This video has been circulating on the internet over the last week or so; it’s from the mid-1950s and shows a “typical housewife” and her first experience with LSD. It was part of a research study by Sidney Cohen at the Los Angeles VA Hospital, who was testing the effects of LSD on normal volunteers. (hat tip to Huffington Post)
Lysergic acid, or LSD, has a fascinating history, and if we can ignore the pervasive cultural bias against psychedelics and other potentially abusable substances, LSD must have appeared quite revolutionary in the mid-20th century. Remember, this was before the advent of psychiatric medicine, after World War II, and at a time when psychotherapy was called upon to handle everything from psychosis to the neurotic housewife like the one in the video. (Okay, I don’t know if she was neurotic, I’m just assuming so!) Psychedelics were introduced by people like Cohen, Timothy Leary, and Stansilav Grof, as ways to alter the fundamental personality structure of a patient, creating an “inner quietude,” breaking down psychological barriers to insight, or “enhancing creativity.” In the absence of anything else even remotely similar, LSD must have held quite some promise for psychiatry.
(Actually, it still does. A number of controlled studies on psychedelics are underway, including the study of MDMA (ecstasy) to treat PTSD, and psilocybin (mushrooms) to treat anxiety and pain in end-stage cancer.)
One area in which LSD was used in the past, with some isolated positive results, was in the treatment of alcoholism. It was believed that LSD might cause the same sort of “spiritual awakening” that is thought to be so important in the 12-Step model of recovery. Indeed, Bill Wilson, founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, received a series of LSD sessions from 1955 to 1959, and as a result of his chemically-induced “spiritual” experiences, he is reported to have approached the directorship of AA to ask them to consider endorsing LSD as a therapy for alcoholism. Something tells me AA would have a much wider membership today if this had taken hold.
Bonus feature: A video made on the 100th anniversary of Albert Hofmann, the Sandoz Laboratories scientist who first synthesized LSD, depicting Hofmann’s first experience with LSD. He took a dose in his laboratory but had to go home shortly thereafter because of acute anxiety and perceptual abnormalities. Riding his bicycle home, he experienced feelings of paranoia, visual hallucinations and illusions, and the fear of imminent death. This video re-creates the episode.
And finally, for good measure, if you like this, check out one of my favorite music videos, “Gronlandic Edit” by of Montreal.