[sixties-l] Psychodelia's Middle-Aged Head Trip (fwd)

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Date: Wed Nov 21 2001 - 19:21:07 EST

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    Date: Wed, 21 Nov 2001 15:28:48 -0800
    From: radtimes <resist@best.com>
    Subject: Psychodelia's Middle-Aged Head Trip

    Psychodelia's Middle-Aged Head Trip

    Pubdate: Sun, 18 Nov 2001
    Source: New York Times (NY)
    Section: Week in Review
    Copyright: 2001 The New York Times Company
    Contact: letters@nytimes.com
    Website: http://www.nytimes.com/
    Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/298
    Author: John Leland
    Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/find?345 (Hallucinogens)


    WHEN Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters made their storied journey across
    America in 1964, they included a pilgrimage to Millbrook, N.Y., the Hudson
    Valley town where Timothy Leary had turned a Victorian mansion into a lab
    for his LSD experiments. The meeting was supposed to join the two wings of
    the nascent drug culture: Kesey's woolly West Coast hedonists and Leary's
    League of Spiritual Discovery. But the vibe was all wrong. The Pranksters,
    spilling from a 1939 bus labeled Furthur, came on like unwashed trouble;
    the Leary crowd, with their meditation rooms and trip diaries, seemed no
    fun. Leary, engaged in a three-day trip on an upper floor, never even came
    down to meet his guests. The diodes of the electric drug culture remained

    Kesey, who died on Nov. 10 after surgery to treat liver cancer, might have
    been amused by the latest twists in the long, strange legacy of the
    psychedelic era. Talk about karma: eight days before his death, the Food
    and Drug Administration approved a pilot study of the club drug Ecstasy,
    also known as MDMA (3-4 methylenedioxymethamphetamine), for patients with
    post-traumatic stress disorder. And F.D.A.-approved trials of another
    psychedelic drug, psilocybin, as a treatment for obsessive-compulsive
    disorder, are scheduled to begin at the University of Arizona in January.
    The studies mark the first therapeutic trials of psychedelic drugs in the
    United States since the 1970's.

    They also mark the passing of the torch from countercultural renegades like
    Leary and Kesey to dutiful surfers of the bureaucracy like Dr. Rick Doblin,
    president of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, a
    nonprofit organization that conceived the two new studies. The group is
    also involved in overseas studies of two other psychedelic drugs, ibogaine
    and ketamine, to treat heroin addiction, depression and anxiety. Dr.
    Doblin, who holds a Ph.D. in public policy from Harvard, does not consider
    himself a drum beater in a bus. "What's different between now and then is
    that we're not self-selecting ourselves out as the counterculture," he
    said. "Part of my mission is to bury the ghost of Timothy Leary."

    This mild mission carries the psychedelic lamp a long way from Kesey, who
    said the purpose of taking the drugs was "to learn the conditioned
    responses of people and then to prank them." During the 1964 presidential
    campaign, the Pranksters draped their bus in American flags and drove it
    backwards through Phoenix, hometown of Barry Goldwater, waving a banner
    that read, "A Vote for Barry Is a Vote for Fun."

    The clinical trials, in comparison, pursue a resolutely sober approach to
    intoxication: an acoustic Kool-Aid acid test. Instead of offering escape
    from the dull workaday world, the drugs are now being tested as a means to
    help people get back in. Pleasure and prank give way to paperwork and lobbying.

    Yet Dr. Doblin, who says he has used MDMA for recreational as well as
    therapeutic purposes, has also confronted the legacy of his forebears, and
    found much of it wanting. In the 1980's, he followed up on two of Leary's
    Harvard studies with psilocybin (conducted between 1961 and 1963, when it
    was still legal), which claimed to show that the drug produced religious
    experiences and reduced criminal recidivism. Dr. Doblin found that Leary
    had either fudged the data or buried evidence of a bad trip.

    Kesey's own history illustrates how slippery and unpredictable the mantle
    of the drug culture can be. In 1960, as a graduate student in Stanford
    University's creative writing program, he volunteered for government tests
    of various "psychomimetic" drugs at a veterans hospital. The C.I.A. and
    Army were testing LSD for a variety of uses, including as a truth serum. By
    the time Kesey got his doses, the agencies were starting to phase out LSD
    in favor of more powerful hallucinogens, said Martin A. Lee, co-author with
    Bruce Shlain of the 1985 book "Acid Dreams: The Complete Social History of
    LSD -- The C.I.A., the Sixties, and Beyond." Kesey had other plans as well;
    he liked LSD so much in the lab, he brought it home for his friends. The
    merry prank, launched with government acid, was on. "The revolt of the
    guinea pigs," he called it.

    That was then. Psychedelia and alternative consciousness -- with or without
    the bad clothes -- have long since seeped into the mainstream, from the
    celestial seasonings of Deepak Chopra to the disorienting swirl of music
    videos. Once a transgression, the Day-Glo rainbow is now as often a bore.
    Never mind wresting the psychedelic experience from the counterculture; it
    already has a booth at the mall.

    Even so, today's researchers continue to face official resistance. The
    National Institute on Drug Abuse, an office of the National Institutes of
    Health, opposes medical testing of psychedelics, citing evidence that the
    drugs can cause brain damage and memory loss. And even medical cover may
    provide limited protection from the law. Just a month before the F.D.A.
    approved the Ecstasy study, federal drug agents in California, where voters
    have passed initiatives allowing the medical use of marijuana, raided a
    West Hollywood cannabis club, seizing medical records and 400 marijuana plants.

    Dr. Doblin sees an opportunity in these conflicting impulses. "They're
    saying medical issues should not be resolved at the ballot box," he said.
    "I agree. But you can't on the one hand block research and on the other say
    it's the only direction. This resistance will have the unintended
    consequence of furthering research." Out of such clashes, let a thousand
    grant proposals bloom.

    In these unintended consequences, perhaps, the merry pranks of Kesey will
    endure , not in the bus but in the grayer realms of bureaucracy and paperwork.

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