The yin and yang of the LSD revolution

Neurotribes has a fantastic interview with the author of a new book on the relationship between Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg and their role in the LSD counter-culture that is still echoing through science and culture.

The interview is with Peter Conners, author of White Hand Society, a book that examines the relationship between the two men through their correspondence and looks at how it shaped each as individuals and the place of psychedelics in society.

Despite both men being major figures in the promotion of LSD, they ending up taking very different paths.

Leary, originally a Harvard professor who started out doing respected scientific research into mind altering drugs, ended up being thought of us a bit of a cartoon cut-out by both the establishment and by the counter-culture of the time.

Ginsberg took a less sensationalist route and used the experience as a springboard to spiritual exploration.

Despite the fact that neither ended up boosting serious research in psychedelics both had a massive influence on the scientific study of mind altering drugs.

Silberman: Do you think that if things had unfolded differently for Leary, psychedelics could have been successfully incorporated into mainstream medicine or psychology?

Conners: I actually think they are now more than they’ve ever been. My wife is a clinical psychologist. I recently read an article in The Monitor on tests they’re doing now with psilocybin and MDMA. One potential application is for post-traumatic stress disorder that all these soldiers are coming back with from the Middle East. Another is to help terminal patients prepare for death. The Monitor is a very mainstream venue — it’s the trade journal for psychologists. So after 40 years of a virtual blackout on psychedelic research, you can do it again now, thanks to the efforts of people like Rick Doblin at MAPS, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.

Silberman: I think Leary actually helped hasten the blackout, simply by going on and on with his inflammatory and hyperbolic claims about psychedelics. In a Playboy interview in 1966, he said in a properly conducted LSD session, a woman could expect to have hundreds of orgasms. He also insisted that LSD had “cured” Allen Ginsberg of homosexuality. Let’s just say that by the time I met Allen, when he was in his 50s, he must have been having a major relapse!

I have to say, the interview is a little hard on Leary, who, like Ginsberg, had a continuing cultural impact way after he abandoned the championing of LSD, but it is a fascinating look at the relationship between the two men.

Link to Neurotribes interview with Peter Connors.

4 thoughts on “The yin and yang of the LSD revolution”

  1. Although it may be a little harsh to blame Leary for this, I do think the culture surrounding psychedelic drugs back then may have set serious scientific research into these drugs by decades. If you compare the things Leary et al were saying in comparison with the research being carried out at you can see quite how uncritical and irresponsible they were back then.

    I think it was a great shame, as I strongly believe that psychedelics may be able to play a powerful role in human happiness and spirituality, but only if they are carefully and thoroughly investigated using properly designed psychological methods. The modern research using MDMA for treating post traumatic stress disorder and psilocybin for end of life stress are good examples.

  2. I just started reading a book called “Orange Sunshine” about the Brotherhood of Enternal Love, hippies who bombed LA with acid.

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