Cultural Negotiation

Timothy Leary and LSD

For those in the CIA and the Pentagon concerned about the possibility of Communist brainwashing, LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) seemed like a potential miracle weapon for use in programs like MKUltra. Even if the Communists could brainwash Americans, perhaps American could control - and destroy - the minds of its enemies in other ways. The military experimented with LSD on GIs to investigate its potential as a weapon:


However, the experiments led to psychosis and even suicide in subjects who were given the drug without their knowledge or understanding. Eventually, these efforts were abandoned. The essence of mind control is control, and LSD proved too unpredictable to be of use.

Many psychologists and researchers conducted experiments with LSD to uncover its possibilities. While all of these studies were quietly monitored by MKUltra, not all were part of their nefarious mind control project. One researcher conducting these studies was Timothy Leary at Harvard University, who began working with LSD in the early 1960s. While Leary is also known for the Concord Prison Experiments discussed in Reforming, Richard Alpert and Timothy Leary started studying LSD in 1960 as psychology researchers at Harvard. The article "The Politics of Consciousness“ (1963) marks the moment when they left the realm of academia and began using LSD as a 'mind-freeing‘ practice changing the notions of freedom, democracy and scientific experiments.

Harvard terminated Leary's employment in 1963 for failing to fulfill his teaching duties. He moved his experiments to a mansion in Millbrook, where they continued for almost five years despite multiple raids by the FBI and local law enforcement. Before FBI raids ended the era, Leary continued his personal experimentation with psychedelic drugs including LSD and psilocybin along with his associates, including Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters.


The Millbrook, CT mansion where Leary and his associates moved their experiments after being forced out of Harvard.

At the 1966 Gathering of Tribes, also known as the Human Be-in, Timothy Leary coined the famous phrase "turn on, tune in, drop out" as he advised his audience to explore the potential of consciousness expanding drugs. In response to his well-publicized drug use and encouraging a cultural counter revolution, Richard Nixon called Leary "the most dangerous man in America."

As LSD gained popularity it became viewed as a "crisis" and was finally outlawed in 1966.

Human Be-in

The San Francisco Oracle's original flier for the Human Be-In