The experiences and recollections of Adelle Davis and George Leisey, along with the projects of the psychiatrists who gave mother and child LSD in 1959, raise questions about how perceptions of “respectability” and “scientific legitimacy” were formed and how they changed from the fifties to the sixties, and about the recent role of secrecy in our culture. Leisey, a child of the sixties himself, partly views Janiger’s clinical LSD trials as more “respectable” or “legitimate” than the later Kesey “acid tests,” even while acknowledging that today’s sensibilities would have put his mother in prison, and even after personally witnessing the ultimate disgrace (in the jungles of Southeast Asia) of the social order that judged such things as “respectability” and “legitimacy.”
Oscar Janiger was cast as charming but slightly eccentric in 1988, between the lines of the press about his new foundation. But the people who were sources of LSD in the fifties and their experimental motives seemed at that time as “respectable” and “legitimate” as it was possible to be. They were doctors and scientists, and they were Americans. Today we might consider some of them to have been mad scientists, especially those who worked for Richard Helms, who probably should have been charged with “crimes against humanity” rather than perjury for his MKULTRA role(103). Dr. Paul Hoch, who was later New York State Commissioner for Mental Hygiene, served as a consultant to the CIA by conducting an experiment in which he administered a hallucinogenic drug to a patient along with local anesthetic, and then had the patient describe his visual experiences while surgeons removed chunks of his cerebral cortex. Hoch stated, “It is possible that a certain amount of brain damage is of therapeutic value.”(104) Dr. Ewen Cameron of MaGill University’s psychiatric facility in Montreal kept patients drugged unconscious for up to six weeks while giving them daily LSD and electroshock without their consent, to find out for the CIA whether he could completely “depattern” their memories; Cameron was president of the American Psychiatric Association in 1953. Were these examples of legitimate and respectable research or atrocity? George Leisey states with conviction that the psychiatric researchers whom he knew personally, especially David Snow and Bob Davidson, would never have willingly participated in the kind of agenda that motivated the CIA researchers.(105) But how about convincing therapy patients to bring in their children for LSD experiments?
Why did Harcourt Brace and World insist that Davis publish Exploring Inner Space under a pseudonym? In the months of research for this thesis I had dozens of conversations with Adelle Davis fans. I found only one person who was aware of the nutrition guru’s book about personal experiences under LSD-25.(106) In 1961 it seems there should have been no disgrace for an adult participating in a medical research project to study this completely legal drug. The attitude of the reviewer in the San Francisco Chronicle — “What’s wrong with that? Why can’t the rest of us poor slobs have some?” — seems like the most obvious logic for the time. But there was always a consideration that secrecy was appropriate, whether the people testing LSD thought they worked to enhance national security or mental and spiritual development. LSD was still legal in 1965, before the “acid tests,” before the Psychedelic Shop opened in the Haight, and before the public had ever heard the word “hippie.” But this drug had an aura of revolution:
That was one of the mysteries of psychedelics. Taking LSD was like being in a secret society. Hardly anything was being said about it publicly. As a matter of fact, LSD was not an illegal drug, but people acted as if it were; it seemed illegal…. There was no way of knowing how many people might be messing with psychedelics. If you thought about it, you might conclude the only people taking LSD were Leary and the Harvard crowd, some Beats, and a few others, possibly not many more than your own circle of insane friends.(107)
It is possible that the sources of the drugs and its secret intelligence origins were not as unknown to Adelle Davis and the critics who reviewed Exploring Inner Space, not to mention Oscar Janiger, Leary and Kesey, as it would seem at first glance. Davis’ dedication at the front of the book read, “…to those wonderful stagehands who helped pull back the curtains.” She made a point of thanking the Sandoz Pharmaceutical Company by name for discovering and producing LSD and for spending millions of dollars researching it. Her book not only reports her own experiences on the drug, but also refers to reports others had written about taking it.(108) One wonders how a volunteer subject in a medical experiment might get access to reports written by other volunteers. Robert Davidson wrote in the Introduction that more than 600 scientific papers had been published about LSD,(109) so he was not isolated from the fact of a large bulk of research. In the Appendix, Davidson discussed the difference between the action of LSD and schizophrenia at some length.(110) He also mentioned that “distribution of LSD is carefully controlled by the manufacturer.”(111) And he acknowledged cryptically, “Some hallucinogens are said to be used in other less humanitarian experiments being carried out in the fields of chemical warfare and prisoner interrogation.”(112) The bottom line is that Robert Davidson, and (we can reasonably assume) through him Adelle Davis, did have an overview of the whole LSD picture.
Just because Davis and Davidson were grateful to Sandoz and had an inkling of the darker side of LSD research, we cannot arbitrarily tar them with the same brush as Allen Dulles, Sid Gottlieb and Richard Helms. Nevertheless, these clues in Exploring Inner Space become impossible to ignore as more context is assembled around this time and these events. At least one other oddly similar book, which was in fact written by a friend of Adelle Davis(113) and published only a year later, contained the same clues.
Thelma Moss wrote Myself and I under the pseudonym Constance A. Newland.(114) A clinical psychologist(115) and an M.D. psychiatrist(116) wrote a Forward and Introduction (respectively) in this case, and like Davidson in the Dunlap book, they both made a point of their own experiences with LSD. The author herself wrote the Appendices. The sources listed most frequently in the bibliography and notes include Harold Abramson, Louis Cholden, Paul Hoch, Abram Hoffer, Aldous Huxley, Harry Pennes, R.A. Sandison and Charles Savage, all familiar names from the LSD conferences of the fifties sponsored by Sandoz Pharmaceuticals and/or CIA funding cut-outs like the Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation or the Geschicter Fund. Moss referred to her doctor and friend who ran the LSD research in which she participated only as “Dr. M.” In Appendix A, Moss repeated the same (incorrect) figure given by Davison in the Dunlap book: “Since… 1947, well over 600 articles on LSD-25 have appeared in the journals of Canada, Hungary, France, South Africa, Italy, Argentina, England and the United States.”(117) Failing to be a conservative LSD proponent despite her best efforts, Moss evangelized: “These unsurpassed events occurred in that far reach of the mind, the unconscious, which had previously seemed an inaccessible myth. Now it became reality, amazingly accessible, simply through the taking of a drug.”(118) And: “I no longer feel a desperate emptiness inside… my life has new savor, new meaning — and new mystery.”(119) She also included a passive-voice, unattributed, one-sentence mention of the dark side: “leaving the antipodes of mysticism for a far sterner outpost, it has been suggested that LSD might prove an effective — because harmless — means of chemical warfare….”(120)
Alan Watt’s The Joyous Cosmology(121) completed a trilogy evidencing by 1962 that “it was too late to turn off the publicity machine (producing) anecdotal accounts of the Other World.”(122) One earlier example can be mentioned as well. R.H. Ward’s A Drug-Taker’s Notes(123) actually came out four years before Dunlap, but referred to many of the same CIA-connected psychiatric authorities (Hoch, Rinkel, Sandison, Hoffer and Osmond) and kept certain identities secret (the doctor who administered LSD to the author was only “Dr. X” and another subject was just “A”). It is probably a coincidence, but Ward mentioned authors de Quincy and Baudelaire, two names dropped conspicuously by Nathan S. Kline in his New York Times book review of Exploring Inner Space four years later.
These coincidences and little hints of connection add up to a substantial likelihood that the apparent innocence of George Leisey’s family who conducted and participated in LSD research to expand the boundaries of human consciousness, supposedly without affinity for the darker agenda of the military and intelligence establishments, was in fact “selective attention” or “insulation.” These were two factors which helped make many projects throughout the social sciences respectable and legitimate despite their underlying connection to a violent agenda of Psychological Warfare, according to a 1968 study done for the U.S. Air Force. Scientists asserted their attachment to issues like the Pentagon’s cause against Stalinism while sidestepping others like the rise of the military-industrial complex.(124) Oscar Janiger was proud of his earlier adoration for Captain Al Hubbard years after the LSD experiments were over, though it had been clear to him and his cohorts in the fifties that Hubbard’s background in intelligence and connection to defense interests were the reason he could supply them with hallucinogenic drugs. It is not likely that Janiger, Sidney Cohen, Bob Davidson and David Snow were entirely innocent of the fact that their research was possible only with the tacit blessing of the CIA. Secrecy was a catalyst for extremely adroit selectivity of attention. At a time when secrecy was necessary and even patriotic across many scientific fields, scientists could easily assert that they never knew what someone else was doing. Even Aldous Huxley, whose work clearly reflected spiritual pursuits with LSD, could not resist offering advice to MKULTRA researchers, though he probably never had to admit it. Huxley once wrote Louis Jolyon West, a CIA psychiatrist, to suggest hypnotizing subjects prior to administering LSD to find out whether post-hypnotic suggestion could influence the drug experience. The CIA was quite interested in this idea.(125)
103. Project MKULTRA was entirely Helms’ brainchild. He conceived it and convinced Dulles to approve it. He saved it every time it was threatened, and hid all evidence of it to the best of his ability when it was over. In my opinion the purposeful bureaucratic organization of the full scientific and financial resources of the United States Government and economy toward technical production of human robots, to be used as unknowing assassins and sacrificed for some mystic goal of political dominance over the human race, puts Richard Helms in a league with Joseph Mengele and the Nazi psychiatrists and sociologists who stood on the selection ramps to direct human freight to the right or to the left, as it unloaded at Auschwitz.
104. Lee and Shlain, page 38.
105. April 30 interview.
106. I’m sure there are more, but they must be a very small segment of the public who bought Davis’ books on nutrition. George Leisey told me that after his mother died he received many calls from strange characters, usually spiritual mediums, who claimed they had “just been in contact with Adelle” and that it might shock George, but his mother did not really die of natural causes. These (however well-intended) crackpots often seemed to know about the LSD book. Mrs. Linda Kravitz of Oak Park, IL was the one fan who remembered the Dunlap book. She told me, in a whisper to prevent her fourteen-year-old daughter from overhearing, “God, I loved LSD! People found out that Adelle Davis had written a book about it, but they said, Oh it’s okay that she took it, like they had to think of an excuse or something!”
107. Perry, Charles. The Haight-Ashbury: A History. New York: Vintage/Random House, 1985. Page 7.
108. Dunlap, page 18.
109. In fact by 1961 the total was over 1000. The National Institute of Mental Health, Public Health Service, U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare; 1943-1966 Bibliography on Psychotomimetics (reprinted with permission of Sandoz Pharmaceuticals).
110. Dunlap, page 211-12.
111. Ibid, page 213.
112. Ibid, page 7.
113. Per George Leisey, interview of April 30, 1998.
114. New York: Coward-McCann, Inc., 1962.
115. Harold Greenwald, Ph.D.
116. Dr. R.A. Sandison, no less.
117. Newland, page 251-52.
118. Ibid, page 22.
119. Ibid, page 243.
120. Ibid, page 262.
121. New York: Vintage, 1962.
122. Stevens, page 183.
123. London: Victor Gollanz, Ltd., 1957
124. Albert Biderman and Elizabeth Crawford, Political Economics of Social Research: The Case of Sociology (Springfield, VA: Clearinghouse for Federal Scientific and Technological Information, 1968); quoted in Christopher Simpson, Science of Coercion, pages 95-97.
125. Lee and Shlain, page 48.
(NEXT: IMPLICATIONS OF SECRECY, continued…)