[sixties-l] Dr. Hoffmans problem child turns 58

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Fri Apr 27 2001 - 17:54:36 EDT

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    Dr. Hoffman's problem child turns 58


    It started causing trouble as a teen and has never really stopped.
    We can't name names, but its initials are LSD.

    By Chris Colin

    April 16, 2001 | A hundred and one years ago today, the first book of
    postage stamps was issued in the United States. Exactly 43 years after
    that, on a Friday afternoon, April 16, 1943 -- Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann
    took the world's first LSD trip.
    We now know a lot. We know about the epiphanies, and the paranoia and the
    visions. We know that the CIA conducted secret LSD experiments on U.S.
    citizens, the military and its own agents for years. We know that there was
    briefly talk at the CIA of testing LSD on unsuspecting subway riders. We
    know that the public got its hands on the drug in the ^A'60s and
    reconfigured it as a countercultural apparatus. We know that some users
    really did believe, at inopportune times, that they could fly. We also know
    LSD's dangers were often exaggerated by the government, and then the media.
    We know acid's popularity waned in the late '70s and '80s, then picked up
    in the '90s. In 1993, 3.2 million Americans said they'd used it, according
    to the Drug Enforcement Administration. We know it makes police and drug
    enforcement agents see red since 1981, they've busted only a handful of
    labs, and the majority of their arrests have just been middlemen.
    Hofmann called LSD his "problem child." Soon enough, it was America's, and
    as with all problem children, we've yet to hone a good response.

    On March 30, San Francisco artist Mark McCloud was acquitted of LSD charges
    in Kansas City, Mo. McCloud, 47, makes blotter art, the prints found on
    sheets of LSD tabs, minus the LSD, according to McCloud and a Kansas City
    Police seized 33,000 sheets of blotter paper, plus some framed samples,
    from McCloud's home, according to the Kansas City Star. He was accused of
    conspiring to distribute and distributing the drug near a school. But
    McCloud's lawyer pointed out that the blotter paper was untreated and
    therefore legal, never having been impregnated with the d-lysergic acid
    diethylamide, it was like a pot pipe with no pot in it.

    In the past, McCloud has joked that collecting blotter art is tricky, since
    it's tempting to eat it. A small, personal stash of the drug was found in
    his apartment during the raid. He says he hung out with Timothy Leary and
    tripped with '60s LSD pioneer Augustus Owsley Stanley III. McCloud likes
    acid. Nevertheless, given the well-established history of LSD hysteria,
    recall, for example, the rumor that evil acidheads had wiped LSD on the
    buttons of pay phones across the country, the prosecution argued with all
    the paranoia of a bad trip.
    "Mark McCloud was the head of an LSD conspiracy that gained a new
    generation to the cause of LSD," assistant U.S. attorney Mike Oliver said.
    "It is a cause that creates in people the capacity to make life-threatening
    and life-stealing decisions."
    When McCloud's reputation in the art world was trumpeted an editor from
    Paper magazine flew in to testify on the two-time National Endowment for
    the Arts grant winner's behalf, Oliver turned it around, saying the artist
    used this reputation as a cover to disguise his countrywide distribution
    "This was about the circulation of blotter art as an art form," McCloud
    said, according to the story in the Star. "Thank God the people of Kansas
    City can tell the difference between art and LSD."

    Not so long ago, McCloud wasn't that keen on people telling the difference.
    "Art is not a big enough word for it," the one-time art professor told the
    Los Angeles Times about his collection back in 1995. "It's magic."
    But with a life sentence looming, "art" became the perfect word for it.
    McCloud had a decent lawyer, and the "magic" argument didn't surface once
    in the two-week trial. When it became clear that the prosecution could link
    him to the empty blotters but not the LSD, McCloud watched the case unravel.
    Even when they're not facing prison time, people don't stand up for LSD
    like they used to.
    Its current renewed popularity notwithstanding, the days of earnestly
    arguing the drug's virtues are gone. Any discussion about the chemical as a
    legitimate mechanism for exploring consciousness, treating terminally ill
    patients or working with habitual criminals has long since been mocked into
    farce by either those opposed to it or those now embarrassed by their
    youthful naivet.
    Before LSD was criminal and foolish or visionary and therapeutic, it was an
    accident that startled a young chemist. Albert Hofmann had been researching
    ergot alkaloids at the Sandoz (now Novartis) company's
    pharmaceutical-chemical research laboratory in Basel, Switzerland, when,
    during the purification and crystallization of lysergic acid diethylamide,
    he noticed a strange sensation. He described it for a colleague later in a
    widely quoted note, inaugurating the illustrious and indulgent genre of the
    acid trip log:

    "Last Friday, April 16, 1943, I was forced to interrupt my work in the
    laboratory in the middle of the afternoon and proceed home, being affected
    by a remarkable restlessness, combined with a slight dizziness. At home I
    lay down and sank into a not unpleasant intoxicated-like condition,
    characterized by an extremely stimulated imagination. In a dreamlike state,
    with eyes closed (I found the daylight to be unpleasantly glaring) I
    perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary
    shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors. After some two hours
    this condition faded away."

    Three days later, Hofmann dosed himself deliberately, swallowing 250
    micrograms. From that day comes the famous bicycle ride through Basel, and
    his subsequent glimpse of the true powers of the drug, which included terror:

    "A demon had invaded me, had taken possession of my body, mind, and soul. I
    jumped up and screamed, trying to free myself from him, but then sank down
    again and lay helpless on the sofa. The substance, with which I had wanted
    to experiment, had vanquished me ... I was seized by the dreadful fear of
    going insane. I was taken to another world, another place, another time. My
    body seemed to be without sensation, lifeless, strange. Was I dying? Was
    this the transition? ... I had not even taken leave of my family (my wife,
    with our three children, had traveled that day to visit her parents, in
    Lucerne). Would they ever understand that I had not experimented
    thoughtlessly, irresponsibly, but rather with the utmost caution, and that
    such a result was in no way foreseeable? "

    In the years that followed, Hofmann and others explored LSD's potential as,
    among other things, an aid to psychotherapy. While the military conducted
    awful (and long-denied, and at least once fatal) experiments, the medical
    community wrote volumes about the drug's potential benefits. (Before LSD
    became illegal, it was tested on more than 40,000 subjects by psychologists
    alone, according to Martin A. Lee and Bruce Shlain in their book "Acid
    Dreams: The CIA, LSD and the Sixties Rebellion.")
    Research extended beyond the unsuspecting to the rich and famous. Anas
    Nin, Andr Previn and Clare Booth Luce all participated in LSD studies. For
    a while, Cary Grant couldn't say enough about his treatment. Leary claimed
    that, contrary to popular opinion, it was Grant who turned him onto acid.
    In 1959, Grant raved about his LSD therapy:

    "I have been born again. I have been through a psychiatric experience which
    has completely changed me. I was horrendous. I had to face things about
    myself which I never admitted, which I didn't know were there. Now I know
    that I hurt every woman I ever loved. I was an utter fake, a
    self-opinionated bore, a know-all who knew very little. I found I was
    hiding behind all kinds of defenses, hypocrisies and vanities. I had to get
    rid of them layer by layer. The moment when your conscious meets your
    subconscious is a hell of a wrench. With me there came a day when I saw
    the light."

    But acid's popularity took off just as the '60s did, and Leary, his
    research partner, Richard Alpert (aka Ram Dass), and others got loud about
    it. Eventually it didn't matter whether or not they were right.
    "He was a very intelligent man, and quite charming," Hofmann said of Leary
    in a 1995 interview. "However, he also had a need for too much attention.
    He enjoyed being provocative, and that shifted the focus from what should
    have been the essential issue. It is unfortunate, but for many years these
    drugs became taboo."
    Ironically, it's the taboo that gave McCloud his hobby, if the acid
    proponents had succeeded, his collection would be commonplace.
    They didn't, and it isn't; McCloud has three decades' worth of blotter art
    and shows no signs of stopping.

    "These are symbols of a secret society," he told the San Francisco Weekly
    in 1995. "And I am the mule that has dragged the cultural evidence to town."

    To McCloud, who emigrated from Argentina as a boy, blotter art confirms the
    integrity of the acid pantheon. The variety of prints, he says, isn't
    essential; if the LSD industry were just about money, the manufacturers
    wouldn't bother prettying up their product. (Maybe, but the significance of
    blotter art has also been exaggerated. Aficionados allude to the impact an
    image will have over a trip: Ganesha will frame your experience in
    mysticism, while Daffy Duck's mug will give you a silly trip. Of course in
    reality, while LSD does vary from sheet to sheet, the different images have
    nothing to do with what will happen next.)
    The Kansas City acquittal wasn't the first for McCloudin 1993, he was
    released on similar charges. Since then, he claims, the drug enforcement
    agencies have been after him.
    "An Interpol agent came to me with fake blotter paper made at great expense
    by Scotland Yard. They were trying to trap me," he once told the British
    magazine Loaded. "Said they wanted to raise money for a friend of mine on a
    similar charge. I could see through them straight away. When you do what I
    do, you learn to be careful."
    There are McCloud fans out there who hope he'll be more careful now. Those
    who like him love him. Indeed, his collection is occasionally beautiful,
    and is certainly impressive in scope.
    As folk art, nothing around captures this particular sensibility better.
    Yet at the same time, the Kansas City trial brought out something sad in
    his art. LSD culture, often vapid and sometimes heroic, has been reduced to
    its vessels. For two weeks, lawyers argued about the blotter paper that LSD
    comes on. This, it would seem, is what's left. Hofmann, the other eloquent
    scientists, the activists and the fools have all been lumped into one kooky
    old pile.
    With acid's marginalization, all that remains in the spotlight is some
    overwrought, stamp-size nostalgia. Maybe LSD was never not on the margin,
    but the margin didn't used to seem so far away.
    Still, taking a page from Hofmann, Leary, Ken Kesey, Abbie Hofmann and half
    a dozen other psychonauts, McCloud has managed to scrape together his share
    of charm.
    "Mr. McCloud, I told you I didn't want any reaction in the courtroom," U.S.
    District Judge Gary Fenner scolded when the just-acquitted defendant jumped
    up to greet the jury.
    According to the Kansas City Star, McCloud shrugged.
    "I sure would have loved to have given that jury a hug," he said. "Where I
    come from, you thank the people who set you free."
    About the writer
    Chris Colin is the associate People editor at Salon.

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