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
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 eacheven the bad onesI 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 skullthe 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
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
psycholytic therapy. 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 unconscioussort of a maintenance roadbefore 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 worldthe
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 decidedI
lapse momentarily here into Leary's transactional terminologythat
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
roomDali'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 therapistsHoffer
and Osmond in Saskatchewan come to mind, the Kurland group in
Catonsville, Marylandwho 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
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, Californiathe 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 incidentscolossal bad
trips in which the subject returned from the Other World in questionable
shapeand 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 patientsunlike 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 Stanfordthere 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
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 problems27 percent of the experimental subjects
and 16 percent of the paying patients reported increased friction
with their spouses.
The Foundation's theoretical manifestoThe Psychedelic Experience:
A New Concept in Psychotherapywas 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 ratesHubbard's
80 percent with chronic alcoholics was unbelievablewhich 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
Grinker cited no data to back up these rather serious charges.
He cited no data for the simple reason that there were noneSidney
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 hundredshe 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
bookshelfonce limited to Huxley and possibly the Wassons' massive
Russia, Mushrooms and Historywas 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 to Island,
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.