The Original Captain Trips

Captain Al Hubbard
The stout crew-cut figure riding in the Rolls-Royce was a mystery to those who knew him. A spy by profession, he lived a life of intrigue and adventure befitting his chosen career. Born dirt poor in Kentucky, he served with the OSS (the CIA's predecessor) during the Second World War and went on to make a fortune as a uranium entrepreneur. His prestigious government and business connections read like a Who's Who of the power elite in North America. His name was Captain Alfred M. Hubbard. His friends called him "Cappy," and he was known as the "Johnny Appleseed of LSD." The blustery, rum-drinking Hubbard is widely credited with being the first person to emphasize LSD's potential as a visionary or transcendental drug. His faith in the LSD revelation was such that he made it his life's mission to turn on as many men and women as possible. "Most people are walking in their sleep," he said. "Turn them around, start them in the opposite direction and they wouldn't even know the difference." But there was a quick way to remedy that--give them a good dose of LSD and "let them see themselves for what they are."

That Hubbard, of all people, should have emerged as the first genuine LSD apostle is all the more curious in light of his longstanding affiliation with the cloak-and-dagger trade. Indeed, he was no run-of-the-mill spook. As a high-level OSS officer, the Captain directed an extremely sensitive covert operation that involved smuggling weapons and war material to Great Britain prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor. In pitch darkness he sailed ships without lights up the coast to Vancouver, where they were refitted and used as destroyers by the British navy. He also flew planes to the border, took them apart, towed the pieces into Canada, and sent them to England. These activities began with the quiet approval of President Roosevelt nearly a year and a half before the US officially entered the war. To get around the neutrality snag, Hubbard became a Canadian citizen in a mock procedure. While based in Vancouver (where he later settled), he personally handled several million dollars filtered by the OSS through the American consulate to finance a multitude of covert operations in Europe. All this, of course, was highly illegal, and President Truman later issued a special pardon with kudos to the Captain and his men.

Not long after receiving this presidential commendation, Hubbard was introduced to LSD by Dr. Ronald Sandison of Great Britain. During his first acid trip in 1951, he claimed to have witnessed his own conception. "It was the deepest mystical thing I've ever seen," the Captain recounted. "I saw myself as a tiny mite in a big swamp with a spark of intelligence. I saw my mother and father having intercourse. It was all clear." Hubbard, then forty-nine years old, eagerly sought out others familiar with hallucinogenic drugs, including Aldous Huxley, the eminent British novelist who for years had been preoccupied with the specter of drug-induced thought control.

In May 1953, less than a month after the CIA initiated Operation MK-ULTRA, Huxley tried mescaline for the first time at his home in Hollywood Hills, California, under the supervision of Hubbard's friend, Dr. Humphry Osmond. "It was without question the most extraordinary and significant experience this side of the Beatific Vision," Huxley wrote in his famous essay The Doors of Perception. Moreover, "it opens up a host of philosophical problems, throws intense light and raises all manner of questions in the field of aesthetics, religion, theory of knowledge."

In 1955, with the Captain Hubbard acting as a guide, Huxley took his first dose of LSD. Although he consumed only a tiny amount, the experience was highly significant. "What came through the closed door," he stated, "was the realization--not the knowledge, for this wasn't verbal or abstract--but the direct, total awareness, from the inside, so to say, of Love as the primary and fundamental cosmic fact. These words, of course, have a kind of indecency and must necessarily ring false, seem like twaddle. But the fact remains...I was this fact or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that this fact occupied the place where I had been."

Huxley and his LSD mentor were a most improbable duo. The coarse, uneducated Captain lacked elegance and restraint ("I'm just a born son of a bitch!" he bellowed), while the tall, slender novelist epitomized the genteel qualities of the British intellectual. Yet the two men were evidently quite taken by each other. Huxley spoke admiringly of "the good Captain" whose uranium exploits served "as a passport into the most exalted spheres of government, business, and ecclesiastical polity." In a letter to Osmond he commented, "What Babes in the Wood we literary gents and professional men are! The great World occasionally requires your services, is mildly amused by mine, but its full attention and deference are paid to Uranium and Big Business. So what extraordinary luck that this representative of both these Higher Powers should (a) have become so passionately interested in mescalin and (b) be such a very nice man."

Despite their markedly different styles Huxley and Hubbard shared a unique appreciation of the revelatory aspect of hallucinogenic drugs. It was Hubbard who originally suggested that an LSD-induced mystical experience might harbor unexplored therapeutic potential. He administered large doses of acid to gravely ill alcoholics with the hope that the ensuing experience would lead to a drastic and permanent change in the way they viewed themselves and the world. The initial results were encouraging.

Hubbard and his coworkers considered LSD the most remarkable drug they had ever come across. They saw no reason to restrict their studies to alcoholics. If LSD changed the way sick people looked at the world, would it not have as powerful an effect on others as well? With this in mind Osmond and Hubbard came up with the idea that LSD could be used to transform the belief systems of world leaders and thereby further the cause of world peace. Although few are willing to disclose the details of those sessions, a close associate of Hubbard's insisted that they "affected the thinking of the political leadership of North America." Those said to have participated in the LSD sessions include a prime minister, assistants to heads of state, UN representatives, and members of the British parliament. "My job," said Hubbard, "was to sit on the couch next to the psychiatrist and put the people through it, which I did."

Hubbard's influence on the above-ground research scene went far beyond the numerous innovations he introduced: high-dose therapy group sessions, enhancing the drug effect with strobe lights, and ESP experiments while under the influence of LSD. His impressive standing among business and political leaders in the United States and Canada enabled him to command large supplies of the hallucinogen which he distributed freely to friends and researchers at considerable personal expense. "People heard about it, and they wanted to try it," he explained.

During the 1950s and early 1960s he turned on thousands of people from all walks of life--policemen, statesmen, captains of industry, church figures, scientists. "They all thought it was the most marvelous thing," he stated. "And I never saw a psychosis in any one of these cases." When certain US medical officials complained that Hubbard was not a licensed physician and therefore should not be permitted to administer drugs, the Captain just laughed and bought a doctor's degree from a diploma mill in Kentucky. "Dr." Hubbard had such remarkable credentials that he received special perrmssion from Rome to administer LSD within the context of the Catholic faith. "He had kind of an incredible way of getting that sort of thing," said a close associate who claimed to have seen the papers from the Vatican. Hubbard's converts included the Reverend J. E. Brown, a Catholic priest at the Cathedral of the Holy Rosary in Vancouver. After his initiation into the psychedelic mysteries, Reverend Brown recommended the experience to members of his parish. In a letter to the faithful dated December 8, 1957, he wrote, "We humbly ask Our Heavenly Mother the Virgin Mary, help of all who call upon Her to aid us to know and understand the true qualities of these psychedelics, the full capacities of man's noblest faculties and according to God's laws to use them for the benefit of mankind here and in eternity."

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An excerpt from Acid Dreams: The Complete Social History of LSD: The CIA, the Sixties and Beyond, by Martin A. Lee and Bruce Shlain (Grove Press)
Copyright 1985 by Martin A. Lee and Bruce Shlain
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