Journal of Psychoactive Drugs


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Published by Haight Ashbury Publications

Current Commentary (Sept 2008)


by David E. Smith, M.D.


on Lysergic Acid Diethylamide: An Historical Perspective (Summer 1967)



My fascination with the patent psychedelic drug began in 1962 when I was in my second year of medical school at UCSF. Psychopharmacology was an expanding field. The Department of Pharmacology was particularly strong in this area. As a result I enrolled as a graduate student in the Masters program and began the study of drugs and their effect on the mind, comparing selective CNS stimulants like LSD to general CNS stimulants like methamphetamine in both animal and human models.

In 1962 we received education in the pharmacology of LSD from Professor Fred Meyers. In addition, he made available LSD for medical students to experience on a volunteer basis. Although I didn’t participate I attended several of the sessions. Other lectures included presentations by Professor Dr. Charles Hine, (who stimulated my interest in clinical toxicology) on the use of LSD in the 1950s by the military as an antipersonnel agent, a subject later reviewed by Dr. Jim Ketchum (who had conducted some of the military experiments) in his book
Chemical Warfare Secrets Almost Forgotten.

Because of this involvement I became known in San Francisco as the department LSD expert and had several interesting consultations with political leaders. The hippies following the Human Be-in and Ken Kesey’s “Electric Acid Kool-Aid test” wanted to “dose” political leaders with
LSD to further their philosophy of “Make Love, not War.” They also issued a proclamation that they were going to put LSD in the city water supply and concerned city officials, including then city supervisor Diane Feinstein, sought my consultation.

I demonstrated that the water supply could be tested for LSD using the “Siamese Fighting Fish test” (minute doses of LSD in their water environment will disorient them and cause them to swim upside down). Besides, the chlorine in the water supply inactivates the LSD. The officials left reassured that the threat was essentially theatrical and nothing would come of it.

The years between 1965 and 1967 were a very strange time both in San Francisco and the USA. The civil rights movement was expanding, and the war in Vietnam was escalating. The free speech movement in Berkeley was at its peak and the psychedelic counterculture in the Haight
Ashbury was exploding, bringing a tsunami of youth from across the country to San Francisco for “drugs, sex and rock and roll” with a philosophy of “better living through chemistry.”

In June 1967 the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic was born, based on a philosophy that “health care is a right not a privilege” and “love needs care.”

I lived in the Haight Ashbury District of San Francisco as it borders UCSF. I witnessed the rise of the psychedelic drug subculture, which culminated in the Summer of Love in 1967. In fact, the first light show I observed was in the Haight Ashbury as a simulated LSD experience by
artist Dick Hamm. These simulations were later incorporated in the San Francisco “acid rock” sound. Although the drugs we were studying at UCSF were from legitimate pharmacological chemical companies, the LSD in the Haight came from Stanley Owsley. It was incorporated into
the music of neighborhood bands such as the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane who were featured at the Fillmore Auditorium and Avalon Ballroom. Bill Graham, who founded the Fillmore and basically invented the modern rock concert there, was concerned that his patrons were having adverse LSD reactions and asked for help from our newly formed HAFCI which I founded in 1967 during the Summer of Love. It was then that my academic and street drug experiences would begin to merge and I wrote this article “Lysergic Acid Diethylamide: An Historical Perspective” and presented it at a conference on “Psychedelic Drugs and the Law” at UCSF.

By that time I had crossed the line into the “doors of perception” (as described by Aldous Huxley) and had taken LSD, experiencing a profound life-changing vision that culminated in the opening of the HAFCI with its calm center for “bad trips.” My personal experience with LSD validated the contents of the article, but was not the basis for it. Rather, I spent a great deal of time attending lectures and reading the works of leading scientists like Dr. Sidney Cohen, author of The Being Within.

My work was inspired by my mentor at the UCSF Department of Pharmacology Dr. Fred Myers and led to numerous studies at the HAFCI published in the Journal of Psychedelic Drugs, which began as the house organ for the HAFCI following the conference at UCSF.

We had formed a student group at UCSF called the Psychopharmacology Study Group, which was designed to develop objective information about LSD, as we found that the output of the popular press was filled with scare tactics and misinformation such as “LSD causes genetic
defects”—a finding later disproved, but still part of the public information environment. With the demise of the Psychedelic Review published by Tim Leary, Richard Alpert and Ralph Metzner, the need for a multidisciplinary forum such as the Journal of Psychedelic Drugs became apparent.

Over the years, the descriptions of LSD in this article have been validated. The phenomenon of synesthesia (“translation of one sensory modality to another”) was often seen at Grateful Dead concerts when a panicked “bad tripper” came into the calm center of Rock Medicine crying “I can see the notes coming off of Jerry Garcia’s guitar!” Understanding the distorting effects of LSD, the talk down guides were able to calm the patients down, reassure them that it was a drug effect, and get their minds off the adverse effect and onto a positive vision, thus saving an expensive emergency room visit and in fact returning the individual to the concert.

Glenn Raswyck, past director of the HAFCI Rock Medicine program has documented thousands of such interventions, saving the medical system millions of dollars in costly and ineffective ER visits while producing better outcomes for the patient and society.

In the 1980s I also had the privilege of meeting Albert Hofmann (who discovered LSD and whose initial LSD experience is described in this article). We followed the path of his famous Psychedelic Bike Ride in Basel Switzerland up to his home where his wife served tea to my wife
and me.

He was a fascinating individual and true scholar, sharing his collection of ancient archeological artifacts with us as part of his anthropological studies. During the course of our visit we were thrilled to see copies of the original Journal of Psychedelic Drugs and subsequent Journal of
Psychoactive Drugs in his library with our names on the copies. He complimented our publication and of course we were in awe of him. It was truly a memorable experience.

The stroll down memory lane started by the reprinting of articles from volume 1, issue 1 of the Journal of Psychedelic Drugs on our website continues today as society renews its fascination with the Summer of Love. On the fortieth anniversary of the Summer of Love, there was an
exhibit featuring the 1967 Haight Ashbury culture and the era at the Whitney Museum in New York City. It was one of the most attended exhibits in the history of the Whitney and prompted a call from my daughter, who was visiting New York. The Journal of Psychedelic Drugs and this article were on display at the exhibit and my daughter was excited that her father was now featured in a museum.

The legacy of the Journal with its guiding nonjudgmental Free Clinic philosophy, “Health Care is a Right not a Privilege” continues on and I have been proud to be a part of it.

As Barack Obama stated in his book The Audacity of Hope, “Past history is not dead and buried, it is not even dead.” LSD as the most potent CNS drug known to man still needs to be studied objectively to maximize its benefits and minimize its dangers.

In looking back over my 45-year fascination with LSD and rereading this article, the contents of which were built on the shoulders of now-deceased scientific greats such as Sid Cohen and Fred Meyers, I am reminded of another Grateful Dead line: “What a long, strange trip it’s been.”




Vol. 1 (1)

Summer 1967

Psychedelic Drugs and the Law



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