Wednesday 04 January 2017 at 13:17

Acid Dreams - Book Review

By Eric Antoine Scuccimarra

I just finished reading the book "Acid Dreams" by Martin A Lee and Bruce Shlain. The book is a history of LSD in two parts. The first part was mostly about the CIA's use of and investigation into LSD for various purposes; the second is about the influence of LSD on the 60's counterculture. I found the first part to be more interesting.

Starting in the 1960's, the CIA investigated LSD for various potential uses - ranging from giving it to enemy spies to try to break them down under interrogation, to giving it to foreign politicians to try to get them to act out and discredit themselves, to considering using it to dose foreign populations so the US Army could come in while everyone was tripping and take over the country. The CIA also tested LSD on it's own employees, sometimes with their knowledge and consent and sometimes without, and most controversially on unsuspecting US citizens, mental patients, and prisoners in projects Artichoke and MK-ULTRA.

At one point a CIA scientist by the name of Frank Olson was unknowingly dosed with LSD at a CIA retreat and soon after decided to quit the CIA. A few days later he died in an apparent suicide. His family did not know he had been given LSD until 1975, when the government paid them a $750,000 settlement and apologized for giving him the drug. In the late 1990's Olson's body was exhumed and evidence was found that he was possibly not killed by the fall, but had been previously murdered and then his body thrown out the window. No charges were ever filed because of the original settlement in 1976, but people suggest he may have been murdered to keep him from quitting the CIA with top-secret information which he could have made public.

The ambiguity in this story is typical of the CIA's research into mind control and drugs. All we know for sure is that the CIA did a lot of research into LSD, however the reasons aren't completely clear. They claimed that they needed to prepare their agents for potential use by the Soviet Union, that they were trying to brainwash captured spies or test out mind control techniques - but how much of this is true and how much is not we do not know. It may be that the CIA prefers to be viewed as hapless buffoons testing out mind control techniques to conceal the fact that they were essentially torturing unknowing and unwilling innocent citizens. I have also read about a psychiatrist in Canada who was on the CIA payroll who was testing either mind control of torture techniques on unsuspecting Canadian mental patients. It may be that the CIA thinks that it would be better to be perceived as testing bizarre brain washing techniques rather than torture, as many of the techniques he tested to allegedly cure his patients of their depression are identical to "enhanced interrogation" techniques currently used on prisoners.

The book suggests that the CIA may even have been involved in pushing LSD as an illicit drug in the US to try to subvert the radical anti-war politics in the 1960s. There is evidence that the CIA was involved in importing and distributing heroin into the US during the Vietnam War, and they were also involved in the cocaine trade in the 1980s to support right-wing dictatorships. So we may never know the full truth of what the CIA has done in violation of US laws in the name of opposing communism and national security.

Even after LSD was put onto Schedule I in the US the government continued to test it on American citizens, while at the same time stopping all legitimate research into the drug and preventing any future research. I have recently read about studies that show that psilocybin, the hallucinogenic chemical in mushrooms, has been show to be an effective treatment for depression, especially in people with terminal illnesses. In the 50s LSD was considered to be a possibly revolutionary breakthrough for addictions - alcoholics who did an LSD therapy session recovered at an astounding rate of over 50%. By placing these drugs on Schedule I, which means that the drug has no medical value whatsoever, all research into them is basically prohibited, unless the research is into their negative effects. 

Recently it has come out that Nixon's "War on Drugs" was really a war on the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement. Those two groups were on top of Nixon's enemies list, and the consitution prevented him from banning free speech, so instead he criminalized the drugs that those two groups preferred and imposed heavy penalties on them. In fact, in the 1960's, LSD played an important part in the anti-war movement, which is the focus of the second half of the book.

Many people at the time thought that LSD could revolutionize the world and that if everyone would take it war would end and a utopia would emerge. This seems clearly deluded, as an example many CIA employees took the drug in the 50s and 60s and as far as we know most of them did not turn into pacifist hippies. The author's seem to think that taking LSD simply reinforces what is already in your mind rather than giving you brand new insights about cosmic one-ness and so on, as people like Timothy Leary believed it did. So the hippies, who already believed in peace and love, just believed that even more; while the CIA agents who saw Soviet plots everywhere believed that even more. This theory also explains why the CIA considered LSD's main effect to be causing anxiety - they were expecting anxiety, so when they took it that's what they got. 

The CIA eventually realized that LSD was too unpredictable to be used for mind control, as they had hoped to do, and moved on to other, more powerful drugs, such as BZ, which was used in Vietnam to incapacitate enemy soldiers. And the radicals of the 60s eventually realized that LSD was not going to change the world when the revolution they predicted it would inspire failed to materialize. And eventually the government moved on from pumping out anti-LSD propaganda and trying to convince people that the drug will drive you insane and make you jump off of a roof (which was what the CIA had hoped it would do). But we are still left with the dwindling influence of the LSD-inspired radical politics of the 60s, and we are still left with draconian drug laws which completely ban drugs which have great medical potential from even being researched.

Labels: books, politics


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