Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Al Hubbard, the Johnny Appleseed of LSD

“The Original Capt. Trips.”

The scientists, therapists, and artists who experimented with LSD therapy in the late 1950s were not prepared for the likes of Timothy Leary, novelist Ken Kesey, poet Allen Ginsberg, and the assorted freaks, pranksters, con artists and runaways of the Woodstock Generation. Ken Kesey, in particular, delighted in stinging the Feds by insisting that it was Uncle Sam who first got him high, paying Kesey and others to take LSD, guinea pig-style, in certain government-funded research programs in Palo Alto and at Stanford University in the early 1960s.

It made a great story, and it happened to be true. However, the original chapter of the acid story began ten years earlier, when a former intelligence agent, rogue businessman, and general intellectual gadfly named Al Hubbard took his first LSD trip. Captain Alfred M. Hubbard, who has been dubbed the “Original Capt. Trips,” was part of a select cadre of World War II veterans who had been involved in creating intelligence institutions like the Office of Strategic Services and the CIA, and who had immersed themselves in cryptology and truth serums and interrogation drugs in the service of the war effort. (Thomas Pynchon caricatured some of this work in his novel, Gravity’s Rainbow.) Hubbard broke ranks with the intelligence community early on, but continued to share his clandestine stash of LSD with certain friends and acquaintances. This odd and extraordinary businessman is said to have arranged private LSD sessions in the late 1950s for scientists, captains of industry, members of the British parliament, UN representatives, prime ministers, and various artists. For a time, Al Hubbard settled in Vancouver, where he became Canada’s only legally licensed, FDA-approved importer of Sandoz LSD. In certain North American research circles, Al became a very popular man.

Hubbard is credited by various parties with being the man who put together the basics of the North American psychedelic therapy sessions and hippie acid tests to come—high doses of LSD, amplified music, strobe lights, and experiments with ESP. Along with Huxley, Hubbard came to believe that the more mystical or “transpersonal” experiences LSD sometimes afforded might hold considerable psychotherapeutic potential. With LSD provided by Hubbard, Canadians Abram Hoffer, Ross Mclean, and Humphrey Osmond pursued the idea of LSD as a treatment for alcoholism. In the U.S, research on LSD and alcoholism was undertaken by Oscar Janiger, Sanford Unger, and others on the West Coast.

Throughout this period, there were LSD clinics operating in England and Europe. European LSD therapists tended to use very low doses as an adjunct to traditional psychoanalytic techniques. But North American researchers took a different, bolder approach. When “psychedelic” therapy began to catch on in Canada and the United States, therapists typically gave patients only one or two sessions at very high doses. These early efforts were aimed at producing spontaneous breakthroughs or recoveries in alcoholics through some manner of religious epiphany or inner conversion experience. The only other quasi-medical approach of the day, the Schick Treatment Center’s brand of “aversion therapy,” was not seen to produce very compelling long-term recovery rates, and subsequently fell out of favor.

In this light, the early successes with LSD therapy, sometimes claimed to be in the 50-75 per cent range, looked noteworthy indeed. However, the design and criteria of the LSD/alcoholism studies varied so widely that it has never been possible to draw definitive conclusions about the work that was done, except to say that LSD therapy seemed to be strikingly effective for certain alcoholics. Some patients were claiming that two or three trips on LSD were worth years of conventional psychotherapy—a claim not heard again until the advent of Prozac thirty years later.

Adapted from The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction by Dirk Hanson © 2008, 2009.


Robert Morse, M.A. said...

If it were not for the uncivilized drug prohibition laws, Psychedelic and Psycholytic therapies would be integrated into the mental health field, to the benefit of the society, and we would have a greater understanding of our own consciousness.

Fortunately, the research seems to be opening up again with promising results.

Recovered said...

It should be noted that Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous and other early AA's participated in these experiments with LSD.
LSD was dismissed as not effective for alcoholics by these people.

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