The Central Irony of LSD

Of all the techniques explored by the CIA in its multimillion-dollar twenty-five-year quest to conquer the human mind, none received as much attention or was embraced with such enthusiasm as LSD-25. For a time CIA personnel were completely infatuated with the hallucinogen. Those who first tested LSD in the early 1950s were convinced that it would revolutionize the cloak-and-dagger trade. As we studied nearly 20,000 pages of once-classified documents, certain shapes and patterns came alive to us. We began to get a sense of the internal dynamics of the CIA's secret LSD program and how it evolved over the years. The story that emerged was far more complex and rich in detail than the disconnected smattering of information that had surfaced in various press reports and government probes. We were able to understand what the spies were looking for when they first got into LSD, what happened during the initial phase of experimentation, how their attitude changed as they tested the drug on themselves and their associates, and how it was ultimately used in covert operations.

The central irony of LSD is that it has been used both as a weapon and a sacrament, a mind control drug and a mind-expanding chemical. Each of these possibilities generated a unique history: a covert history, on the one hand, rooted in CIA and military experimentation with hallucinogens, and a grassroots history of the drug counter-culture that exploded into prominence in the 1960s. At key points the two histories converge and overlap, forming an interface between the CIA's secret drug programs and the rise and fall of the psychedelic movement.

The LSD story is inseparable from the cherished hopes and shattered illusions of the sixties generation. In many ways it provides a key for understanding what happened during that turbulent era, when political and cultural revolution erupted with full fury. And yet, as the decade drew to a close, the youth movement suddenly collapsed and bottomed out, leaving a trail of unanswered questions in its wake. Only by examining both sides of the psychedelic saga--the CIA's mind control program and the drug subculture--can we grasp the true nature of LSD-25 and discern what effect this powerful chemical agent had on the social upheavals of the 1960s.

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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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