• Todd Strasser

PSYCHEDELIC HALL OF FAME

Updated: Apr 1, 2019

(Not in order of importance. More coming soon.)

#1

Albert Hofmann (1906 – 2008) was a Swiss scientist and the first person to synthesize, ingest, and learn of the psychedelic effects of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). Hofmann was an employee of Sandoz Laboratories, located in Basel, when he began studying certain plants and fungi as part of a program to synthesize active constituents for use as pharmaceuticals. In 1938, while researching lysergic acid derivatives, Hofmann synthesized LSD, but set is aside for nearly five years before deciding to reexamine it. While re-synthesizing LSD, he accidentally touched his hand to his mouth, nose or possibly eye, ingesting a small amount, and discovered its powerful effects. Three days later, he intentionally ingested 250 micrograms of LSD. Hofmann continued to take LSD throughout much of his life, and always hoped to find a use for it. In his memoir, he emphasized it as a "sacred drug": "I see the true importance of LSD in the possibility of providing material aid to meditation aimed at the mystical experience of a deeper, comprehensive reality.”


#2

Aldous Leonard Huxley (1894 – 1963) was an English philosopher and the author of nearly fifty books, including Brave New World (1931), set in a dystopian future. He was also responsible for introducing psychedelia to the reading public in his book The Doors of Perception (1954), interpreting his psychedelic experience with mescaline. Huxley was a humanist and pacifist and was deeply interested in spiritual subjects such as parapsychology, philosophical mysticism, and universalism. By the end of his life, Huxley was widely acknowledged as one of the pre-eminent intellectuals of his time, having been nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature seven times. Huxley later had an experience on LSD that he considered more profound than those detailed in The Doors of Perception.


#3 (Honorable Mention)

A Psychedelic Hall of Fame honorary mention goes to Salvador Dali (1904-1989), surrealistic painter and larger-than-life eccentric. There is no evidence, to my knowledge, that Dali ever took psychedelic drugs. He didn’t have to. In 1936, he gave a lecture at the London International Surrealist Exhibition while wearing a deep-sea diving suit and helmet. He arrived carrying a billiard cue and leading a pair of Russian wolfhounds, and had to have the helmet unscrewed as he gasped for breath. He said later that he "just wanted to show that {he} was 'plunging deeply' into the human mind."


On another occasion he was famously quoted as saying, “I don’t do drugs. I am drugs.”


#4

María Sabina (1894 – 1985) was a Mazatec curandera, or native healer, who administered psilocybin mushrooms as a remedy for mental, emotional, and spiritual illness. She was the first curandera to allow Westerners to participate in the healing vigil known as the velada. All participants in the ritual ingested mushrooms as a sacrament to open the gates of the mind.

In 1955, the ethnomycologist R. Gordon Wasson visited Sabina's hometown, Sierra Mazateca, and participated in a velada. He later took samples of the mushrooms to Europe where its primary ingredient, psilocybin, was isolated in the laboratory by Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann in 1958.

In the years that followed, thousands of counterculture seekers visited Sabina for her "magic" mushrooms, among them Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. As more and more Westerners arrived wanting to experience the mushroom-induced hallucinations, the unwanted attention altered the social dynamics of the Mazatec community. Sabina was ostracized and eventually forced from her community.


Sadly, Sabina came to regret introducing psilocybin mushrooms to the outside world. She felt that the ceremony of the velada had been irredeemably desecrated and polluted by the hedonistic use of the mushrooms.


#5


Despite having a name more associated with LSD than perhaps anyone else in history, it’s with mixed feelings that I include Leary (1920-1996) in the hall of fame. My impression is that much of his energetic promotion of acid was just an excuse to promote himself and get laid a lot (well, can’t argue with that). None the less, his singular contribution to the awareness of psychedelics was greater than anyone else’s and can’t be ignored.

As a clinical psychologist at Harvard University, Leary conducted experiments under the Harvard Psilocybin Project in 1960–62 (LSD and psilocybin were still legal in the United States at the time). The scientific legitimacy and ethics of his research were questioned by other Harvard faculty because he took psychedelics together with research subjects and allegedly pressured students in his class to take psychedelics in the research studies. Eventually he was fired.

After leaving Harvard, Leary became a counter-culture celebrity through his relentless self-promotion and promotion of use of psychedelic drugs. He popularized the catchphrase "turn on, tune in, drop out," which was a ubiquitous part of the lingua franca of the era.


During the 1960s and 1970s, he was often on the run form the authorities and arrested often enough to see the inside of 36 prisons worldwide. President Richard Nixon once described Leary as "the most dangerous man in America.” (Which I’m certain delighted Leary to no end). Leary spent much of the rest of his life dreaming up with various schemes to grab headlines, going so far as to arrange for the filming of his death due to prostate cancer.


#6

While Timothy Leary promoted LSD mostly for his own self-aggrandizement, his Harvard associate, Ram Dass (born Richard Alpert, 1931) took a more righteous path, becoming a spiritual teacher, and author of many books, including the seminal Be Here Now. Dass is known for founding the charitable organizations Seva Foundation and Hanuman Foundation.

As a professor in the psychology department at Harvard, like Leary, Dass devoted himself to experimentation and intensive research into the potentially therapeutic effects of hallucinogenic drugs such as psilocybin and LSD-25. Both men were eventually dismissed by the university and Dass joined Leary at Millbrook for continued psychedelic experimentation. But in 1967 he traveled to India where he became a devotee of the Hindu guru and mystic, Neem Karoli Baba.

After returning to the United States, Dass lived at the Lama Foundation in Taos, New Mexico, and wrote Be Here Now, which is described as a manual for conscious being. He also traveled and taught workshops on conscious aging and dying. Since 2004 he has lived on Maui, where he holds retreats and teaches via live webcasts.


#7

Alfred Matthew “Captain Trips” Hubbard (1901–1982) was a proponent of LSD during the 1950s. He first came to attention during Prohibition when he developed a sophisticated ship-to-shore communications system to help rum-runners to successfully ferry booze past the US Customs. He was eventually caught by the FBI and went to prison for 18 months.

After his release, Hubbard's talent for electronic communications came to the attention of the government’s Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Hubbard was among those pardoned by Harry S. Truman under Presidential Pardon #2676, and subsequently became Captain Al Hubbard of the OSS. As a maritime specialist, he helped ship heavy armaments from San Diego to Canada at night, without lights, in the waning hours of World War II--an operations of dubious legality, which resulted in his facing a Congressional investigation. To escape federal indictment, Hubbard moved to Vancouver and became a Canadian citizen.

He then founded Marine Manufacturing, a Vancouver charter-boat concern, and invented the Hubbard Energy Transformer, a radioactive battery which he sold to the Radium Corporation of Pittsburgh for $75,000. He later invented a radioactive internal combustion engine spark plug. By 1950 he was scientific director of the Uranium Corporation of Vancouver, owned his own fleet of aircraft, a 100-foot yacht, and a 24-acre estate on Dayman Island--a former Indian colony surrounded by a huge wall of oyster shells.

Having read in a scientific journal about the then-obscure drug LSD-25, Hubbard found a researcher who was conducting LSD experiments on rats and obtained some LSD for himself. Later he was able to get a larger (and still legal) supply directly from Switzerland's Sandoz Laboratories by using his business connections to become the drug company’s Canadian distributor. It is said that after his first trip he abandoned his many of his other business interests and became the "Johnny Appleseed of LSD," eventually introducing the drug to more than 6,000 early users, including Aldus Huxley, before the drug was officially criminalized in 1966.


#8

I can’t say for sure if I ever dropped Owsley acid. It wasn’t like the stuff came with a trademark, but I did take both Orange Sunshine and Blue Cheer, the latter one day after lunch in high school (I remember toward the end of the school day walking down the hall watching the walls inhale and exhale. Does anyone know who created Blue Cheer?). As far as Orange Sunshine, I write in my book about taking it:

Just east of Worcester, the greenish paisley clouds morph into the faces of Washington, Lincoln, and a couple of their pals. Every sound SOUNDS LOUDER: The wind whistling in through Odysseus’s vent windows. The hum of tires on the Mass Pike. The Hammond organ of Procol Harum coming through the speakers.

Next to me, Robin draws her knees up under her chin and hugs them. Strands of her long hair vine away in the breeze. Robin is Botticelli’s Venus on a passenger seat, only with dark brown hair and eyes. She is Juliette to my Romeo, Olive Oil to my Popeye, Lady to my Tramp, the lady I love.

Alas, my heart is as heavy as an anvil. Tomorrow she will depart for the Canadian wilderness, vanishing from my life for two full months. Dreading the thought of this summer without her, I reach over, take her slim hand in mine, and squeeze.

Don’t go north, my love. There’s still time to change your mind. Surely you must feel the same? But with businesslike deft, Robin guides my hand back to Odysseus’s steering wheel and says, “Are you sure you can drive, Lucas?”

The question does not come unexpectedly out of yonder filigreed blue. An hour ago, back in Cambridge, we were parked beside a brick wall on which was scrawled “Make Love Not War” and “Bring The Troops Home.” A barefoot, glassy-eyed freak with Jesus hair and beard wandered by. After clocking Odysseus, Robin, and me, he dug into his pocket and produced a wrinkled baggy filled with tiny orange barrel-shaped tabs. He then uttered those most magical of words: “Free, man.”

From the shape and color of the tabs I swiftly deduced that the offering was orange sunshine. Fabled west coast acid; said to rival Owsley’s as the purest ever produced for mass consumption. Without second thought, I plucked a barrel out of the baggy and swallowed.

Now on the Mass Pike, poking along at Odysseus’s maximum velocity of 58 MPH, the industrial rhythm of the tires has a symphonic quality. In the cockpit sonic tides ebb and flow — faint, louder, LOUD, less loud, faint. Out in the distance the greenish cloud faces of George Washington & Co. grin down from the heavens. Mt. Rushmore, indeed!


In the meantime, I am tasked with reassuring my ladylove that even in my thoroughly dosed state I am capable of maintaining both altitude and a steady flight path. (I always meant to teach her to drive a stick, but like so many of my intentions, it was left unrealized.) This would be the very moment a humongous eighteen-wheeler barrels past, intent on blowing us off the road. With a panicked gasp, Robin grabs my thigh and squeezes while I wrestle my boxy German tin can back into the lane…

Anyway, as a teenagers out on Long Island back in the late 1960s, none of us had ever heard of Scully, Sands, or the Brotherhood of Eternal Love. Acid was just acid and we took whatever it came along. Some LSD was even said to be laced with trace amounts of strychnine to enhance the high. I know at least once after dropping a tab I repeatedly felt the need to stretch my arms and legs (rigidity of arms and legs is one side effect of strychnine).

Looking back now, I’m appalled that chemists would take such risks, and feel grateful that there were people like Sands and Scully who dedicated themselves to making the purest acid available. If, like me, you’re not familiar with their stories, this documentary is a great place to start: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VSp5jWAcUTo

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