Lets take a trip

LSD, or Lysergic acid diethylamide, as you may have guessed, comes from the ergot fungus. It was first synthesized by the Swiss chemist, Albert Hofmann in 1938 when he was doing research on the fungus for medicinal purposes. He writes about his experiences in his book, LSD: My Problem Child, where he says:

“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 daylight to be unpleasantly glaring), I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscope play of colors. After some two hours, this condition faded away.”

Later in 1948, LSD was introduced to the medical world as a psychiatric cure-all drug and it was prescribed extensively. Production was halted in 1965, however, because it was growing too popular and there was a lack of positive long term effects and they were actually finding a lot of adverse side effects, like flashbacks and terrors. Even though the use of LSD in the medical community for medicinal purposes was declining, history tells us that LSD was still very popular in the 1960s. One man that you have probably already heard of is Dr. Timothy Leary. Dr. Leary was a professor at Harvard University and was pro-LSD. He was giving it to students and running experiments on prisoners, which he claimed resulted in a 90% success rate in preventing repeat criminal offenses. Then his students began to take it recreationally and Leary later told Playboy Magazine that LSD was a potent aphrodisiac, something that got him expelled from the university. Shortly after this, President Nixon claimed that he was the “most dangerous man in the U.S.” Leary did not stop there. In order to combat the extensive anti-LSD propaganda being issued by the government, he coined the phrase, “Turn on. Tune in. Drop out.”, short for turn on your mind, tune in to what you believe, and drop out of the things you’re not happy about. That’s exactly what you want your children hearing!

Yes, you read that right. The CIA used and experimented on LSD! It was there top-secret mission, MK-ULTRA through which they were hoping to find a mind controlling agent. They were looking to use it as a form of psychological torture and they ran tests on members of the general public and CIA agents, often without their knowledge or consent. Many of the people that were involved in this experiment underwent such a sever trauma that many either committed suicide or wound up in a psychiatric ward. The researchers of this drug eventually realized that LSD was WAY too unpredictable to be used effectively. There is also a theory that the CIA covertly advocated for the use of LSD in the American youth in the 60’s as a way to undermine the growing anti-war movement and emerging counterculture. Hmm, interesting!

Many believe that much of the great music produced by the Beatles was a result of taking some trips down LSD lane. In particular, the song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” primarily written by John Lennon, is believed to be the offspring of LSD. Plus, the initials of the song are LSD, which I thought was a little ironic. Check out a video of this song below! Other bands, such as Grateful Dead helped give birth to the terms psychedelic or acid rock. LSD was very popular with the rebellious youth of the 60’s and continues to be popular among college and high school age students. This is most likely because it only requires a small amount of LSD to send you on a trip and it is easy to make.

Side effects of LSD are mainly due to the fact that LSD is similar to serotonin, which regulates memory, anxiety, mood, aggression, learning and sleep. LSD is the most potent naturally occurring hallucinogen and is considered a “clean drug.” This is because it only stays in the body for 30 hours and is not addictive. But what does it make you feel like? The mental side effects for LSD are pretty variable and dependent on one’s personality, mood, expectations and surroundings. Many times, however, people report seeing, hearing and touching things that don’t exist, which makes sense because LSD is a powerful hallucinogen. People also report an altered sense of time, mixing of senses, distortion of space, strange body sensations and changed and intensified thoughts. The physical effects include dilated pupils, higher body temperature, increased heart rate and blood pressure, sweating, loss of appetite, sleeplessness, dry mouth and tremors. Another fun fact; the term psychedelic was coined to describe the effects of LSD!


Pont-Saint-Esprit poisoning: Did the CIA spread LSD?

By Mike Thomson
BBC News

Nearly 60 years ago, a French town was hit by a sudden outbreak of hallucinations, which left five people dead and many seriously ill. For years it was blamed on bread contaminated with a psychedelic fungus – but that theory is now being challenged.

On 16 August 1951, postman Leon Armunier was doing his rounds in the southern French town of Pont-Saint-Esprit when he was suddenly overwhelmed by nausea and wild hallucinations.

“It was terrible. I had the sensation of shrinking and shrinking, and the fire and the serpents coiling around my arms,” he remembers.

Leon, now 87, fell off his bike and was taken to the hospital in Avignon.

He was put in a straitjacket but he shared a room with three teenagers who had been chained to their beds to keep them under control.

“Some of my friends tried to get out of the window. They were thrashing wildly… screaming, and the sound of the metal beds and the jumping up and down… the noise was terrible.

“I’d prefer to die rather than go through that again.”

Over the coming days, dozens of other people in the town fell prey to similar symptoms.

Doctors at the time concluded that bread at one of the town’s bakeries had become contaminated by ergot, a poisonous fungus that occurs naturally on rye.

Biological warfare

That view remained largely unchallenged until 2009, when an American investigative journalist, Hank Albarelli, revealed a CIA document labelled: “Re: Pont-Saint-Esprit and F.Olson Files. SO Span/France Operation file, inclusive Olson. Intel files. Hand carry to Belin – tell him to see to it that these are buried.”

F. Olson is Frank Olson, a CIA scientist who, at the time of the Pont St Esprit incident, led research for the agency into the drug LSD.

David Belin, meanwhile, was executive director of the Rockefeller Commission created by the White House in 1975 to investigate abuses carried out worldwide by the CIA.

Albarelli believes the Pont-Saint-Esprit and F. Olson Files, mentioned in the document, would show – if they had not been “buried” – that the CIA was experimenting on the townspeople, by dosing them with LSD.

The conclusion drawn at the time was that one of the town’s bakeries, the Roch Briand, was the source of the poisoning. It’s possible, Albarelli says, that LSD was put in the bread.

It is well known that biological warfare scientists around the world, including some in Britain, were experimenting with LSD in the early 1950s – a time of conflict in Korea and an escalation of Cold War tensions.

Albarelli says he has found a top secret report issued in 1949 by the research director of the Edgewood Arsenal, where many US government LSD experiments were carried out, which states that the army should do everything possible to launch “field experiments” using the drug.

Using Freedom of Information legislation, he also got hold of another CIA report from 1954.

In it an agent reported his conversation with a representative of the Sandoz Chemical company in Switzerland.

Sandoz’s base, which is just a few hundred kilometres from Pont-Saint-Esprit, was the only place where LSD was being produced at that time.

The agent reports that after several drinks, the Sandoz representative abruptly stated: “The Pont-Saint-Esprit ‘secret’ is that it was not the bread at all… It was not grain ergot.”

‘Wrong symptoms’

But American academic Professor Steven Kaplan, who published a book in 2008 on the Pont-Saint-Esprit incident, insists that neither ergot nor LSD could have been responsible.

Ergot contamination would not, he says, have affected only one sack of grain in one bakery, as was claimed here. The outbreak would have been far more widespread.

He rules out LSD on the grounds that the symptoms people suffered, though similar, do not quite fit the drug.

He also points out that it would have not have survived the fierce temperatures of the baker’s oven – though Albarelli counters that it could have been added to the bread after baking.

While they disagree on the cause of the hallucinations, on one point they are united – the need for a French government inquiry to get to the bottom of what really happened in Pont-Saint-Esprit all those years ago.

The Case of the Cursed Bread

Did the CIA spike a French town’s baguettes with LSD?

A 60-year-old French medical mystery concerning hallucinogenic bread and mass hysteria has now been blamed on undercover operations by the CIA. According to American investigative journalist Hank Albarelli, the agency spiked French baguettes with LSD in secret experiments just after World War II. Citing anonym­ous US Army and CIA sources, Albarelli claims that members of the US Army’s Special Operat­ions Division contaminated “local food products” with diethylamine – the D in LSD – to gauge the effect of the newly synthesised drug on French civilians.

The CIA connection is the latest in a number of possible explanations for a series of tragic events that unfurled at Pont-Saint-Esprit, a small town on the banks of the River Rhône in southern France, in August 1951. After an outbreak of food poisoning, upset stomachs, vomiting and diarrhœa soon gave way to mass folly and collect­ive hallucinations. Victims imagined themselves to have copper heads, stomachs full of writhing snakes or bodies engulfed by flames. One girl thought she was being attacked by tigers. A patient undergoing treatment thought he could fly and threw himself from the second floor of a hospital, breaking both legs. In a fit of madness, a young boy tried to strangle his mother.

Within days, almost 300 people had reported poisoning symptoms, more than 30 had been hospitalised and at least five had died. Many of the victims were found to have shopped at the same bakery and suspicion soon fell on Roch Briand’s baguettes. The tragedy became known as the affair of the pain maudit (‘cursed bread’).

One of the first to come up with a possible explanation for the tragedy was local physician Dr Gabbaï, who had treated some of the victims. Writing in the British Medical Journal, he sugg­ested that the symptoms indicated an outbreak of ergotism, caused by the parasitic mould ergot affecting grain. The disease was thought to have died out in France during the 18th century, but could it have resurfaced again in the Rhône Valley in 1951? Not all were convinced by the ergot diagnosis. The judge responsible for the enquiry suggested a poss­ible criminal connection and referred to contamination by a very toxic form of synthetic ergot.

The Case of the Cursed Bread drew the attention of foreign experts as well. Dr Albert Hofmann, who first synthesised LSD-25 from ergot in 1938, travelled to Pont-Saint-Esprit and confirmed the hypothesis of ergot poisoning. But once back in Basle, the Sandoz Laboratories, where Hofmann worked and which had introduced LSD as a drug for various psychiatric uses four years earlier, rejected the connection. Experiments with ergot-infected bread in the US also suggested that the effects seen in Pont-Saint-Esprit were unlikely to be due to ergotism.

The possible causes of the affair were taken up again by American historian Steven Kaplan more than 50 years later. Kaplan, a professor at Cornell University and expert on the history of bread, examined all the poss­ible explanations for the cursed bread: ergotism, infected water or contamination by fungicides or other toxins. None, he concluded in his 1,000-page tome Le Pain Maudit, published in 2008, could adequately explain the events of Pont-Saint-Esprit in the summer of 1951.

Then, at the end of 2009, came Hank Alberelli’s CIA allegations published in A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olsen and the CIAs Secret Cold War Experiments. “The most shocking thing to me was the CIA experiment in France,” he told the American Geek Entertainment TV after the publication of the book. “I didn’t want to believe that my government could do that.” But he is adamant he has proof that the CIA is behind the horrifying events at Pont-Saint-Esprit, and that these were part of a wider secret experimental programme. Between the late 1940s and the 1970s, he claims, the CIA tested LSD and other drugs on foreign civilians in Germany and Russia, as well as in France, and on 5,000 US servicemen.

Alberelli asserts that there was a lot of excitement in the CIA at the time about the possible uses of LSD in warfare. It was hoped that the drug could eliminate violence; the idea was that enemies could be bombarded with LSD, which would engender mass hallucinat­ions and acts of madness. The US army would then be free to march into enemy territory with little opposition.

The latest ‘revelations’ have been received with a mixture of disbelief, amusement and shoulder-shrugging by the French media and the population of Pont-Saint-Esprit. Albarelli’s evidence appears flimsy at the very least. And some, including Kaplan, have dismissed the idea on clinical grounds. It’s highly unlikely, they say, that an LSD-like substance would have affected the villagers in the way the pain maudit did. And why, after all, should the CIA have targeted this quiet corner of southern France?


Lysergic Acid Diethylamide – LSD

Paul May
School of Chemistry
University of Bristol
December 1998

LSD is one of the most powerful hallucinogenic drugs known. It was invented in 1938 by the Swiss chemist, Albert Hoffman, who was interested in developing medicines from compounds in ergot, a fungus that attacks rye. Although LSD is purely synthetic, clues to its biological activity can be found by tracing the history of the fungus from which it is derived.


Ergot of rye is produced by a lower fungus (Claviceps purpurea) that grows parasitically on rye and, to a lesser extent, on other species of grain and on wild grasses. Kernels infested with this fungus develop into light-brown to violet-brown curved pegs (sclerotia) that push forth from the husk in place of normal grains. Ergot of rye (Secale cornutum) is the variety used medicinally.

Ergot has a fascinating history. Once it was dreaded as a poison, but over the course of time it has become to be regarded as a rich storehouse of valuable medicines. Ergot was first mentioned in the early Middle Ages, as the cause of outbreaks of mass poisonings affecting thousands of persons at a time. The illness appeared in two characteristic forms, one gangrenous (ergotismus gangraenosus) and the other convulsive (ergotismus convulsivus). Popular names for ergotism – such as “mal des ardents“, “ignis sacer“, “heiliges Feuer” or “St. Anthony’s fire” – refer to the gangrenous form of the disease. The patron saint of ergotism victims was St. Anthony, and it was primarily the Order of St. Anthony that treated these patients. Until quite recently, outbreaks of ergot poisoning approaching epidemic proportions were recorded in most European countries including certain areas of Russia. However, in the seventeenth century it was discovered that ergot-containing bread was the cause of the poisonings. This, coupled with progress in agriculture, caused the frequency and extent of ergotism epidemics to diminish considerably. The last great epidemic occurred in certain areas of southern Russia in the years 1926-27.

Ergot as a Medicine

The first mention of a medicinal use of ergot, as a drug to precipitate childbirth, is found in the notes of the Frankfurt city physician Adam Lonitzer in 1582. Although ergot had been used since olden times by midwives, it was not until 1808 that this drug gained entry into academic medicine. The use of ergot for these purposes did not last, however, since the uncertainty of dosage led to uterine spasms and dangers to the child.

The early 1930s brought a new era in ergot research, beginning with the determination of the chemical structure of the main chemically active agents, the ergot alkaloids. Finally, W. A. Jacobs and L.C. Craig of the Rockefeller Institute of New York succeeded in isolating and characterizing the nucleus common to all ergot alkaloids. They named it lysergic acid.

The Discovery of LSD

In the late 1930s, Albert Hoffman was working in the pharmacological department of Sandoz, in Basel, Switzerland. He was studying derivatives of lysergic acid, including systematically reacting the acid group with various reagents, to produce the corresponding amides, anhydrides, esters, etc. One of these derivatives was the diethylamide, made by addition of the -N(C2H5)2 group, and it was named LSD-25. But the new substance didn’t appear to have any particularly useful medical properties, although the research report noted, in passing, that “the experimental animals became restless during the narcosis“. For the next five years, nothing more was heard of the substance LSD-25.

The structure of lysergic acid diethylamide.
The diethylamide group is shown in red and the indole ring in blue.

But for some reason, Hoffman could not forget the relatively uninteresting LSD-25. In his book he says:

“A peculiar presentiment – the feeling that this substance could possess properties other than those established in the first investigations – induced me, five years after the first synthesis, to produce LSD-25 once again so that a sample could be given to the pharmacological department for further tests.”

So, in the spring of 1943, he repeated the synthesis of LSD-25. Quoted below is his entry for this experiment in his laboratory journal of April 19, 1943.


17:00: Beginning dizziness, feeling of anxiety, visual distortions, symptoms of paralysis, desire to laugh.

His diary, written later, continues the story:

Here the notes in my laboratory journal cease. I was able to write the last words only with great effort. By now it was already clear to me that LSD had been the cause of the remarkable experience of the previous Friday, for the altered perceptions were of the same type as before, only much more intense. I had to struggle to speak intelligibly. I asked my laboratory assistant, who was informed of the self-experiment, to escort me home. We went by bicycle, no automobile being available because of wartime restrictions on their use. On the way home, my condition began to assume threatening forms. Everything in my field of vision wavered and was distorted as if seen in a curved mirror. I also had the sensation of being unable to move from the spot. Nevertheless, my assistant later told me that we had traveled very rapidly. Finally, we arrived at home safe and sound, and I was just barely capable of asking my companion to summon our family doctor and request milk from the neighbors.

The dizziness and sensation of fainting became so strong at times that I could no longer hold myself erect, and had to lie down on a sofa. My surroundings had now transformed themselves in more terrifying ways. Everything in the room spun around, and the familiar objects and pieces of furniture assumed grotesque, threatening forms. They were in continuous motion, animated, as if driven by an inner restlessness. The lady next door, whom I scarcely recognized, brought me milk – in the course of the evening I drank more than two liters. She was no longer Mrs. R., but rather a malevolent, insidious witch with a colored mask.”

Biological Effects of LSD

The mechanism by which LSD causes such profound affects on the human perception still hasn’t been established. What is known, is that as well as the uterine-constricting activity mentioned earlier, LSD stimulates centers of the sympathetic nervous system in the midbrain, which leads to pupillary dilation, increase in body temperature, and rise in the blood-sugar level. LSD also has a serotonin-blocking effect. Serotonin is a hormone-like substance, occurring naturally in various organs of warm-blooded animals. Concentrated in the midbrain, it plays an important role in the propagation of impulses in certain nerves and therefore in the biochemistry of psychic functions. LSD also influences neurophysiological functions that are connected with dopamine, which is another naturally occurring hormone-like substance. Most of the brain centres receptive to dopamine become activated by LSD, while the others are depressed. The structure of LSD is very similar to other hallucinogenic drugs such as mescaline and psilocybin, all of which contain a substituted indole ring (or a related structure).

LSD as an Illegal Drug

Because of its hallucinatory properties, LSD was widely adopted by the hippy culture of the 1960’s, who claimed it led to higher states of consciousness and helped them search for religious enlightenment. The Beatles‘ even wrote a song (‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’) which allegedly describes the psychedelic effects of LSD.

Picture yourself in a boat on a river with tangerine trees and marmalade sky,
Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly, a girl with kaleidoscope eyes.
Cellophane flowers of yellow and green towering over your head.
Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes and she’s gone.
Lucy in the Sky with diamonds…

Although LSD is relatively non-toxic and non-addictive, various governments around the world outlawed it after a number of fatal accidents were reported. Such accidents involved, for example, people under the influence of LSD jumping to their deaths off high buildings thinking they could fly. Research in the 60’s and 70’s showed that there was also a considerable psychological risk with the drug and that high doses, especially in inappropriate settings, often caused panic reactions. For individuals who have a low threshold for psychosis, a bad LSD trip could be the triggering event for the onset of full-blown psychosis. Research on potential therapeutic uses of LSD was abandoned for political reasons in the mid-1970s.



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