Here is a rare issue of Popular Science from 1967, in which a journalist is injected with LSD and trips his face off for the benefit of the American Public. I had assumed Popular Science was a conservative periodical for men with soldering irons, but this LSD article is surprisingly balanced and open-minded on the topic of psychedelics. The magazine originally sold for 35 cents.
The article bills itself as a 'non-cop non-hippie report of the unvarnished facts' and is, in fact, precisely that. The writer, Robert Gannon, even had the good taste to contact LSD High Priest, Tim Leary, personally. As a result, the journalism here presents a very rational perspective. This is particularly impressive given that it was written in the midst of the 1960s national moral panic on the relatively harmless substance known as LSD-25.
Let's inject some LSD
We are told that Dr Karl A. Ray, injects our journalist, Gannon, with 173 micrograms of pure LSD. Nine minutes later Gannon is "off, swinging up in my beautiful balloon" (depicted below by illustrator Dana Rasmussen who seems to have had a lot of fun with this article). Dr Ray is years ahead of his time and has already intuited that the power of LSD to heal lies in the substance's ability to excavate old traumatic material for reprocessing and resolution. Dr Ray tells Popular Science: "The treatment has a lot to do with the recall of forgotten or repressed events, with insight, and with a re-evaluation of the patient's self-image".
Dr Ray explains how LSD has been effective in treating alcoholics and others self-medicating for trauma because the sufferer, "may, for some elusive reason, suddenly understand why he has these problems, and what to do about them."
A modern reader with deep understanding of psychodynamics and contemporary trauma therapies may wonder why, given that Dr Ray appears to have the answer to society's ills, we were then thrown into a dark age of psychiatry that persists to this day?
Why was LSD made illegal?
Well, the answer is that the US Government realized that LSD caused increased consciousness, and increased consciousness was incompatible with war. The US Government were pretty intent on having a war with Vietnam and LSD was getting in the way of this commercial enterprise. Annoyingly, LSD seemed to make people resolve conflicts and love each other. So, everything possible was done to demonize LSD in the interests of the military-industrial complex.
President Nixon oversaw this vilification of psychedelics in the 1960s. Years later the truth of what was going on was spoken by his own government, when one of Nixon’s top advisors, John Ehrlichman, revealed in 2016 that the US Government’s propoganda campaign against psychedelics was, in fact, simply manufactured to promote war and silence those who sought peace. As Ehrlichman revealed to Harper's magazine decades later:
“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people.”
“You understand what I'm saying? We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or be black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities.... We could arrest their leaders. raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
Let's get back to this Popular Science article: It also addresses the propaganda surrounding LSD. Gannon speaks to Dr Charles Savage, Director of Research at Spring Grove State Hospital, who had been injecting patients with LSD for therapeutic purposes. Savage tells Popular Science that he had seen just two suicides in 15 years, "about the same as for non-LSD therapy".
A professional Trip Report
Our brave journalist, Gannon, soon finds himself deep in an LSD trip, swirling through "intellectual concepts: paradoxes, boxes in boxes. Centrifuges," eventually concluding, "I am totally insane."
In an attempt to regain his professional composure for the sake of thePopular Science readership, Gannon reaches haplessly for an orange juice. The first cup of juice, he crushes, his arm now a nonsensical mass of "muscles and tendons". Illustrator Dana Rasmussen, again, attempts to depict Gannon's struggle:
Finally Gannon gets the sacred juice vessel to his lips and reports that "...the taste, oh my God the taste. No one has ever tasted orange juice before. Maybe it's because the fluid is glowing — so bright I close my eyes."
All the while, Dr Ray maintains a formal composure and makes very scientific notes on Gannon like: "11:15 Patient dizzy. Resisting somewhat. Says "wow" a lot. Fascinated."
Later, illustrator Dana Rasmussen attempts to transmute Gannon's experience into something the Popular Science reader can digest. She comes up with this:
I think we can all agree that this issue of Popular Science was definitely worth 35 cents.
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