‘Turn On, Tune In and Drop Out’: LSD Users Describe Their Experiences During a Psychedelic ‘Trip’
Gladwin Hill, The New York Times, 22 February 1967
Perfect example of the flood of LSD scare stories that flooded the mainstream media since October 1966, and most as unbiased as Reefer Madness. — auskultu
LOS ANGELES — “We just don’t know how to cope with it…”
The speaker was one of the leading psychiatrists who has been battling with the nation’s newest scourge: the hallucinatory drug LSD.
His admission of helplessness is seconded by an array of other medical men and law enforcement officers who have watched aghast as the use and depredations of the drug have spread during the last year.
The chief hope they have at this point is in “education”—simply spreading the word about how tricky and dangerous the seemingly innocuous white powder can be.
A few months back an LSD victim in Los Angeles, gripped by the horrible psychoses the drug may induce, knew he could stagger to the Neuropsychiatric Institute at the University of California here, where there is 24-hour emergency service for the mentally disturbed.
“But we had to shut the door on him,” said Dr. J. Thomas Ungerleider, one of the nation’s foremost LSD researchers. “It just became too much. We’re basically a teaching institution, and we didn’t have enough beds for all these people. Now we just tell them to go to the County Hospital.”
“Heaven knows we’ve got enough cases to study,” the white-jacketed psychiatrist said grimly. “We’ve got an outpatient, huddled in his room near here, who thinks he’s an orange, and that if anybody touches him he’ll squirt juice.”
He continued: “We’ve got a mother of 23 and her baby. She was giving the baby LSD as a tranquilizer. The baby seems all right, but the mother is all confused.
“We had a girl flown in from Kings County Hospital, New York, the other day for treatment by a doctor who had handled her before. She was a straitjacket case.”
No one has any firm data on the extent of LSD use on the West Coast or elsewhere in the country—except that it is deplorably extensive. Legal bans on LSD went into effect only just year, and no crime statistics distinguishing its use from other drugs have been compiled.
One LSD expert, Dr. Donald Louria of New York’s Bellevue Hospital, guesses that LSD use has extended to “no more than’’ 1 per cent of the population. That figure would represent 200,000 persons —an alarming number, in view of what In becoming known about the drug.
A student at a small California college said this week he knew of eight LSD users in a student body of 200.
At the Los Angeles County General Hospital Dr. Walter Tietz, resident psychiatrist, said admissions of LSD victims reached a peak of about one a day last June, but since have tapered off to about two a week—“hopefully, because the word is getting around about how harmful it can be.“
“I don’t think it’s particularly a West Coast problem,” says Dr. Ungerleider. “I think it’s more of a national problem—a metropolitan problem. Wherever you have a big city, where conditions are favorable for making and distributing the stuff, I think the problem is about the same.”
LSD has been publicized as a compound that essentially just heightens sensory perceptions, often to the point where they are weirdly distorted. This has been depicted as having the beneficial potential of “opening up the mind,“ even to the extent of awakening latent talents.
Dr. Ungerleider and a number of his colleagues consider that such expectations are either still conjectural or demonstrably wrong, and are overshadowed by long-term effects, appearing with increasing frequency, which add up to chronic mental derangement.
The chronicle of weird and tragic consequences of LSD use gets longer by the week.
In Santa Cruz Feb. 1 the police picked up Michael A. McGhee, 19-year-old son of George C. McGhee, United States Ambassador to West Germany, when he rammed his car into a school bus. Officers quoted the youth as saying he had just swallowed two capsules of LSD obtained on a nearby junior college campus.
Four teen-agers were arrested in Hermosa Beach, near Los Angeles, in mid-January after their car rammed a house, killing a 3-year-old child. The police chief said the driver seemed to be in a trance and kept trying to climb the jail cell wall, yelling, “Im a graham cracker —oops, my arm crumbled off…”
Dr. Ungerleider has reported in medical journals that several years’ research he has conducted, in collaboration with Dr. Duke Fisher, indicates:
It is impossible to predict such long-term aberrations, even with an individual who has taken LSD repeatedly without apparent bad effects.
It is impossible by advanced psychological testing to differentiate “adverse reactors.”
There is no necessary correlations between dosage and effects.“The nominal dose is 250 micrograms—less, in pure form, than would fit on the head of a pin,” he says. “But we have observed chronic effects from doses as small as 100 micrograms.”LSD—lysergic acid diethylamide—is a compound involving one of the principal ingredients of ergot, a fungus that grows on rye.
Peril in Manufacture It can be made by someone with just an elementary knowledge of chemistry—although some of the bad effects may be resulting from unknown extraneous substances that are introduced during the process of amateur manufacture. Pure LSD can have drastic physical effects. A massive experimental dose killed an elephant.
Last year LSD was banned by the Federal Food and Drug Administration, and in California and some other states its sale, or possession by nonprofessionals, is considered a crime.
Dr. Ungerleider described its impact as follows: “LSD has been called a consciousness-expanding drug. In fact it is quite the reverse. It decreases one’s ability to select and pay attention. Therefore it decreases conscious functions. Sensations do become intensified. Perception, however, is not enhanced, and visual and auditory acuteness are not revolutionized but rather are distorted.”
Of all of LSD’s effects, the worst may be none of the violent aberrations but a very subtle one: a seemingly permanent dulling of users’ objective judgment and its replacement bv purely subjective values. This effect has been noted by observers as widely separated professionally as psychiatrists and law enforcement officers.
A distinctive effect of LSD is the “missionary” zeal it engenders in users to get others to join them. Some habitues will insist on giving away handfuls of impregnated sugar cubes or capsules that, at the going rate of several dollars a dose, represent considerable money.
Suppresion of LSD is impeded by a number of other factors different from those applying to long-established drugs. These include:
Its relatively easy procurability.
Technical difficulties it presents to regular law-enforcement operations.
The possibility that it has constructive applications.
Its association with the reputably sponsored religio-esthetic “psychedelic" movement.
Authorities Stumped A survey of law-enforcement agencies in Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest metropolis, indicates that LSD use has authorities stumped.
A user cannot be readily detected. The effects can either be less obvious than, or indistinguishable from, other intoxicants such as alcohol, marijuana, barbiturates or heroin.
Since LSD was outlawed last year the Los Angeles police department and the Los Angeles County sheriff’s office have referred about 100 LSD arrests to the District Attorney’s office. Of these 100, prosecutions have been prepared in 27 cases, but none has gone beyond the preliminary hearing stage. There is no record of any prosecutions elsewhere in California.
Burnell Blanchard, Southern California director of the State Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement, painted this picture: “I could tie up every agent in this office—30 of them—just on LSD. We haven’t been able to aim at the situation from a user standpoint at all, and I suspect the other law-enforcement agencies haven’t either.
“We’ve been going after sellers. And we can only give LSD a certain amount of attention. Since last June our marijuana seizures exactly doubled over the previous six months, in terms of quantity, and there was a 70 per cent increase in the number of defendants.
“Drug arrests of adults have risen to nearly 25,000 a year among California’s 20 million residents. About 40 per cent of the arrests are marijuana cases. About half the LSD use that has been coming to light has been coupled with marijuana.
“This LSD problem is a serious one,” said Mr. Blanchard, an official of national repute who has been in drug-law enforcement for 25 years. “Our insane asylums are going to be filled if the young people continue to use it.”
At San Francisco State College a group of scientists from its faculty, from Stanford University and from other institutions established the Institute for Psychedelic Research about months ago. Its purpose is to explore "techniques, particularly those using chemical substances known as psychedelic agents, for bringing into conscious awareness aspects of mental processes which are usually unconscious or inaccessible.”
The institute has reported that trial of such "techniques” with 350 persons over a period of several months "resulted in demonstrable changes in the direction of more adequate functioning and reduced psychic discomfort"—specifically, "greater spontaneity of emotional expression and increased self-confidence.”
Another exponent of this more liberal view of LSD research is Dr. Keith Ditman, a fellow psychiatrist of Drs. Ungerleider and Fisher at U.C.L.A.’s neuro-psychiatric institute. Dr. Ditman has been studying hallucination drugs for 10 years, and some years back took some LSD “so I know what people were talking about.”
Dr. Ditman describes his reactions as follows: “The feelings I got from listening to music and looking at art were greatly intensified. I discerned things that I never have before. LSD doesn’t give anyone talent. It gives them appreciation. I think I have a new dimension—an awakened, esthetic appreciation I didn’t have before.”
Dr. Ditman is optimistic about some long-term LSD tests he has been conducting with inmates of a detention center for alchoholics near San Diego.
"Many alcoholics are people who never had a sense of belief, hope or religious faith,” he said. “With LSD, an alcoholic may move over toward spiritual values. A whole new world opens to him. He sees beauty that wasn’t there before.”
Dr. Ditman disapproves of “making criminals out of LSD users,” on the ground that it discourages their seeking treatment, and he thinks that the habitual LSD user is an effect, rather than a cause, of “character disorders.”
No specific means has yet been found for neutralizing the effects of LSD. At the U.C.L.A. clinic, the most effective medicines in severe cases of derangement have been several of the so-called “major tranquilizer” drugs. Following that, psychiatric treatment is indicated.
Even the optimum law enforcement against LSD, says California’s Attorney General Thomas Lynch, is “only a partial solution to the problem.” Beyond that, Mr. Lynch thinks, there is need for a great educational effort to expose hallucinogens as fradulent escapism.
“We have in every large student community,” he says, “what has been described as a ‘head culture’—the drug users who reject the social consciousness of their contemporaries and seek a more passive way out of modern dilemmas.”
He continued: “They devote energy and ingenuity to taking 'trips,’ which they equate with 'experience.’ This is ironic, because a 'trip’ is the antithesis of experience— it is a flight from reality. Our goal must be reversing the retreat from reality within the student community.”