozens of research projects that were under way at places like UCLA. Representative of the first approach was Thelma Moss, a former character actress turned "slick fiction" writer. Moss had heard Aldous Huxley talking about the Other World on a local television show, and before learning of Arthur Chandler and Mortimer Hartman, she had been prepared to search out some of Gordon Wasson's magic mushrooms in Mexico. Moss made an appointment with Chandler and Hartman, and after deciding on a psychological problem that would focus the sessions (she chose frigidity), she took the first of twenty-three LSD trips.
Moss was not a novice when it came to psychoanalysis. She had been in therapy for years. But she had never really, in her heart of hearts, believed that there was such a thing as the unconscious. LSD convinced her. During one session she suddenly became a legless beggar caught in a desert sandstorm, a scene right out of King Solomon's Mines, except that deep inside herself she heard a voice whispering, I died here. Another time she watched her insides explode into flames with such force that she was flung against the wall. It reminded her a little of how emotions sometimes multiplied until every pore was engulfed, only this was "a vastly more ruthless force" (students of Kundalini take note). "What is it," she kept crying to her therapist, who finally gave her a tranquilizer.
Moss never knew where she would land after she passed through the Door. "Truth and lies and absurdity and grandeur were all mixed together in the psychedelic experience," she wrote. "In an effort to separate them, I would return for the next session, and the next, hoping each time that with this next session the truth would be revealed." It never was. But what did happen was so incredible, so contrary to the slick fiction that was her bread and butter, that she began keeping notes.
The other way to the Other World, the research project route, was exemplified by George Goodman, who is probably better known as the economist and writer Adam Smith. Goodman signed up for a UCLA project and was told by the director, "You are the astronauts of inner space. You are going deeper into the mind than anyone has gone so far, and you will come back to tell us what you found."
One of the things Goodman found was that he could see all "the basic molecules of the universe... all the component parts, little building blocks of DNA." He conscientiously drew a picture of what he thought was DNA, but it turned out to be a plastic monomer marketed by Dupont called Delrin. That didn't dampen Goodman's amazement, however, because up until taking the LSD he had had a banker's knowledge of molecules and chemical notation, which is to say he knew absolutely nothing about them.
There was something in the American psyche that craved spiritual adventure, something which writer Peter Mathiessen described as a "deep restlessness." Mathiessen had been a leader of the postwar Parisian expatriate scene, one of the founders of Paris Review. But he'd also become involved with the Gurdjieff work and that stirred a yearning that he described this way: "One turns in all directions and sees nothing. Yet one senses that there is a source for this deep restlessness; and the path that leads there is not a path to a strange place, but the path home." In Peru Mathiessen experimented with yagé. Then he hooked up with a "renegade psychiatrist" in New York and started using LSD. "Most were magic shows," he later wrote. "After each—even the bad ones—I seemed to go more lightly on my way, leaving behind old residues of rage and pain."
Mathiessen was fortunate. Whenever his girlfriend took LSD it precipitated a terrifying confrontation with her own death. Since this was a fairly common occurrence for anyone who spent much time in the Other World, it is worth quoting Mathiessen's description of a bad trip:
She started to laugh, and her mouth opened wide and she could not close it; her armor had cracked, and all the night winds of the world went howling through. Turning to me, she saw my flesh dissolve, my head become a skull—the whole night went like that. Yet she later saw that she might free herself by living out the fear of death, the demoniac sage at one's own helplessness that the drug hallucinations seem to represent, and in that way let go of a life-killing accumulation of defenses. And she accepted the one danger of the mystical search: there was no way back without doing oneself harm. Many paths appear, but once the way is taken, it must be followed to the end.If people like Mathiessen had a code, it was "there are no casual experiments." One of the reasons LSD therapy was booming was because qualms about the drug's safety had been laid to rest in mid-1960, when Sidney Cohen published his findings on adverse reactions. Cohen surveyed a sample of five thousand individuals who had taken LSD twenty-five thousand times. He found an average of 1.8 psychotic episodes per thousand ingestions, 1.2 attempted suicides, and 0.4 completed suicides. "Considering the enormous scope of the psychic responses it induces," he concluded, "LSD is an astonishingly safe drug." With the question of safety out of the way, interest then focused on the best way to use mind-expanding drugs. There were two schools of thought: those who saw LSD as a "facilitator" of traditional therapy, be it Freudian or otherwise, and those who followed the Hubbard-Osmond practice of giving huge dosages and trying, through the subtle use of cues, to produce a psychedelic or integrative experience. This became known as psychedelic therapy, as opposed to the more mainstream psycholytictherapy. It got so astute students of the literature could guess the theoretical orientation of an LSD monograph simply by its title: psycholytic papers had headings like "LSD as a Facilitating Agent in Psychotherapy" or "Resolution and Subsequent Remobilization of Resistance by LSD in Psychotherapy"; whereas psychedelic ones favored things like "LSD; Alcoholism and Transcendence" or "LSD and the New Beginning."
There were certain constants, of course, set and setting being the most notable. But from there the different techniques diverged rather dramatically. Psycholyticists like Chandler and Hartman took a lot of time, using small dosages, establishing a path to the unconscious—sort of a maintenance road—before any real exploration began. What they tried to do was create a state of conscious dreaming, and the way they did it was by masking the various senses. With the eyes blocked, the mind would begin projecting inner movies, sort of like "a 3-D film tape... being run off in the visual field," as one therapist described it. Some of these film loops were of actual incidents, forgotten since childhood, but most were composed of that symbolic patois that Freud felt was the true language of the unconscious, of psychic reality rather than objective reality.
The patients, asked to maintain a running commentary on what they were seeing, would report things like: I'm in a black tunnel ... there is a grayish light at the end of it... I'm moving toward it.... There was a moment in one of Thelma Moss's sessions when she came to an abyss. Explore it, the doctor suggested:
As I plummeted down, I felt myself growing smaller and smaller ... I was becoming a child... a very small child... a baby... I was a baby. I was not remembering being a baby I was literally a baby. (The conscious part of me realized I was experiencing the phenomena of "age regression," familiar in hypnosis But in this case, although I had become a baby, I remained at the same time a grown woman lying on a couch. This was a double state of being.) The leg of the baby that I was (my own adult leg) suddenly jerked into the air and I whimpered in the voice of a little child: "They stuck me with a needle!" Before I could find out who had stuck me with a needle, I was playing with round violet-colored marbles... which changed into squares... then rectangles... which grew long and high and became the four sides of a playpen. I was inside the playpen. My brother was outside it, playing. I whined like a baby: "They let him play outside but I have to stay in here..."Then the playpen vanished and Moss found herself gazing into a big purple jewel, which became an amethyst pendant hanging from her mother's neck, which became her mother's face, purple with rage, and she was shaking someone that turned into a rag doll that turned into Moss.
That was what was at the bottom of that abyss.
No doubt because they were Freudians, Chandler and Hartman elicited a lot of childhood sexual trauma, Oedipus complexes, penis envy, but they also observed elements of the Jungian unconscious, the wise old man archetype, the symbol of evil archetype. Sometimes mythological creatures appeared, dragons and Japanese devil gods. And just as Huxley had written, there was a hellish dimension to the Other World, a Dark Wood that everyone stumbled into eventually. A few passed through to something else and returned convinced that they had looked into the heart of creation. Had they? After some thought, Chandler and Hartman decided this mystical gnosis was one of LSD's potential drawbacks, since the patient was generally uninterested in further therapy.
But it was precisely this mystic gnosis that interested the psychedelic therapists. Using one large dose and a grab bag of nonverbal cues, after hours of interviewing, testing, analyzing, and prepping, the psychedelic therapist tried to lead the patient to that self-shattering point where he merged with the world—the point known to the Buddhists as satori, to the Hindus as samadhi, and to the psychological community as "a temporary loss of differentiation of the self and the outer world." It was a realm of pure potential, and if the psychedelic therapist was skilled, the effects could be dramatic. Osmond and Hoffer's success rate with chronic alcoholics was hovering between 50 and 70 percent, while Al Hubbard's clinic at Hollywood Hospital reported a figure in the low eighties.
An update on Mr. Hubbard. Despite the misgivings of Humphrey Osmond, who felt it would create more problems than it would solve, Hubbard had gotten his Ph.D. in psychology from a Tennessee diploma mill. He was now Dr. Hubbard, at least on his stationery. It may be that in some sense Al felt he needed proof of intellectual parity, poor barefoot boy that he was, surrounded by the likes of Huxley and Heard. Perhaps he coveted their Oxbridge erudition. If so, it was an ironic situation, he longing to discourse intelligently about Jung and the Other World, while they envied him his simple American ability to get things done, whether it was a business deal or a guided tour of the Other World. But whatever Hubbard did, there was always a lot of shrewd practicality to it, and getting his doctorate was no different. Hubbard had decided—I lapse momentarily here into Leary's transactional terminology—that the one game he wanted to play was the psychedelic research game, with his own clinic, patients, colleagues, and before he could do that he needed credentials.
To be blunt, Hubbard had burned his bridges to pursue LSD; he had let his business interests wither from inattention, which can be stressful for a man with a Rolls Royce-island-estate lifestyle. Despite his genuine human hunger to find out what was happening in the mind's depths, Hubbard had not been unaware of the possibility that an LSD clinic might prove profitable. What he had needed was a doctor to provide the necessary medical expertise, and he had found him in the person of Ross McLean, the administrator of Hollywood Hospital, in New Westminster, British Columbia. McLean had given Hubbard a suite of rooms and in 1958 the first private Canadian clinic to use LSD therapy opened for business.
Hubbard's clinic became the testing ground for psychedelic therapy. In 1959 it attracted the attention of Ben Metcalfe, a local reporter. Hubbard invited Metcalfe to stop by for a two-day session, and Metcalfe did. He took the drug in Al's specially designed session room—Dali's Last Supper over the couch, Gauguin's Buddha on the far wall, another Dali, a crucifix, a small altar, a stereo system, burning candles, a statue of the Virgin. Metcalfe landed in a part of the Other World that was comparable to MGM's film library, particularly the section where historical epics were stored. There were Flashes of Carthage and ancient Rome seguing into landscapes out of Titian; great battles fleetingly glimpsed; figures that were unmistakably Shakespearian. It would have been immensely entertaining had it not ended in a fit of weeping. Not sniffly little whimpers, but great heaving sobs. "This is all repressed material coming out," Doctor Hubbard said. "This is what we bury to become men."
It went on like that, with Metcalfe emoting and crying and mumbling to himself, while Al sat meditatively alongside, rarely interrupting. One of the most difficult things that a psychedelic therapist had to learn was how to do nothing, how to become transparent, yet remain attentive enough to respond at the crucial moment, like when Metcalfe began shouting, "I must be insane! I must be." A good therapist had to know which cue would untie this particular knot. Which picture, which whispered observation. "We're all insane when it comes to confronting ourselves," Al murmured. And there was a big click in Metcalfe's mind and he went shooting up toward this bright central sun, and as he flew, it seemed to him that his earthly ties, his kids, his wife, his job, all floated away from him like "flashes of multi-colored snow vanishing in the darkness while I sped upwards."
It felt like death.
"Did I die?" Metcalfe asked.
"No one really dies," said Captain Al.
Hubbard's one published work, "The Use of LSD-25 in the Treatment of Alcoholism and Other Psychiatric Problems" (Quart. J. Stud. Alcohol, 1961), was frequently cited in the literature, but his biggest contribution was the Hubbard room, the stereo playing Bach, the vaguely spiritual pictures. Although few researchers knew its provenance, duplicates appeared wherever psychedelic therapy gained a foothold.
Though there were some classic psychedelic therapists—Hoffer and Osmond in Saskatchewan come to mind, the Kurland group in Catonsville, Maryland—who used LSD in an almost old-fashioned way, a lot of the psychedelic therapists were new to the profession, either recent graduates or converts like Hubbard and his former protégé, Myron Stolaroff, and this was going to cause problems. In their enthusiasm they returned from the Other World with a childlike energy that was often obnoxious to their middle-aged peers. They cut corners and bruised feelings and this more than anything contributed to the jealousy that lay behind the aura of "bad science" that began to surround LSD therapy.
Myron Stolaroff was a good example. Stolaroff had been in charge of long-range planning at Ampex, one of the first of the big electronics firms to settle south of the Bay Area, when he had been bitten by the psychedelic bug. Together with Hubbard he had tried to interest Ampex's management in a program that would use LSD to solve all kinds of corporate problems, interpersonal problems, design problems, a long-range planning problems. But the plan had foundered on Al's penchant for Christian mysticism. Stolaroff didn't let go, though: he started holding weekly LSD sessions for some of Ampex's more adventurous engineers; Hubbard came down from Canada one weekend and took them all to a remote cabin in the Sierras where he guided them through the kind of ontological earthquake only Al could manufacture. The senior management of Ampex had been horrified. Having gotten to know Hubbard through rather extraordinary circumstances, it didn't seem at all irrational for them to be worrying, "What if this nutball drives our best men crazy?" So there had been sighs of relief when Stolaroff decided to leave Ampex and set up his own nonprofit psychedelic research center in Menlo Park, California—the International Foundation for Advanced Study.
The Foundation, which opened in March 1961, wasn't the only organization working with LSD in the San Francisco area. The Palo Alto Mental Research Institute had been studying the drug since 1958, and had been instrumental in introducing dozens of local psychiatrists and psychologists, as well as interested laymen like Allen Ginsberg, to the perplexities of the Other World. But the Institute's composure had been shaken by several terrifying incidents—colossal bad trips in which the subject returned from the Other World in questionable shape—and interest in LSD's therapeutic potential had diminished. LSD programs were also under way at the Palo Alto Veterans Hospital, the San Mateo County Hospital, and Napa State Hospital, but no one was offering psychedelic therapy, and what little research was being done was unexciting: Leo Hollister (who will soon reappear in association with a hopeful young writer named Ken Kesey), at the Veterans Hospital, was still doing model psychoses work.
The point was that most LSD researchers were fairly conservative. So when a couple of engineers set up shop (Stolaroff's vice president, Willis Harman, had been an engineering professor at Stanford) and began poaching bread and butter patients—unlike Osmond and Hoffer, Stolaroff wasn't just concentrating on chronic alcoholics, he was soliciting the man off the street, who in this case was the neurotic professional in the high tech-high education hub that surrounded Stanford—there were more than raised eyebrows. Charging five hundred dollars for one session with a highly questionable drug? The whole thing smacked of chicanery, despite the fact that Stolaroff had a licensed psychiatrist running the actual therapy sessions. But what was worse, it was chicanery with good word of mouth. The San Mateo Call Bulletin, scenting a medical scandal, had interviewed a number of Stolaroff's patients and found them laudatory to the point of hyperbole. At the Foundation's first and last open house, Stolaroff had been cornered by a disgruntled therapist who growled, "One of my ex-patients thinks you're a saint," making it clear that he thought Stolaroff was a charlatan. What was one to make, after all, of the Call Bulletin's statement that the Foundation's aims were "partly medical, partly scientific, partly philosophical, partly mystical"? The first two, okay, but philosophy was for philosophers, and mysticism? mysticism was for cranks!
It was a situation that was a little analogous to Leary's at Harvard, in the sense that the local therapeutic community was so totally absorbed with the pointing finger (questionable professionals using questionable drugs to produce questionable cures) that it was almost as if it didn't want to look at the moon. The Foundation was not reticent about the data it was seeing. Seventy-eight percent of its patients claimed an increased ability to love; 69 percent felt they could handle hostility better, with an equal percentage believing that their ability to communicate with and understand others had improved; 71 percent claimed an increase in self-esteem, and 83 percent returned from the Other World with the conviction that they had brushed against "a higher power, or ultimate reality."
Robert Mogar, the Foundation's expert in such diagnostic tools as the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, had never seen anything that could produce the kind of dramatic changes that LSD routinely produced. Part of the usefulness of the MMPI was the fact that some of its scales were remarkably stable, which provided a background against which other personality changes could be measured. But under LSD these stable scales, which generally pertained to beliefs and values, fluctuated wildly. To augment the MMPI, Stolaroff began using a variant of Oscar Janiger's elaborate card distribution system. This consisted of a hundred statements that the patient arranged in nine piles, ranging from those he agreed with least (pile one) to those he wholeheartedly endorsed (pile nine). Three times the cards were sorted into piles, once at the beginning of the program, two days after the LSD session, and then again in two months' time. The changes were consonant with what other researchers were beginning to report. Cards with statements like, "Although I try not to show it, I really worry quite a bit about whether I will prove adequate in meeting the challenge of life," tended to move down the scale. While those bearing statements like, "I believe that I exist not only in the familiar world of space and time, but also in a realm having a timeless, eternal quality," jumped to the top.
Of course there were some negative reactions. One patient felt he had been harmed mentally and roughly a quarter of the others complained that they now tended to lapse into daydreams with greater frequency. More troubling, but entirely understandable if the data about changes in worldview were correct, was an increase in marital problems—27 percent of the experimental subjects and 16 percent of the paying patients reported increased friction with their spouses.
The Foundation's theoretical manifesto—The Psychedelic Experience: A New Concept in Psychotherapy—was submitted for publication in late 1961. In it, the psychedelic experience was broken into three broad stages: (1) evasive maneuvers, (2) symbolic perception, and (3) immediate perception.
The evasive stage, according to the authors, was what earlier therapists had confused with schizophrenia, leading to LSD's misclassification as a psychotomimetic. What happened was this: the drug, by its very nature, released such a flood of new thoughts and perceptions that the patient's normal conceptual framework was overwhelmed, producing a panic condition with overtones of paranoia. But with skillful manipulation of set and setting, the therapist could guide the patient smoothly through the evasive stage to the point where the overly famous hallucinations began. These shifting geometrical patterns were a last gasp of an ego which, "having lost the battle to divert attention through unpleasantness, seeks to charm and distract the conscious mind by throwing up a smokescreen of hallucinations to hide the inner knowledge which it fears."
Actually, the hallucinatory level was a preparation for the realm of symbolic perception, which was where the psycholyticists spent most of their time, deciphering the curious symbolic patois: "The subject constantly works off repressed material and unreality structures, false concepts, ideas, and attitudes, which have been accumulated through his life experiences. Thus a form of psychological cleansing seems to accompany the subjective imagery. This results in considerable ventilation and release almost independent of intellectual clarification. Gradually the subject comes to see and accept himself, not as an individual with 'good' and 'bad' characteristics, but as one who simply is."
But there was also a higher level still. Past the symbolic stage was a land of no boundaries:
The central perception, apparently of all who penetrate deeply in their explorations, is that behind the apparent multiplicity of things in the world of science and common sense there is a single reality, in speaking of which it seems appropriate to use such words as infinite and eternal.As Abram Hoffer had told the last Macy Conference, if you could lead a patient to this point, then nine times out of ten a cure would miraculously occur. Why this happened was not easily explained in psychological terms (as Leary had realized when he decided to opt for the rhetoric of applied mysticism). But it seemed to be something like this: overwhelmed by the realization that one was an "imperishable self rather than a destructible ego," the patient underwent a kind of psychic expansion, in which "the many conflicts which are rooted in lack of self acceptance are cut off at the source, and the associated neurotic behavior patterns begin to die away." As the self expanded, it burst the webbing of unhappy relationships that had tethered it to the ground.
Another analogy: Imagine the self as an oxbow lake, which is formed when a meander is cut off from the main body of a shallow, slow-moving river. Over time, unless fresh sources of water are found, the oxbow begins to stagnate, becoming first a marsh, then a swamp, as vegetation (thickets of received ideas, neuroses, etc.) starts to compete for oxygen. Psycholytic therapy, you might say, contented itself with removing the vegetation; psychedelic therapy, on the other hand, operated by dynamiting the obstruction and restoring the oxbow to what, in fact, it had always been: a lazy curve in a broad, flowing river. Both methods achieved the desired result, which was health, but in the second case something totally new (from the perspective of the oxbow world) was created. The psycholytic therapist used LSD to heighten the traditional psychotherapeutic values of recall, abreaction, and emotional release. But the psychedelic therapist was doing something entirely new, and whether he followed Tim Leary and called it applied mysticism, or the psychedelic experience, the integrative experience, or peak experience, it had an unmistakable and unwelcome odor. To discover, in the recesses of the mind, something that felt a lot like God, was not a situation that either organized science or organized religion wished to contemplate. Yet this was the implication of psychedelic research everywhere, not just at Harvard. What sprang up was more a climate of criticism than any one specific charge. The profession began to worry. It worried about whether LSD, with its plunge into the deep unconscious, was an appropriate direction for a mental health movement whose raison d'être was the molding of healthy, adjusted egos. Could it promote the right sort of behavior change? It worried about the cure rates—Hubbard's 80 percent with chronic alcoholics was unbelievable—which was the start of the bad science criticism, one variant of which went like this: "LSD is a hallucinogen, researchers are taking it as well as giving it, therefore they must be hallucinating their data." That was the charitable bad science interpretation. The uncharitable interpretation maintained that LSD therapists, besides hallucinating their data, were actually making their patients sicker. And they didn't even realize this because the drugs were giving them delusions of grandeur (comparing themselves with the Mercury astronauts or Galileo, what rot!). Psychedelics were revealing a nasty (or a rival) strain of evangelism within the Cinderella science: everywhere you looked therapists were turning into lower-case gurus, with adherents rather than clients.
Roy Grinker put it as bluntly as possible in the Archives of General Psychiatry: "Latent psychotics are disintegrating under the influence of even single doses; long-continued LSD experiences are subtly creating a psychopathology. Psychic addiction is being developed."
Grinker cited no data to back up these rather serious charges. He cited no data for the simple reason that there were none—Sidney Cohen's 1960 study on adverse reactions was still unchallenged in the literature. What Grinker was doing was projecting his own professional biases. Believing that your average citizen was a barely functioning tissue of neuroses and incipient psychoses, Grinker found it inconceivable that the opening of the Pandora's box of the unconscious could be anything but disastrous. Whether they knew it or not, people who used LSD had to be disintegrating; Grinker's whole model of consciousness depended upon it. To a traditional psychiatrist like Grinker, consciousness expansion meant unconsciousness expansion, and that was unconscionable.
Actually, a lot of the criticism over LSD can be reduced to a politics of perspective. A psychotomimeticist, for example, watching the ego dissolve under the press of LSD, would jot down "depersonalization," while a Myron Stolaroff or a Tim Leary, faced with the same phenomenon, might record an instance of "mystical union" or "integrative experience." Observing the flights of internal imagery caused by the drugs, the former would choose "hallucination" while the latter might select "visionary or symbolic interaction." As for the emotional highs that followed, the enthusiasm, one could either choose the psychopathological term, "euphoria," or go with the new psychedelic candidate, "ecstasy." When Abraham Maslow, a psychologist far removed from the LSD debate, published his first work on the curative effects of peak experiences (PE), psychedelic therapists like Hoffer quickly appropriated his vocabulary and the debate jumped to a new rhetorical level.
What was happening was basically a turf war over who would control traffic to the Other World. Were mere psychologists, to say nothing of artists, theologians, or an engineer like Myron Stolaroff, competent and responsible enough to investigate the extremes of consciousness, even if it was their own consciousness? Who owned the scientific prospecting rights to the Other World? The medical community claimed it did. According to one Journal of the American Medical Association editorial, anything which altered a person's "mental and emotional equilibrium" was a medical procedure and "should therefore be under medical control." In other words, LSD and its chemical brethren were part of psychiatry's weaponry, but not psychology's. Implicit in all this was the understanding that whoever received the mineral rights to the Other World would also be allowed to define its borders.
Thus it was the theme of "irresponsibility" that rose to the fore in the summer of 1962. LSD "was a useful adjunct to psychotherapy" went the refrain, but unfortunately it attracted "unstable therapists" who derived an "intoxicating sense of power" from bestowing such a fabulous experience on others. And these unstable therapists were the main reason why LSD was escaping, so to speak, from the lab. In July 1962, Sidney Cohen and Keith Ditman, writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, drew attention to the phenomenon of the "LSD party"—a phenomenon that the California Narcotics Bureau, when queried by the LA Times, knew nothing about. Of course LSD parties had been part of the Los Angeles psychedelic scene since the mid-Fifties, but what was changing was the quality of the participant. A lot of kids were taking LSD, and not just college kids, but the beatnik kids, the maladjusted rebels. To Cohen's way of thinking, the Beats were exactly the sort of borderline personality types who should be kept away from LSD at all cost. If not, then Grinker's editorial would become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Besides alerting the medical community to the growing misuse of LSD, Cohen also solicited more examples of adverse reactions. He published his findings in the spring of 1963. Nine incidents were explored, ranging from a psychologist who took LSD three times and then spent the next few weeks contemplating bizarre plots, one of which entailed the seizure of Sandoz's entire LSD supply, to a secretary for a therapist with a large LSD practice who had taken the drug somewhat more than two hundred times and less than three hundred—she was unsure of the exact figure. What she was sure of was that whenever she looked in a mirror, she saw a skull.
Although adverse reactions were still rare, Cohen predicted that this would change as more therapists added LSD to their practice. The "inexpert" use of LSD could become a major health hazard, he wrote, and he recommended that use be "restricted to investigators in institutions and hospitals where the patients' protection is greater and appropriate countermeasures are available in case of adverse reaction." Projects like Leary's were precisely what Cohen wanted to see ended.
The debate over who was a responsible therapist and who an irresponsible charlatan became moot when Congress passed a law in the summer of 1962 that gave the FDA control over all new investigational drugs. Scheduled to take effect in June of 1963, the law was principally aimed at the misuse of amphetamines. But the result was that all researchers using experimental drugs would now have to clear their research projects with Washington. No longer would it be possible to mail a form to Sandoz and receive in return LSD or psilocybin.
It was unclear what effect the new regulations would have on LSD research, but a partial answer appeared at Oscar Janiger's door in the autumn of 1962, in the form of a regional FDA official.. Well dressed, polite, he asked to review Janiger's LSD work. Then he told Janiger to turn over his remaining supply of the drug. Janiger was stunned, then angry. He made some phone calls and learned that others had received similar visits.
Someone was turning off the research machine.
But it was too late to turn off the publicity machine. The psychedelic bookshelf—once limited to Huxley and possibly the Wassons' massive Russia, Mushrooms and History—was expanding in rapid fashion, as Adelle Davis's Exploring Inner Space, Thelma Moss's Myself and I, and Alan Watts's The Joyous Cosmology arrived in the bookshops. All three were anecdotal accounts of the Other World, but the similarity ended there. Adelle Davis, who'd taken LSD as part of Janiger's creativity study, had been transported to a phantasmagoric land suffused with the aurora borealis of God. "The most lasting value of the drug experience," she wrote, "appears to be a number of convictions, most of them religious in nature, which are so strong that it makes not one iota of difference whether anyone agrees with them or not." LSD had led her to "a new faith in God, a faith so satisfying and rewarding that my lasting gratitude goes to the Sandoz Pharmaceutical Laboratories." Thelma Moss, on the other hand, had spent her sessions harrowing the Freudian Id. The flap copy on her book said it all: "I traveled deep into the buried regions of the Mind. l discovered that in addition to being, consciously, a loving mother and respectable citizen, I was, unconsciously, a murderess, a pervert, a cannibal, a sadist and a masochist." And then there was Watts's smooth essay, which Leary and Alpert in the introduction lauded as "the best statement on the subject of space-age mysticism" available. "Watts follows Mr. Huxley's lead and pushes beyond."
Watts had a nice poetic feel for what it felt like to travel in the Other World, which is worth quoting:
Back through the tunnels, through the devious status-and-survival strategy of adult life, through the interminable passes which we remember in dreams... all the streets, the winding pathways between the legs of tables and chairs where one crawled as a child, the tight and bloody exit from the womb, the fountainous surge through the channel of the penis, the timeless wandering through ducts and spongy caverns. Down and back through ever narrowing tubes to the point where the passage itself is the traveler. .. relentlessly back and back through endless and whirling dances to the astronomically proportioned spaces which surround the original nuclei of the world, the centers of centers, as remotely distant on the inside as the nebulae beyond our galaxy on the outside.The Joyous Cosmology was widely read by Watts's many fans, but it was not the most popular psychedelic guidebook to appear in the summer of 1962. That honor went toIsland, Huxley's utopian blueprint for what a psychedelically enlightened society might be like. Already Island had attracted one enthusiastic social engineer, who was putting its precepts into practice in the appropriately exotic locale of Zihuatanejo, Mexico.
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 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 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 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.
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.
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 juice.
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."
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 I done?"
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.
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 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. "
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?" 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. 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 years—while it was used on the vaudeville stage and in the parlor—the 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 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 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 talk—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. 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 instruments."
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."
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 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.
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 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.
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 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 PsychedelicExperience, 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."
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."
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!