Though LSD was first synthesized more thall twenty years ago, national illumination as to the effects of psychedelics did not occur until the Harvard scandal of 1962-63. University authorities objected to the "use" of undergraduates in experimeats begun in 1960 by Professors Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert. Forced to leave Cambridge, Leary and Alpert, with research fellow Ralph Metzner, began a hegira, first attempting to found psychedelic communities in Newton, Mass , then in Mexico, then on a Caribbean island, finally at the Castalia Foundation in Millbrook, NY, where Leary lives and works with a small group devoted to the exploration of the consciousness-expanding drugs. On the way, a great deal of straight-out evangelism has been generated for the experience in scores of lectures and discussions, as well as in a scholarly journal, The Psychedelic Review, and a book, The Psychedelic, Experience (University Books, 1964), which is a manual based on The Tibetan Book of the Dead (Further manuals—on scienstific, therapeutic and aesthetic models—are promised).
Ihe double-edged promise of psychedelic exstasis—psychosis/enlightenment—is sufficiently fearsome to keep many potential voyagers from taking a trip. The danger of flipping out—permanently losing touch with reality—is quite real, although casualty rates on psychedelic experiences are hard to come by, and perhaps fewer than one in 10,000 experiences results in lasting mental damage.
LSD has been used with varying degrees of success, in psychotherapy, as well as in the, training of psychiatrists ("this is what psychotics feel like…"), the treatment of alcoholics, and the reduction of anxiety in terminal cancer patients. Further, as Aldaus Huxley put it, today’s "aspiring mystic" would be foolish to try self-flagellation and prolonged fasting. He should, Huxley advised, knowing "the chemical conditions of transcendental experience…turn for technical help to the specialists…"
So far LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, et al., are legally available only to professional investigators, who have filed their research programs with the Food and Drug Administration (psychedelics, which are not addictive, do not come under narcotic codes), but the drugs are not hard to obtain from local connections. And now that marijuana, which is a mild psychedelic, is acknowledged kid stuff, the use of wonder drugs can be expected to increase dramatically.
For all the talk. testimonials and debate, however, there have as yet been n o public sessions—after all, the drugs are illegal, and who wants gawkers anyway. But how to translate the experience into terms the uninitiated can understand by subjective reports? Scientific analyses? How-to lessons? Humble question-and-answer sessions? None of these stratagems do the job, since, ultimately, either you have or haven’t taken a trip yourself.
Luckily, art imitates life, and lectures-cum-demonstrations were introduced this spring at the Village Vanguard in New York. A series of Monday night sessions, opened June 14 at the New Theatre, 154 East 54th St. The lean, tanned, Giotto-saintlike Leary calmly announced on the first night that in the past six months the psychedelic revolution had been won. There are now available (1) the accounts of explorers, spokesmen and publicists, (2) manuals and maps for the trip; and (3) materials to go up on.
"And tonight," Leary continued, "we are going to run a session for you. We are going to try to turn you on."
But short of a real drug-dole, how, if the experience really is Something Else, can the ordinary audio-visual techniques produce a trip? The key to the possibility of a psychedelic theatre is the notion of the "contact high"—an experience attained solely by being with—tuning into—someone who is up on the drug. Further, it seems to be possible, even though chemical traces of LSD do not linger in the brain, to lapse into or recapture psychedelic intoxication long after the actual experience.