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1972, Brotherhood of Eternal Love, LSD, Timothy Leary

The Brotherhood of Eternal Love, Timothy Leary and the Rise of LSD

On August 5, 1972, one of the biggest raids staged in America’s so-called “war on drugs” took place when a task force of state, local and federal law enforcement agencies combined to take down a secretive group of hippie LSD dealers and hashish smugglers known as the Brotherhood of Eternal Love.  Police and federal agents busted dozens of members in California, Oregon and Hawaii – and sent an even larger group scattering around the world.

The group had begun as a self-sustaining, anti-establishment commune in the mid-1960s, settling into a wooded tract in Orange County, California, led into the countryside by counterculturalist John Griggs.  By the mid-1960s, however, the group had evolved into one of the nation’s largest producers of LSD – lysergic acid diethylamide, the hallucinogenic drug most commonly referred to as “acid.”  Reported one federal agency, “Between 1966 and 1971 the Brotherhood was virtually untouchable, but in the course of the investigation 750 members had been identified in a business the IRS estimated to be worth $200 million.” The Feds claimed that nearly 50% of all the acid sold in the United States during the late 1960s and early 1970s was produced by the Brotherhood; they even had their own “trademarked” version of the mind-altering drug, “Orange Sunshine.”

Timothy Leary, the Harvard psychologist who in the 1960s became a leading proponent of the ingestion of psychedelic drugs to expand consciousness, was a frequent visitor to the commune.  However, his association with the Brotherhood would take a criminal turn in 1970, when Leary, behind bars for marihuana charges at a minimum security prison in San Luis Obispo, California, was sprung free after the Brotherhood paid the radical, violence-oriented group the Weatherman $25,000 to engineer his escape.  As to why he attempted the daring move, Leary said, “Consider my situation: I was a forty-nine year old man facing life in prison for encouraging people to face up to new options with courage and intelligence. The American government was being run by Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, Robert Haldeman, G. Gordon Liddy, J. Edgar Hoover and other cynical flouters of the democratic process.”

The Weathermen smuggled Leary out of the country, into exile in Algeria, and eventually into Switzerland.  In 1972, President Richard Nixon – who had curiously and perhaps with a tinge of paranoia labeled Leary “the most dangerous man in America” – ordered his attorney general, John Mitchell, to persuade the Swiss government to imprison Leary, which it did for a month, but the Swiss ultimately refused to extradite him back to the United States and he was eventually released.

The Swiss had a long history with LSD; in fact, it was Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann, a researcher for Sandoz pharmaceuticals who synthesized the drug in the late 1930s.  Hofmann began experimentation with the drug on himself, self-dosing in 1943, totally unaware of what the consequences might be.  He thought he had hit upon a fantastic drug, derived from ergot fungus which midwives had been using for centuries to induce childbirth, a drug which he thought would be beneficial as a circulatory and respiratory stimulant but proved to be something entirely different, as he discovered when, after taking a hit of 250 milligrams – about ten times more than a normal trip – he suffered countless horrendously terrifying hours when he thought he was possessed by a demon, that his neighbor was a witch, that his furniture was threatening him.  It was a bad trip for Dr. Hofmann but a potential cash cow for Sandoz, which began marketing LSD in the US in 1948 as a cure-all for a host of psychiatric problems; the pharmaceutical company claimed it a remedy for everything from schizophrenia to alcoholism to sexual perversions.

Researchers in the United States gave LSD to unreformed drinkers in Alcoholics Anonymous, half of whom after a year of taking acid had not had another drink – having basically replaced one high for another.  Cary Grant’s doctors treated the suave movie star with LSD in an attempt to cure his homosexual tendencies.  At the same time, the CIA launched its top-secret MK-ULTRA project, which for 20 years explored the use of acid as a mind-control drug.  Hundreds of government employees and military personnel, mental patients, prostitutes and average Joes pulled off the street were dosed without their knowledge for researchers to record the effects.  The experiments devolved into psychological torture; many of the test subjects committed suicide or wound up in psych wards and while the drug proved useless as a truth serum some say the CIA covertly promoted the use of acid among the 1960s youth of America as a means of destabilizing the underground culture and its anti-war predilections.

But up in the rarefied heights of Harvard University, professor Timothy Leary, who was already promoting the use of magic mushrooms as a means of reforming prisoners, was turned onto acid by one of his students and LSD quickly became his mental catalyst of choice.  Leary began experimentally dosing students – voluntarily, unlike the government — who reported incredibly profound mystical experiences – no bad trips like Dr. Hofmann – but uptight faculty and administrators at Harvard thought Leary had become somewhat of a loose cannon and he was sacked – although the CIA was closely following his research.  Students began flocking to the drug while Leary split for Mexico.  However, the Mexican government, labeling him subversive for his pro-drug writings, kicked him back across the border and he ended up in New York at the mansion of William Hitchcock, called Millbrook, where he kept the experiments going while publishing books with the titles of Psychedelic Prayers & Other Meditations and Start Your Own Religion and The Politics of Ecstasy.

In 1966, the government classified LSD as Schedule 1, which essentially made it illegal for the public to own and so acid went deep underground.

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About markwalston

Writer, historian, creative director, poet, playwright, author of nine books and nearly 200 essays and articles exploring a broad range of American social, cultural and historical topics.

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