Acid Dreams: The Complete Social History of LSD: The CIA, the Sixties, and Beyond

Acid Dreams: The Complete Social History of LSD: The CIA, the Sixties, and Beyond

by Martin A. Lee, Bruce Shlain

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Overview

Few events have had a more profound impact on the social and cultural upheavals of the Sixties than the psychedelic revolution spawned by the spread of LSD. This book for the first time tells the full and astounding story—part of it hidden till now in secret Government files—of the role the mind-altering drug played in our recent turbulent history and the continuing influence it has on our time.

And what a story it is, beginning with LSD’s discovery in 1943 as the most potent drug known to science until it spilled into public view some twenty years later to set the stage for one of the great ideological wars of the decade. In the intervening years the CIA had launched a massive covert research program in the hope that LSD would serve as an espionage weapon, psychiatric pioneers came to believe that acid would shed light on the perplexing problems of mental illness, and a new generation of writers and artists had given birth to the LSD sub-culture.

Acid Dreams is a complete social history of the psychedelic counter-culture that burst into full view in the Sixties. With new information obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, the authors reveal how the CIA became obsessed with LSD during the Cold War, fearing the Soviets had designs on it as well. What follows is one of the more bizarre episodes in the covert history of U.S. intelligence as the search for a “truth drug” began to resemble a James Bond scenario in which agents spied on drug-addicted prostitutes through two-way mirrors and countless unwitting citizens received acid with sometimes tragic results.

The story took a new turn when Captain Al Hubbard, the first of a series of “Johnny Appleseeds” of acid, began to turn on thousands of scientists, businessmen, church figures, policemen, and others from different walks of life.

Timothy Leary, Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters, Allen Ginsberg and the Beat generation, the Diggers and the Age of Golden Anarchy in Haight-Ashbury, William Mellon Hitchcock, Abbie Hoffman and the Yippies, the Beatles—these are just some of a motley cast of characters who stride through the pages of this compelling chronicle. What impact did the widespread use of LSD have on the anti-war movement of the late Sixties? Acid Dreams traces the way the drug intensified each stage of counter-cultural transition to break the “mind-forged manacles” of a new generation in rebellion.

In Acid Dreams, Martin Lee and Bruce Shalin have written the history of a time still only dimly understood. The events they recount and the facts they uncover supply an important missing piece of the puzzle of a crucial decade in our recent past.

Praise

“Engaging throughout. . . . At once entertaining and disturbing.”—Andrew Weil, M.D., The Nation

“Marvelously detailed . . . loaded with startling revelations.”—Los Angeles Daily News

“Excellent. . . . Captivating. . . . A generalist’s history that should replace all others.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“A landmark contribution to the sociopolitical history of the U.S. . . . Some of the liveliest, most absorbing, best-documented historical analyses to appear in recent years. . . . A seminal contribution to understanding America’s most turbulent modern decade.”—Choice

“This funny and irreverent book brings it all back.”—The Washington Post

“Recounts some of the most bizarre incidents in the history of U.S. intelligence.”—The Boston Globe

“A monumental social history of psychedelia.”—The Village Voice

“A blistering exposé of CIA drug experimentation on Americans. It’s all there.”—John Stockwell

“Highly readable. . . . Well researched. . . . Filled with entertaining and bizarre episodes.”—The Detroit Free Press

“An important study of cultural history. . . . The scholarship is exquisite and the methods sensible.”—Allen Ginsberg

“An engrossing account of a period . . . when a tiny psychoactive molecule affected almost every aspect of Western life.”—William S. Burroughs

“A missing link, a work of combat history, a devastating combination of facts and poetry that is bound to arouse controversy.”—Paul Krassner

“An important historical synthesis of the spread and effects of a drug that served as a central metaphor for an era.”—John Sayles

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802130624
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date: 01/28/1994
Edition description: Revised Evergreen Edition
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 250,217
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)

About the Author

Martin A. Lee is the cofounder of FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting) and the author of The Beast Reawakens. His writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, Newsday, Spin, The Village Voice, and Le Monde Diplomatique.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

In The Beginning There Was Madness ...

THE TRUTH SEEKERS

In the spring of 1942 General William "Wild Bill" Donovan, chief of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the CIA's wartime predecessor, assembled a half-dozen prestigious American scientists and asked them to undertake a top-secret research program. Their mission, Donovan explained, was to develop a speech-inducing drug for use in intelligence interrogations. He insisted that the need for such a weapon was so acute as to warrant any and every attempt to find it.

The use of drugs by secret agents had long been a part of cloak-and-dagger folklore, but this would be the first concerted attempt on the part of an American espionage organization to modify human behavior through chemical means. "We were not afraid to try things that had never been done before," asserted Donovan, who was known for his freewheeling and unconventional approach to the spy trade. The OSS chief pressed his associates to come up with a substance that could break down the psychological defenses of enemy spies and POWs, thereby causing an uninhibited disclosure of classified information. Such a drug would also be useful for screening OSS personnel in order to identify German sympathizers, double agents, and potential misfits.

Dr. Windfred Overhulser, superintendent of Saint Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington, DC, was appointed chairman of the research committee. Other members included Dr. Edward Strecker, then president of the American Psychiatric Association, and Harry J. Anslinger, head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. The committee surveyed and rejected numerous drugs, including alcohol, barbiturates, and caffeine. Peyote and scopolamine were also tested, but the visions produced by these substances interfered with the interrogation process. Eventually marijuana was chosen as the most likely candidate for a speech-inducing agent.

OSS scientists created a highly potent extract of cannabis, and through a process known as esterification a clear and viscous liquid was obtained. The final product had no color, odor, or taste. It would be nearly impossible to detect when administered surreptitiously, which is exactly what the spies intended to do. "There is no reason to believe that any other nation or group is familiar with the preparation of this particular drug," stated a once classified OSS document. Henceforth the OSS referred to the marijuana extract as "TD" — a rather transparent cover for "Truth Drug."

Various ways of administering TD were tried on witting and unwitting subjects. OSS operatives found that the medicated goo could "be injected into any type of food, such as mashed potatoes, butter, salad dressing, or in such things as candy." Another scheme relied on using facial tissues impregnated with the drug. But these methods had their drawbacks. What if someone had a particularly ravenous appetite? Too much TD could knock a subject out and render him useless for interrogation. The OSS eventually determined that the best approach involved the use of a hypodermic syringe to inject a diluted TD solution into a cigarette or cigar. After smoking such an item, the subject would get suitably stoned, at which point a skillful interrogator would move in and try to get him to spill the beans.

The effects of TD were described in an OSS report: "TD appears to relax all inhibitions and to deaden the areas of the brain which govern an individual's discretion and caution. It accentuates the senses and makes manifest any strong characteristics of the individual. Sexual inhibitions are lowered, and the sense of humor is accentuated to the point where any statement or situation can become extremely funny to the subject. On the other hand, a person's unpleasant characteristics may also be heightened. It may be stated that, generally speaking, the reaction will be one of great loquacity and hilarity."

After testing TD on themselves, their associates, and US military personnel, OSS agents utilized the drug operationally, although on a limited basis. The results were mixed. In certain instances TD subjects felt a driving necessity "to discuss psychologically charged topics. Whatever the individual is trying to withhold will be forced to the top of his subconscious mind." But there were also those who experienced "toxic reactions" — better known in latter-day lingo as "bummers." One unwitting doper became irritable and threatening and complained of feeling like he was "two different people." The peculiar nature of his symptoms precluded any attempt to question him.

That was how it went, from one extreme to the other. At times TD seemed to stimulate "a rush of talk"; on other occasions people got paranoid and didn't say a word. The lack of consistency proved to be a major stumbling block, and "Donovan's dreamers," as his enthusiastic OSS staffers have been called, reluctantly weaned themselves from their reefer madness. A handwritten comment in the margins of an OSS document summed up their stoned escapades: "The drug defies all but the most expert and searching analysis, and for all practical purposes can be considered beyond analysis."

After the war, the CIA and the military picked up where the OSS had left off in the secret search for a truth serum. The navy took the lead when it initiated Project CHATTER in 1947, the same year the CIA was formed. Described as an "offensive" program, CHATTER was supposed to devise means of obtaining information from people independent of their volition but without physical duress. Toward this end Dr. Charles Savage conducted experiments with mescaline (a semi-synthetic extract of the peyote cactus that produces hallucinations similar to those caused by LSD) at the Naval Medical Research Institute in Bethesda, Maryland. But these studies, which involved animal as well as human subjects, did not yield an effective truth serum, and CHATTER was terminated in 1953.

The navy became interested in mescaline as an interrogation agent when American investigators learned of mind control experiments carried out by Nazi doctors at the Dachau concentration camp during World War II. After administering the hallucinogen to thirty prisoners, the Nazis concluded that it was "impossible to impose one's will on another person as in hypnosis even when the strongest dose of mescaline had been given." But the drug still afforded certain advantages to SS interrogators, who were consistently able to draw "even the most intimate secrets from the [subject] when questions were cleverly put." Not surprisingly, "sentiments of hatred and revenge were exposed in every case."

The mescaline experiments at Dachau were described in a lengthy report by the US Naval Technical Mission, which swept across Europe in search of every scrap of industrial material and scientific data that could be garnered from the fallen Reich. This mission set the stage for the wholesale importation of more than six hundred top Nazi scientists under the auspices of Project Paperclip, which the CIA supervised during the early years of the Cold War. Among those who emigrated to the US in such a fashion was Dr. Hubertus Strughold, the German scientist whose chief subordinates (Dr. Sigmund Ruff and Dr. Sigmund Rascher) were directly involved in "aviation medicine" experiments at Dachau, which included the mescaline studies. Despite recurring allegations that he sanctioned medical atrocities during the war, Strughold settled in Texas and became an important figure in America's space program. After Wernher von Braun, he was the top Nazi scientist employed by the American government, and he was subsequently hailed by NASA as the "father of space medicine."

The CIA, meanwhile, had launched an intensive research effort geared toward developing "special" interrogation techniques. Two methods showed promise in the late 1940s. The first involved narcohypnosis, in which a CIA psychiatrist attempted to induce a trance state after administering a mild sedative. A second technique involved a combination of two different drugs with contradictory effects. A heavy dose of barbiturates was given to knock the subject out, and then he received an injection of a stimulant, usually some type of amphetamine. As he started to come out of a somnambulant state, he would reach a certain ineffable point prior to becoming fully conscious. Described in CIA documents as "the twilight zone," this groggy condition was considered optimal for interrogation.

CIA doctors attempted to extend the stuporous limbo as long as possible. In order to maintain the delicate balance between consciousness and unconsciousness, an intravenous hookup was inserted in both the subject's arms. One set of works contained a downer, the other an upper (the classic "goofball" effect); with a mere flick of the finger an interrogator could regulate the flow of chemicals. The idea was to produce a "push" — a sudden outpouring of thoughts, emotions, confidences, and whatnot. Along this line various combinations were tested: Seconal and Dexedrine; Pentothal and Desoxyn; and depending on the whim of the spy in charge, some marijuana (the old OSS stand-by, which the CIA referred to as "sugar") might be thrown in for good measure.

The goofball approach was not a precision science. There were no strictly prescribed rules or operating procedures regarding what drugs should be employed in a given situation. The CIA interrogators were left to their own devices, and a certain degree of recklessness was perhaps inevitable. In one case, a group of CIA experts hastily drafted a memo after reviewing a report prepared by one of the Agency's special interrogation teams. The medical consultants pointed out that "the amounts of scopolamine administered were extremely heavy." They also noted that the best results were obtained when two or at most three different chemicals were used in a session. In this case, however, heavy dosages of scopolamine were administered along with thiamine, sodium luminal, atropine sulfate, sodium pentothal and caffeine sulfate. One of the CIA's professional consultants in "H" techniques also questioned why hypnosis was attempted "after a long and continuous use of chemicals, after the subject had vomited, and after apparently a maximum tolerance point had been reached with the chemicals." Everyone who read the interrogation report agreed that hypnosis was useless, if not impossible, under such conditions. Nevertheless, the memo concluded by reaffirming that "no criticism is intended whatsoever" and that "the choice of operating weapons" must be left to the agents in the field.

Despite the potential hazards and tenuousness of the procedure as a whole, special interrogations were strongly endorsed by Agency officials. A CIA document dated November 26, 1951, announced, "We're now convinced that we can maintain a subject in a controlled state for a much longer period of time than we heretofore had believed possible. Furthermore, we feel that by use of certain chemicals or combinations, we can, in a very high percentage of cases, produce relevant information." Although these techniques were still considered experimental, the prevailing opinion among members of the special interrogation teams was that there had been enough experiments "to justify giving the green light to operational use of the techniques." "There will be many a failure," a CIA scientist acknowledged, but he was quick to stress that "every success with this method will be pure gravy."

In an effort to expand its research program the CIA contacted academics and other outside experts who specialized in areas of mutual interest. Liaison was established with the research sections of police departments and criminology laboratories; medical practitioners, professional hypnotists, and psychiatrists were brought on as paid consultants; and various branches of the military provided assistance. Oftentimes these arrangements involved a cover to conceal the CIA's interest in behavior modification. With the bureaucratic apparatus already in place, the CIA's mind control efforts were integrated into a single project under the code name BLUEBIRD. Due to the extreme sensitivity of the project, the usual channels of authorization were bypassed; instead of going through the Projects Review Committee, the proposal for BLUEBIRD was submitted directly to CIA director Roscoe Hillenkoetter, who authorized the use of unvouchered funds to finance the hush-hush undertaking. With this seal of approval the CIA's first major drug testing program was officially hatched. BLUEBIRD was to remain a carefully guarded secret, for if word of the program leaked out it would have been a great embarrassment and a detriment to American intelligence. As one CIA document put it, BLUEBIRD material was "not fit for public consumption."

From the outset the CIA's mind control program had an explicit domestic angle. A memo dated July 13, 1951, described the Agency's mind-bending efforts as "broad and comprehensive, involving both domestic and overseas activities, and taking into consideration the programs and objectives of other departments, principally the military services." BLUEBIRD activities were designed to create an "exploitable alteration of personality" in selected individuals; specific targets included "potential agents, defectors, refugees, POWs," and a vague category of "others." A number of units within the CIA participated in this endeavor, including the Inspection and Security Staff (the forerunner of the Office of Security), which assumed overall responsibility for running the program and dispatching the special interrogation teams. Colonel Sheffield Edwards, the chairman of the BLUEBIRD steering committee, consistently pushed for a more reliable speech-inducing substance. By the time BLUEBIRD evolved into Operation ARTICHOKE (the formal change in code names occurred in August 1951), Security officials were still searching for the magic technique — the deus ex machina — that would guarantee surefire results.

The whole concept of a truth drug was a bit farfetched to begin with. It presupposed that there was a way to chemically bypass the mind's censor and turn the psyche inside out, unleashing a profusion of buried secrets, and that surely some approximation of "truth" would emerge amidst all the personal debris. In this respect the CIA's quest resembled a skewed version of a familiar mythological theme from which such images as the Philosopher's Stone and the Fountain of Youth derive — that through touching or ingesting something one can acquire wisdom, immortality, or eternal peace. It is more than a bit ironic that the biblical inscription on the marble wall of the main lobby at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, reads, "And ye shall know the Truth and the Truth shall set you free."

The freewheeling atmosphere that prevailed during the CIA's early years encouraged an "anything goes" attitude among researchers associated with the mind control program. This was before the Agency's bureaucratic arteries began to harden, and those who participated in Operation ARTICHOKE were intent on leaving no stone unturned in an effort to deliver the ultimate truth drug. A number of agents were sent on fact-finding missions to all corners of the globe to procure samples of rare herbs and botanicals. The results of one such trip were recorded in a heavily deleted document entitled "Exploration of Potential Plant Resources in the Caribbean Region." Among the numerous items mentioned in this report, a few were particularly intriguing. A plant called a "stupid bush," characterized by the CIA as a psychogenic agent and a pernicious weed, was said to proliferate in Puerto Rico and Saint Thomas. Its effects were shrouded in mystery. An "information bush" was also discovered. This shrub stumped CIA experts, who were at a loss to pin down its properties. The "information bush" was listed as a psychogenic agent followed by a lingering question mark. What type of information — prophetic or mundane — might be evoked by this unusual herb was unclear. Nor was it known whether the "information bush" could be used as an antidote to the "stupid bush" or vice versa.

The CIA studied a veritable pharmacopoeia of drugs with the hope of achieving a breakthrough. At one point during the early 1950s Uncle Sam's secret agents viewed cocaine as a potential truth serum. "Cocaine's general effects have been somewhat neglected," noted an astute researcher. Whereupon tests were conducted that enabled the CIA to determine that the precious powder "will produce elation, talkativeness, etc." when administered by injection. "Larger doses," according to a previously classified document, "may cause fearfulness and alarming hallucinations." The document goes on to report that cocaine "counteracts ... the catatonia of catatonic schizophrenics" and concludes with the recommendation that the drug be studied further.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Acid Dreams"
by .
Copyright © 1985 Martin A. Lee and Bruce Shlain.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Whose Worlds Are These?xiii
Prologuexvii
Part 1The Roots of Psychedelia
1.In the Beginning There Was Madness ...3
The Truth Seekers3
Enter LSD12
Laboratories of the State19
Midnight Climax27
The Hallucination Battlefield35
2.Psychedelic Pioneers44
The Original Captain Trips44
Healing Acid53
Psychosis or Gnosis?61
3.Under the Mushroom, Over the Rainbow71
Manna From Harvard71
Chemical Crusaders77
The Crackdown89
4.Preaching Lsd96
High Surrealism96
The Psychedelic Manual106
The Hard Sell113
5.The All-American Trip119
The Great Freak Forward119
Acid and the New Left126
Part 2Acid for the Masses
6.From Hip to Hippie141
Before the Deluge141
Politics of the Bummer150
The First Human Be-In157
7.The Capital of Forever170
Stone Free170
The Great Summer Dropout179
8.Peaking in Babylon194
A Gathering Storm194
Magical Politics201
Gotta Revolution211
9.Season of the Witch223
Armed Love223
The Acid Brotherhood234
Bad Moon Rising251
10.What a Field Day for the Heat259
Prisoner of Lsd259
A Bitter Pill267
The Great Lsd Conspiracy276
Postscript: Acid and After288
Afterword295
References298
Bibliography323
Index333

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Acid Dreams: The Complete Social History of LSD: The CIA, the Sixties, and Beyond 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
npbone on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is about more than LSD. It's about society and the US Governments reaction to a changing social order.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Guest More than 1 year ago
During the course of reading this book you read about the testimonials to the drug known as acid. Many users of the drug be it for scientific or recreational speak of being 'changed' significantly after the experience, this book will do the same. Reading it will change your mind about many things: the government, your rights, drug users, philosophy and above all the drug itself. A must read for anyone.
Guest More than 1 year ago
lsd. acid. dose. blot. trip. whatever you call it, you'd think that it was invented by some crazy wizard over a boiling cauldron or something. although everyone knows that aint the way it is, the actual history of it WILL acutally get your attention. how many of you knew that our own government tested lsd on probably around half to 3/4 of their own men?? yeah. thats right. now read the book. learning is fun when its not forced =)
StuIsLegend More than 1 year ago
I Loved This Book