Re: Leary and LSD

S. Graw (
Sat, 3 Feb 1996 20:25:05 -0500

>Nevertheless, can anyone remember the following message presented in a
>book that Leary wrote with Ralph Metzner and Richard Alpert:
> "Of course, the drug does not produce the transcendent
>experience. It merely acts as a chemical key--it opens the mind, frees
>the nervous system of its ordinary patterns and structures. The nature
>of the experience depends almost entirely on set and setting." (from THE
>The message here seems to place priority on the circumstances of use. I
>guess the question that I want to ask is whether people remember this
>message getting out to most users or if people remember Leary simply
>advocating unrestrained use, period?
Mike Martin's informative post evokes some recollections: 1st, in 1964 LSD
was still legal (and unknown as a chemical and a social issue) almost
everywhere. While a few intellectuals Like A. Huxley had published tracts
mentioning peyotl and other hallucinagenic drugs, even the word
<psychedelic> was not widely known. LSD spread as an idea by word of mouth,
mostly from those who experienced it (early "proto-Internet of virtual
reality" to steal some hype jargon?); and it spread as a product (and not
commodity) by free (not really clandestine, since it was not yet persecuted)
contact. The South Bay beach cities of Los Angeles were one locale
frequently visited by 'Acid Missionaries,' giving blotting paper, high
quality hits out gratis to anyone who'd want to try the trip. This was an
apt term for these brothers and sisters for in their zeal they truly
believed they were dispensing pharmaceutical nirvana and that a utopian,
actually millenarian, revolution was just over the horizon. The most famous
of these was <first name - help, acid heads!?> Owsley III, reportedly scion
of a wealthy family, who later served jail time for his laboratory and
charitable efforts (there's a story on him in one of the late '60s Ramparts
issues). I believe it wasn't until 1966 that the California State
legislature made the drug illegal - one immediate effect was that one could
no longer go to the supply room of the UCLA Chemistry Department and simply
requisition a canister of Lysergic Acid!
So Leary, Metzner and Alpert (the incipient Baba Ram Das, the former
railroad fortune heir), whether by design or coincidence, produced a book
that was critically relevant to the propagation of LSD. By appropriating
tropes and language from "The Tibetan Book of the Dead," they imbued
"Psychedelic Experience" with the mysticism and mystery (recall
"Orientalism" was yet to appear in the intellectual milieux and cheap jets
were yet to reach Khatmandu) of exotic Tibet while also invoking connections
to Zen that readers of Kerouac, Snyder and Ginsberg were familiar with. All
in all an appealing and attractive attempt to structure this new phenomenon
of the 'psychedelic trip!
Finally, a subjective note: for those who identified as "hip,"
socially "radical," or "counter-cultural" at the time, by 1966 Tim Leary was
much less a guru for LSD or other soft drugs (I claim the biggest influence
came from those manufacturing or vending the substances) and much more an
icon of persecution and radical public and intellectual (Leary's Harvard
connection was widely publicized) discourse. steve graw
* From: Steve Graw
* at Cornell U./Field of Development Sociology
* Warren 34/ (607) 255-7684
* Old hippies never die, they just trip out *