THE INVENTION OF LSD
THE INVENTION OF LSD
Source: Terence McKenna's book 'Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge'
Even as the lights were going out in Europe, a fundamental breakthrough occurred.
In 1938 Albert Hofmann was engaged in routine pharmaceutical research at Sandoz Laboratories, in Basel, Switzerland. Hofmann hoped to produce new drugs that would ease labor and childbirth.
While working with the vasoconstricting substances derived from ergot, Hofmann synthesized the first d-Iysergic acid diethylamide tartrate-LSD-25. 'Hofmann, a modest man, merely noted the correct completion of the synthesis, and the untested compound was cataloged and placed into storage.
There it remained, surrounded by Nazi Europe for the next five years, five of the most tumultuous years in human history. It is frightening to imagine some of the possible consequences had Hofmann's discovery been recognized for what it was even a moment earlier.
Alfred Jarry may have anticipated and allegorized the great event when he wrote "The Passion Considered as an Uphill Bicycle Race" in 1894. Indeed, the Dadaists and Surrealists and their forerunners grouped around Jarry and his Ecole du Pataphysique did much to explore the use of hashish and mescaline as augmentations to creative expression.
They set the cultural stage for the truly surreal emergence of society's awareness of LSD.
Every LSD enthusiast knows the story of how on April 16, 1943, feeling a touch
ofthe Friday blahs, and unaware that he had absorbed a dose of LSD through handling the chemical without gloves, chemist, and soon-to-be counterculture hero, Albert Hofmann left work early and set off on his bicycle through the streets of Basel:
I was forced to interrupt my work in the laboratory in the middle of the afternoon and proceed home, being affected by a remarkable restlessness, combined with a slight dizziness. At home I lay down and sank into a not unpleasant intoxicated dreamlike condition, characterized by an extremely stimulated imagination. In a dreamlike state, with eyes closed (I found the daylight to be unpleasantly glaring), I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors. After some two hours this condition faded away.
PANDORA'S BOX FLUNG OPEN
Finally, in 1947, the news of Hofmann's extraordinary discovery, a megahallucinogen active in the microgram range, surfaced in the scientific literature. As events in the 1950s made clear, Pandora's box had been flung open.
In 1954, Aldous Huxley wrote The Doors of Perception , a brilliant literary snapshot of the male European intellectual grappling with and agape at the realization of the true dimensions of consciousness and the cosmos:
What the rest of us see only under the influence of mescaline, the artist is congenitally equipped to see all thetime. His perception is not limited to what is biologically or socially useful. A little of the knowledge belonging to Mind at Large oozes past the reducing valve. of brain 'and ego, into his consciousness.
It is a knowledge of the intrinsic significance of every existent.
For the artist, as for the mescaline taker, draperies are living hieroglyphs that stand in some peculiarly expressive way for the unfathomable mystery of our being.
More even than the chair, though less perhaps than those wholly supernatural flowers, the folds of my gray flannel trousers were charged with "is-ness." To what they owed this privileged status, I cannot say.
In 1956 the Czech chemist Steven Szara synthesized dimethyl-tryptamine, DMT. DMT remains the most powerful of all hallu-cinogens and one of the most short acting of these compounds known.
When DMT is smoked, the intoxication reaches a peak in about two minutes and then abates over about ten minutes.
Injections are typically more prolonged in their effect. Here is the dis-coverer's account:
On the third or fourth minute after the injection vegetative symptoms appeared, such as tingling sensations, trembling, slight nausea, mydriasis, elevation of the blood pressure and increase of the pulse rate. At the same time eidetic phenomena, optical illusions, pseudo-hallucina-tions, and later real hallucinations appeared. The halluci-nations consisted of moving, brilliantly colored oriental motifs, and later I saw wonderful scenes altering very rapidly.
A year later, in May 1957, Valentina and Gordon Wasson published their now famous article in Life magazine announcing the discovery of the psilocybin mushroom complex.. This article, as much as any other single piece of writing published on the subject, introduced into mass consciousness the notion that plants could cause exotic, perhaps even paranormal, visions,.
A New York in-vestment banker, Wasson was well acquainted with the movers and shakers of the Establishment. Therefore, it was natural that he should turn to his friend Henry Luce, publisher of Life, when he needed a public forum in which to announce his discoveries. The tone of the Life article contrasts sharply with the hysteria and dis-tortion that the American media would later fan. The article is both fair and detailed, both open-minded and scientific. .
The chemical loose ends of the Wassons' discoveries were tidied up by Albert Hofmann, who made a second starring appearance in the history of psychedelic pharmacology by chemically isolating psilocybin and determining its structure in 1958.
In the short space of a dozen years in the recent past, from 1947 until 1960, the major indole hallucinogens were characterized, purified, and investigated. It is no coincidence that the subsequent decade was the most turbulent decade in America in a hundred years.
LSD AND THE PSYCHEDELIC SIXTIES
To understand the role of psychedelics in the 1960s, we must recall the lessons of prehistory and the importance to early human beings of the dissolution of boundaries in group ritual based on ingestion of hallucinogenic plants. The effect of these compounds is largely psychological and is only partially culturally conditioned; in fact, the compounds act to dissolve cultural conditioning of any sort. They force the corrosive process of reform of community values. Such compounds should be recognized as deconditioning agents; by revealing the relativity of conventional values, they become pow-erful forces in the political struggle to control the evolution of social Images.
The sudden introduction of a powerful deconditioning agent such as LSD had the effect of creating a mass defection from community values, especially values based on a dominator hierarchy accustomed to suppressing consciousness and awareness.
LSD is unique among drugs in the power of its dose range.
LSD is detectable in human beings at a dose of 50 micrograms, or 5/100,000 of a gram. Compounds that can elicit effects from amounts smaller than this are unheard of. This means that ten thousand doses of 100 micrograms each could in theory be obtained from one pure gram. More than any other aspect, this staggering ratio of physical mass to market value explains the meteoric rise of LSD use and its subsequent suppression. LSD is odorless and col-orless, and it can be mixed in liquids; hundreds of doses could be concealed under a postage stamp.
Prison walls were no barrier to LSD, nor were national borders. It could be manufactured in any location with the necessary technology and immediately transported anywhere. Millions of doses of LSD could be and were manufac-tured by a very few people. Pyramidal markets formed around these sources of supply; criminal syndicalism, a precondition to fascism, quickly followed.
But LSD is more than a commodity-it is a commodity that dissolves the social machinery through which it moves. This effect has bedeviled all the factions that have sought to use LSD to advance a political agenda.
A psychological deconditioning agent is inherently counter-agenda. Once the various parties attempting to gain control of the situation recognized this, they were able to agree on one thing-that LSD be stopped. How and by whom this was done is a lively story that has been well told, most notably by Jay Stevens in Storming Heaven and Martin Lee and Bruce Shlain in Acid Dreams.
These authors make clear that when the methods that worked for colonial empires peddling opium in the nineteenth century were applied by the CIA to the internal management of the American state of mind during the Vietnam War they damn near blew up the whole psycho-social shithouse.
Lee and Shlain write:
The use of LSD among young people in the US reached a peak in the late 1960s, shortly after the CIA initiated a series of covert operations designed to disrupt, discredit, and neutralize the New Left. Was this merely a historical co-incidence, or did the Agency actually take steps to promote the illicit acid trade?
Not surprisingly, CIA spokesmen dis-miss such a notion out of hand. "We do not target American citizens," former CIA director Richard Helms told the American Society of Newspaper Editors in 1971. "The na-tion must to a degree take it on faith that we who lead the CIA are honorable men, devoted to the nation's service."
Helms's reassurances are hardly comforting in light of his own role as the prime instigator of Operation MK-UL-TRA, which utilized unwitting Americans as guinea pigs for testing LSD and other mind-altering substances.
As it turns out, nearly every drug that appeared on the black market during the 1960s-marijuana, cocaine, her-oin, PCP, amylnitrate, mushrooms, DMT, barbiturates, laughing gas, speed, and many others-had previously been scrutinized, tested, and in some cases refined by CIA and army scientists. But of all the techniques explored by the Agency in its multimillion-dollar twenty-five-year quest to conquer the human mind, none received as much attention or was embraced with such enthusiasm as LSD-25.
For a time CIA personnel were completely infatuated with the hallucinogen. Those who first tested LSD in the early 1950s were convinced that it would revolutionize the cloak and dagger trade. During Helms's tenure as CIA director, the Agency conducted a massive illegal domestic campaign against the antiwar movement and other dissident elements in the US.
As a result of Helms' successful campaign, the New Left was in a shambles when Helms retired from the CIA in 1973. Most of the official records pertaining to the CIA's drug and mind control proj-ects were summarily destroyed on orders from Helms shortly before his departure. The files were shredded, according to Dr. Sidney Gottlieb, chief of the CIA's Technical Services Staff, because of "a burgeoning paper problem." Lost in the process were numerous documents concerning the operational employment of hallucino-genic drugs, including all existing copies of a classified CIA manual titled "LSD: Some Un-Psychedelic Implications. "
The times were extraordinary, made only more so by the fantasies of those who sought to control them. The 1960s can almost be seen as a time when two pharmacological mind-sets clashed in an at-mosphere close to that of war.
On the one hand, international heroin syndicates sought to narcotize America's black ghettos, while hood-winking the middle class into supporting military adventurism. On the other, self-organized criminal syndicates manufactured and dis-tributed tens of millions of doses of LSD while waging a highly
visible underground carhpaign for their own brand of psychedelic cryptoanarchy.
The result of this encounter can be seen as something of a stand-off. The war in Southeast Asia was a catastrophic defeat for the American Establishment, yet paradoxically barely a shred of psy-chedelic utopianism survived the encounter. All psychedelic drugs, even such unknowns as ibogaine and bufotinin, were made illegal.
A relentless restructuring of values was begun in the West; through-out the seventies and eighties the need to deny the impact of the sixties took on something of the flavor of a mass obsession. As the seventies progressed, the new management agenda became clear; while heroin had lost some of its glamour, now there was to be television for the poor and cocaine for the rich.
By the end of the 1960s psychedelic research had been hounded out of existence-not only in the United States, but around the world. And this happened despite the enormous excitement these discoveries had created among psychologists and students of human behavior, an excitement analogous to the feelings that swept the physics community at the news of the splitting of the atom. But whereas the power of the atom, convertible into weapons of mass destruction, was fascinating to the dominator Establishment, the psychedelic experience loomed ultimately as an abyss.
The new era of repression came despite the fact that a number of researchers were using LSD to cure conditions previously con-sidered untreatable. Canadian psychiatrists Abram Hoffer and Humphrey Osmond tabulated the results of eleven separate studies of alcoholism and concluded that 45 percent of the patients treated with LSD improved. Promising results were obtained in attempts to treat schizophrenics, autistic children, and the severely depressed.
Many of these findings were attacked after LSD became illegal, but better experiments were never designed and the work could not be repeated because of its illegality. Psychiatry's promising new uses of LSD to treat pain, addiction, alcoholism, and depression during terminal illness were put on indefinite hold. It fell to the humble science of botany to advance our understanding of hallucinogenic plants.
Leaping the Toad * 22 symbols: The Bravais Lattices *