The Mind Bomb – LSD

Doctor Hofmann died of a heart attack on April 29th 2008. He was 102.

In April of 1943 a bomb other than the atom bomb was being discovered and tested. It was the great mind bomb of this century, LSD 25. On that month the Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann, while experimenting with a derivative of ergot, the black fungus that grows on rye, felt strange and went home to bed. He describes what occurred by saying, “I experienced fantastic images of an extraordinary plasticity. They were associated with an intense kaleidoscopic play of colours.”[i] Hofmann deduced he had probably absorbed a minute amount of the substance he was working with. He returned to his laboratory and took 250 micrograms of the substance. (1 microgram or gamma = one millionth of a gram) This was ten times what was later found to be a potent dose. Hofmann must have realised some of the potential of the drug as he went to Stoll of the psychiatric clinic in Zurich and described what he had experienced. Stoll ran the first scientific study of LSD with normal volunteers and psychiatric patients. The findings were published in 1947.[ii]

Most Powerful Psychoactive Drug

The responses to Stoll’s findings were enormous. Further research confirmed that LSD was the most powerful psychoactive drug ever known. Thus, LSD was approximately five thousand times more effective than the already-known mescaline – which was being used to aid patients to release repressed emotions – and one hundred and fifty times more effective than the later-discovered psilocybin. At first the researchers felt sure the drug produced a temporary psychosis in those using it. The drug was therefore called psychotomimetic – imitating psychosis. This profoundly interested researchers as it was thought experimental insight might be gained into the profoundly disturbing illness schizophrenia. Later research led to an abandonment of the theory that LSD produced a temporary psychosis. Nevertheless, the drug was used throughout the USA, UK, Europe and the Middle East as a means of aiding the treatment of psychological or psychiatric disorders.[iii] In the UK Psychiatrists such as R. D. Laing, R. A. Sandison, and Joyce Martin, were licensed to use the drug with patients. Hospitals like the Marlborough Day Hospital had an active section treating patients with the drug.[iv]

Stanislav Grof of Prague established recognition as one of the foremost researchers in this field. Writing about Grof’s work, Talbot says “Traumatic memories that had haunted individuals for years were unearthed and dealt with, and sometimes even serious conditions, such as schizophrenia, were cured. But what was even more startling was that many of the patients rapidly moved beyond issues involving their illnesses and into areas that were uncharted by Western psychology.”[v]

LSD originally used for psychotherpay

Considering that Stoll’s findings were published in 1947, LSD usage in the period from then until the 60’s remained largely underground as far as the public was concerned. And in this underground chamber many other things were being done with this mind bomb than attempting to heal psychological ills. For instance in 1947 the US Central Intelligence Agency began experiments with LSD, often on unsuspecting victims.[vi] The research was partly to see if the drug could be used as a weapon of warfare. Because of its enormous potency, a small quantity of it placed in a reservoir could debilitate a whole town. Other areas of experiment also flourished. Once it had been realised that LSD did not produce a form or mental aberration, it was used to explore the realms of religious or transcendental mental phenomena. Golightly and Stafford report it as a means to help problem solving in engineering, architecture and other areas in which creativity and technical problem solving is necessary.[vii] Charles Tart describes its use in charting altered states of consciousness, as did John Lilley, who experimented with the drug while submerged in a sensory deprivation tank.[viii]

However, the bomb emerged from its underground bunker and hit people in the street, and penetrated educational institutes and the arts. Grof, on being invited to visit America to lecture and work wrote of his impressions:

LSD only later became a street drug

“The situation I found in the United States contrasted sharply with the one” [in Europe]. “Psychedelics had become an issue of general interest. Black-market LSD seemed to be readily available in all parts of the country and for all age groups. Self-experimentation with psychedelics flourished on university campuses, and many large cities had their hippie districts with distinct drug subcultures. The casualties from the psychedelic scene were making newspaper headlines; almost every day one could read sensationalist reports about psychotic breakdowns, self-mutilations, suicides, and murders attributed to the use of LSD. At the same time, the psychedelic movement was profoundly influencing contemporary culture – music, painting, poetry, design, interior decorating, fashion, movies, theatre, and television plays.”[ix]

The most representative of the social influence of LSD was in the hippie movement of the late 1960s. It was characterised by nonviolent anarchy, concern for the environment, and rejection of Western materialism. “The hippies formed a politically outspoken, antiwar, artistically prolific counterculture in North America and Europe.” Their drug inspired creativity “emerged in fashion, graphic art, and music by bands such as Love (1965-71), the   Grateful Dead , Jefferson Airplane (1965-74), and   Pink Floyd.”[x]

New worlds of experience

The bomb had exploded. For many it blew away mental and emotional limitations they had previously accepted as part and parcel of everyday reality. As an example, Constance Newland writes of her first experience:

I went through evolution, from the original explosion through primordial worlds in which I felt myself to be a reptile, a bird, a beast; on until the first independent thought was created in the mind of the beast. I stood up and walked to a mirror. I saw in myself the face of an ape – and also the master of the world. … Time seemed to be completely collapsible, and a strong feeling passed through me that everything that had ever happened or will ever happen was happening at this moment.[xi]

For some however, LSD brought entrance into an unexpected world of fear, and an introduction to deeps of previously hidden anxiety and mental terrors. But whether a healing experience, a new revelation of the mind’s power, or a trap door to a death pit, the drug played a part in the enormous social, artistic and sexual changes in the sixties. But it also put into large circulation a new social drug other than alcohol – cocaine, heroin and opium were not used by as many people at that time.

Differences of opinion about LSD

Although LSD is not classed as an addictive drug, it opened the door for a more public use of a social drug other than alcohol. It was the forerunner for many of the use of hard drugs. William Burroughs, author of Naked Lunch, and ex-addict, says lots of  “people take street drugs all their life to feel normal.”[xii] Some of the causes for addictive use of such drugs as heroine are – being born poor, and having abusive, addictive or dependent parents. Jonathan Kozol calls this the “sledgehammer of disposses­sion.”[xiii] One feels isolated and alienated. All ones responses appear to produce negations instead of social rewards. This leads to a constant sense of failure.

Burroughs goes on to say being in “the middle class carries the privilege of access to socially sanctioned drugs that are safer and more specific in their effects than street drugs.” [xiv] The middle class are therefore heavy drug users, but do it legally because they can afford medical and psychological counselling. They use drugs for the same reason as the dispossessed and alienated – to deal with physiological or psychological difficulties.

What then is an illicit, and what a licit drug? And “how might a substance like Prozac enter into the competitive world of business?”[xv]

To summarise, LSD and its entry into medical and social use has posed many unusual and conflicting individual, social and political questions. It was instrumental in leading to the social use of a psychoactive drug. Despite alcohol being a drug that has a long history as a basis for aggression, addiction, physical illness, broken homes, murder and manslaughter (i.e. drunken driving), it is still a legal drug. LSD, with a mixed but short history, is illegal. Despite its record as a healer, it is now only a ‘street’ drug. Changes are underway however. In the US the FDA is investigating Ibogaine, a drug similar to LSD, as a treatment to cure addiction to hard drugs.[xvi]

Bibliography and links

Iboga for the Treatment of Drug Addiction

The Addiction Library

ABC’s of  The Human Mind. The Readers Digest Association, 1990, USA. ISBN 0-89577-345-7

Burroughs, William. The Naked Lunch. Picador, USA.

Concise Oxford Dictionary. (c) Oxford University Press – Software, UK, 1992.

Grof, Stanislav. M.D. Realms of the Human Unconscious – Observations from LSD Research. A Condor Book Souvenir Press (E & A) Ltd. 1975, USA. ISBN: 0 2 86 64881 I Hardbound.

Infopedia. Funk & Wagnall’s 28-volume Encyclopaedia on CD-ROM, 1994, USA.

ISBN: 0 285 64882 9 paperback.

Infopedia UK. It includes Hutchinson’s New Century Encyclopaedia; Longmans Dictionary of the English Language; Hutchinsons Dictionary of Quotations; Hutchinsons Dictionary of English Usage; Oxford Concise Dictionary of National Biography; Hammond World Atlas; Hutchinson Info 96. UK. 1996.

MacKenzie, Norman. Dreams and Dreaming. Bloomsbury Books, London, 1965. Pg. ISBN 1 870630 82 3.

Newland, Constance. Myself and I. Frederick Muller Ltd, London, 1963.

Talbot, Michael. The Holographic Universe. Grafton Books, UK, 1991. ISBN: O-24-13690-1 – An information page about ibogaine.


[i] MacKenzie, Norman. Dreams and Dreaming. Bloomsbury Books, London, 1965. Ch. 10 Drugs and Dreaming.

[ii] Source – Grof, Stanislav. Realms of the Human Unconscious, and Norman MacKenzie, Dreams and Dreaming.

[iii] See Stafford and Golightly. “LSD – The Problem Solving Drug.” Published by Award and Tandem Books, USA. Newland, Constance. Myself and I. Frederick Muller Ltd, London. 1963. Ling and Buckman.Lysergic Acid and Ritalin in The Cure of Neurosis”. Published

by Lambarde Press, UK, 1964.

[iv] H. A. Sandison, A. M. Spencer, J. D. A. Whitelaw. ‘The Therapeutic Value of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide in Mental Illness.

[v] Talbot, Michael. The Holographic Universe. Grafton Books, UK, 1991. ISBN: O-24-13690-1

[vi] The Hutchinson New Century Encyclopedia – Helicon Publishing Company, 1996. CD-ROM version – Infopedia UK.

[vii] Stafford and Golightly. “LSD – The Problem Solving Drug.” Published by Award and Tandem Books, USA.

[viii] Tart, Charles. Altered States of Consciousness. Doubleday Anchor, USA, 1969, Dr J. C. Lilly. Centre of the Cyclone (Paladin, UK, 1973)

[ix] Grof, Stanislav. Realms of the Human Unconscious.

[x] The Hutchinson New Century Encyclopedia – Helicon Publishing Company, 1996. CD-ROM version – Infopedia UK.

[xi] Newland, Constance. Myself and I. Frederick Muller Ltd, London. 1963.

[xii] Burroughs, William. The Naked Lunch. Picador, USA.

[xiii] ABC’s Of  The Human Mind. The Readers Digest Association.

[xiv] Burroughs, William. The Naked Lunch. Picador, USA.

[xv] Burroughs, William. The Naked Lunch. Picador, USA.

[xvi] – An information page about ibogaine. Also – The mystery of ibogaine: can an African  psychedelic cure addiction? Nadis, Steve. Omni, July 1993 v15 n9 p14(1).

Copyright © 1999-2010 Tony Crisp | All rights reserved