“Purple Haze all in my brain, lately things don’t seem the same. Actin’ funny but I don’t know why. ‘Scuse me while I kiss the sky.” ~Jimi Hendrix, 1942-1970
“LSD melts in your mind, not in your hand.”(Unknown)
Origins of LSD
LSD was first discovered in 1938, ostensibly by scientists and doctors seeking effective forms of treatment for a variety of mental illnesses. In this form, LSD is not naturally found in the human body, and the drug is a synthetic blend of chemical substances that lead to psychedelic hallucinations and a separation from reality that does not end when the drug wears off in most cases. Users of LSD report flashbacks even months, weeks, and sometimes years after the last dose of the drug, partly based on the frequency of use and some individual factors (such as preexisting medical or mental conditions).
When it was first synthesized, LSD-25 (as it was known at that time) was first tried on animals, and the experiments saw absolutely no results. Scientists could have abandoned the drug at this point, and experts remark that the 1960s would have been drastically different if this failure had led to the drug being discarded. This speculation leads to many other speculations, such as the fates of those who have died under the influence or as a result of the lingering detachment from reality that causes some people to commit suicide in the aftermath of the high.
Early LSD Pioneers
A few different people had a role in the discovery, development, and early drug use that popularized LSD. Some of these include:
- Dr. Albert Hofmann. He discovered the molecule (LSD-25) and was the first human to trip on LSD in 1943. He repeated the experience a few days later to ensure that it was the molecule that had caused the hallucination. The rest, as they say, was history.
- Dr. Sidney Cohen. One of the first psychoanalysts to experiment with LSD in the United States. Together with Aldous Huxley, he used himself as a test subject to determine the drug’s effects.
- Betty Eisner. She teamed up with Sidney Cohen to use LSD to treat twenty two patients suffering various mental illnesses during the 1950s, and treated a number of artists dealing with varied levels of depression from mild to severe successfully, again teaming up with Aldous Huxley.
- Dr. Timothy Leary. He is perhaps one of the best-known LSD pioneers, paving the way to widespread LSD use during the Hippie Era. His experiments and arguments—even after the FDA made LSD use a felony offense—probably made LSD one of the most popular drugs during the 1960s, especially in California.
- Owsley Stanley. He was the first mass producer of LSD during the Hippie Era, and perhaps one of the most prolific manufacturers of pure LSD in the decades since the drug was discovered.
- Al Hubbard. Although it is believed that he worked for the government in various capacities, Hubbard was one of the leaders of the LSD movement during the 1950s and 60s. He is thought to have introduced nearly 10,000 people to the drug.
LSD and the 1960s
Most of us make the mistake of believing that LSD was developed, used, and phased out during the 1960s, but this era only saw the most widespread use of the drug, especially during the years leading up to the FDA banning of the drug in 1966. Before this time, it was not against the law to buy, make, sell, give away, or use LSD, making it a popular way to escape depression, abuse, stress, or the simple reality of life on the planet Earth. Although LSD was one of the main drugs of choice during this era, along with marijuana, most LSD use was actually confined to the state of California, where it was produced in excess and shipped elsewhere on occasion.
Famous LSD Users
Some of the most famous LSD users in the 1960s were already household names by this time, but a few went on to become even more famous. This diverse list includes some of the biggest names in American history, including:
- The Beatles. In fact, a few of their most famous songs and albums were written or recorded while some or all of the band members were under the influence of LSD.
- The Grateful Dead. Another wildly popular band of the 1960s that was public about their LSD use.
- Cary Grant. This iconic movie star was prescribed LSD and used it extensively during the 1960s to treat depression related to being homosexual in a time where those feelings were socially unacceptable.
- The Doors. Another famous music group that frequently used LSD, especially lead singer and guitarist Jim Morrison.
- Jimi Hendrix. A singer who made tremendous contributions to rock music even heavily influenced by LSD.
- Peter Fonda. He was a very influential actor, screenwriter, director, and producer, and introduced many of the Hollywood elite to LSD.
- Government-Sanctioned Use
- The United States government, in conjunction with England’s government and that of Canada, did many experiments with LSD during the Hippie Era and beyond, collectively known as MK-ULTRA. Most of these cannot be corroborated by strong compelling evidence, but there are many reports of studies that attempted to discover whether the drug was useful as a truth serum. In fact, the government’s only strong supporting evidence is that the CIA issued an apology to those who died from these experiments nearly two decades after the projects terminated.
Modern LSD Use
Most LSD use has been confined to private parties and scattered groups since it was placed on the Schedule I list, very tiny fractions of its use during the Hippie Era. However, many experts believe that the drug is beginning to make a comeback among the high school generation today, and the drug is starting to become available word-of-mouth at parties, raves, nightclubs, and other social events, though not nearly at the level of the 1960s. This is true for the United States and Great Britain, but the drug is also known to be used in other countries.