Psychedelics and the CIA
Psychedelics and the CIA
While the counterculture was taking LSD, tuning in, and dropping out, the CIA was experimenting with psychedelics as the weapons of future warfare.
Throughout all of humankind’s history on the planet, certain mushrooms, extracts from cacti, various roots and herbs, and other unlikely substances have been chewed and ingested, not for the purpose of sustaining life, but for the physiological and psychological effects they have on the body and the brain. Cults of mystical expression have grown up around the use of these mind-altering substances, for many shamans and priests believed that they could open portals to higher planes of consciousness and even to other worlds by ingesting certain plants. The ancient Greeks held the mushroom sacred, and some contemporary researchers have postulated that the famed Oracle at Delphi may have ingested some form of psychedelic drug.
Such drugs as mescaline (from the peyote cactus) and the so-called magic mushrooms came to be known as “psychedelic” because they cause people to hallucinate, to see and hear things that are not really there. Dr. Humphrey Osmond began studying hallucinogens at a hospital in Saskatchewan in 1952 when he was examining the similarities between mescaline and the adrenaline molecule, and it was he who coined the word psychedelic to describe the effects of mind-altering drugs.
While serious medical researchers in the early 1950s focused on psychedelics for purposes of learning more about the human brain, relieving pain, finding antidotes to drug overdoses, and other medical applications, the Central Intelligence Agency could not have cared less about those high-minded purposes. The Agency wanted a drug that would promote effective interrogations. They had already experimented with barbiturates, peyote, marijuana, and hypnosis in an effort to find something that really worked without any fuss or muss when it came time to refresh stubborn memories and loosen tongues.
On May 2, 1938, Dr. Albert Hofmann of the Sandoz Research Laboratories in Basel, Switzerland, first synthesized lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). On April 19, 1943, five years after synthesizing the drug, Hofmann accidentally inhaled a minute quantity while working with other ergot derivatives and experienced a pleasant feeling of inebriation, which consisted of hallucinations that lasted for several hours. Lysergic acid is found naturally in ergot, a fungus that grows on rye and other grains, and throughout history it has been used in various medications. Some researchers have even attributed ingestion of ergot to hallucinations which in the Middle Ages may have caused people to believe that they could fly through the air like witches or transform themselves into werewolves.
During the twenty years following World War II, LSD was used to study brain chemistry and in experimental treatment of patients with schizophrenia and other mental disorders, as well as cancer patients and alcoholics. LSD was found to create such primary effects as the following:
- a feeling of being one with the universe;
- recognition of two identities;
- a change in the usual concept of self;
- new perceptions of space and time;
- heightened sensory perceptions;
- a feeling that one has been touched by a profound understanding of religion or philosophy;
- a gamut of rapidly changing emotions;
- increased sensitivity for the feelings of others;
- psychotic changes, such as illusions, hallucinations, paranoid delusions, and severe anxiety.
In the 1950s and ‘60s, while LSD was being hailed by some individuals as “mind-expanding” and by others as a recreational drug that could be exploited for fast “trips” to “far-out” places, the CIA rejoiced that it now possessed a chemical that was more effective than hypnosis, marijuana, peyote, or any other drug—effective beyond their wildest dreams—although not so much for interrogation as for humiliation.
In their Acid Dreams: The CIA, LSD, and the Sixties Rebellion, Martin A. Lee and Bruce Shlain write that CIA director Richard Helms saw in LSD the potential to induce temporary insanity in target individuals, causing them to behave in a manner that would discredit them and any information that they might wish to disseminate. To be certain of the drug’s effectiveness, Dr. Sidney Gottlieb ordered agents to test LSD on themselves. According to Lee and Shlain, agents would surreptitiously slip the drug into each other’s drinks. As soon as the target ingested the LSD, his colleague would inform him so he would take the rest of the day “to turn on, tune in, and drop out.”
Frank Olson worked for the CIA at Fort Detrick, Maryland, studying the use of LSD to enhance interrogations. In the autumn of 1953 Olson went to Europe to observe the interrogation of former Nazis and Soviet citizens at a secret U.S. base. In late November he joined a group of government officials at a conference at Deep Creek Lodge in western Maryland. It was here that he was unknowingly slipped LSD in his drink. Olson began acting strangely withdrawn and told his wife and son that he was going to quit his job. Early in the morning of November 29, he went through the window of his room at the Statler Hotel in New York.
Once he had assessed the power of LSD on CIA agents, including the expendable Dr. Olson, Dr. Gottlieb, the director of the top-secret MK-ULTRA, decided to test the “acid” on an unsuspecting civilian population. MK-ULTRA set up Operation Midnight Climax and used drug-addicted prostitutes to pick up men at bars and slip LSD into their drinks.
In 1963 Dr. Timothy Leary and Dr. Richard Alpert were discharged from their positions at Harvard University for their enthusiasm in advocating the mind-expanding properties of LSD. Undaunted, the two went on to establish a number of colonies of their International Federation of Internal Freedom. Throughout most of the 1960s Leary was the primary and best-known prophet of the LSD movement, the counterculture guru who urged the flower children to “tune in, turn on, drop out.” Leary predicted that by 1970 as many as 30 million persons, most of them young, would have embarked on voyages of discovery through the limitless inner space of their own minds. According to Leary, these voyagers would return much wiser and much more loving than when they began the trip. According to FBI documents on the Internet, Leary became older and wiser and informed on friends and followers in order to get out of prison early.
One of the students at Harvard who agreed to participate in a “psychological experiment” with LSD was Theodore Kaczynski, who would later gain notoriety as the Unabomber. The professor in charge of these CIA-sponsored experiments was Dr. Henry Murray, who had served with the OSS in World War II. Murray urged Gottlieb to continue certain experiments in mind control using hallucinogenic drugs that the Nazis had conducted in the concentration camps with prisoners as unknowing victims. One has to wonder if the long-term effects of LSD transformed Kaczynski from guinea pig to mad bomber—and how many other participants of Dr. Murray’s experiments have exploded into seemingly unprovoked and unplanned acts of violence.
In 1966 the investigational drug branch of the Food and Drug Administration, distinguished four stages of LSD action:
- initial, lasting for about thirty to forty-five minutes after oral ingestion of 100 to 150 micrograms of LSD, producing slight nausea, some anxiety, dilation of pupils;
- hallucinations, associated with significant alteration of consciousness (confused states, dreamlike revivals of past traumatic events or childhood memories), distortion of time and space perspective, anxiety, autistic withdrawal, alteration of personality, impairment of conscience lasting from 1 to 8 hours;
- recovery, lasting for several hours and consisting of feelings of normality alternating with sensations of abnormality;
- aftermath, consisting of fatigue and tension during the following day.
The FDA noted that extended use of the drug could lead to mood swings, including depression, which could in turn lead to suicide. Time and space distortions could present obvious traffic dangers. A sudden onset of hallucinations could endanger the users and those with them.
It was such effects as these that convinced Maj. Gen. William Creasy, chief officer of the Army Chemical Corps, that LSD and other psychoactive drugs would be the weapons of the future. If CIA agents or Special Forces units spiked a city’s water supply with LSD, the enemies within would offer no resistance. Creasy admitted to journalists who questioned his views of a chemical invasion that the prospect of driving people insane for a few hours was not particularly pleasant, but he shrugged off this negative aspect, noting that war was never pleasant.
Some conspiracy theorists assert that when a CIA plan to send clouds of psychochemical weapons over major U.S. cities to test their effectiveness was denied, they settled for making as much LSD as possible available to the youth counterculture. In the late 1960s the growing use of psychedelics by the “hippies” and those who felt alienated from mainstream American society because of their anti–Vietnam War sentiments contributed to a growing traffic in illegal distribution of the drugs on the street corners and dark alleys of cities throughout the United States.
While a secret group within the government was making LSD available to rebels and war protesters, others were arguing that the unpredictable effects of such drugs as LSD, mescaline, and psilocybin necessitated legislation to curb their use. In 1970 the U.S. Controlled Substances Act made open distribution of such mind-altering substances illegal. Since that time, however, the FDA has allowed projects by medical researchers to continue to explore the potential of psychedelics, explaining that the Controlled Substances Act was never intended to hinder legitimate research, only the misuse and abuse of the drugs.
During the 1990s researchers reported medical promise for psychedelic drugs in treating alcoholism and addiction to pain medications, and in alleviating pain in cancer patients. Because the drugs are now classified as controlled substances, research scientists must apply to the Drug Enforcement Administration for a permit and file an application with the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the FDA. Of course such restrictions do not hinder the secret government from utilizing LSD in any manner that will serve the New World Order best.