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The Consumers Union Report on Licit and Illicit Drugs

by Edward M. Brecher and the Editors of Consumer Reports Magazine, 1972

Chapter 49. Early nontherapeutic use of LSD

Long before LSD was discovered, some investigators interested in the working of the human mind had from time to time taken LSD-like drugs, especially peyote, and reported on their experiences; Havelock Ellis was an early example. Philosophers, theologians, and clergymen interested in the mystical religious experience had similarly experimented. Such informal use continued after the discovery of LSD; Aldous Huxley, for example, reported favorably on his experiences with mescaline in  The Doors of Perception (1954). As LSD became available in the 1950s, this personal use of such drugs, and especially of LSD itself, for nontherapeutic or quasitherapeutic purposes became much more common. Developments of this kind in California during the 1950s and early 1960s have been described by Dr. Richard H. Blum and his Stanford University associates in  Utopiates (1964), a review of the early LSD experiences of 92 men and women. 1

Among the first to use LSD privately for nontherapeutic purposes, the Blum group reported, were physicians, psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals, plus laymen who tool, LSD in their company. 2 The Blum group studied 24 LSD users in this category, some of whom had seen LSD use as early as 1956.

Most of the group were initiated to LSD use by psychiatrist friends, others by friends, teachers, or husbands. "In every case the initiator had himself taken the drug before offering it to a novice.... Only two persons initiated themselves; for the rest, LSD was a social event in which someone else gave them the drug and was with them during the experience. Most took LSD in a private home, either their own or that of an experienced' LSD user." 3 Having used LSD themselves, moreover, a majority of this group went on either to initiate or to encourage at least one other person to use LSD. This desire of LSD users to enlist others runs as a common theme throughout the Blum report.) One reason for this proselytizing enthusiasm was that a majority of the sample "felt that LSD had improved their lives or persons," 4 and wanted their friends to experience similar benefits.

Volunteers who had received LSD as part of an experiment in a university, hospital, or other bona fide research setting formed another category of early LSD users; the Blum group studied 15 examples, mostly male students or former students aged twenty-one to thirty. The majority in this group reported "some beneficial psychological changes as the result of having taken LSD, although they have not reoriented their goals or interests. The amount of change most report in response to LSD is not great...... 5 About half stated that they had influenced others to use LSD following their own favorable experience.

From these very early user groups, LSD spread to others who took LSD without benefit of either institutional setting or the presence of any medical or mental-health professional. 6 The Blum group studied 12 men and women in this category, all of whom knew one another and formed part of an active social circle. LSD among members of this circle was usually taken in a party setting. It was just one of a number of hallucinogenic or intoxicating drugs which were used. Everyone reported pleasant reactions or 'kicks'–– being 'high' or having 'freedom from troubles,' for example. The majority also discussed aesthetic experiences; some were passive ones in which music or a painting was more appreciated; others were active in that users would paint, make montages or mobiles, or write. Some of the sample also spoke of their mystical religious experiences and most described unusual feelings of closeness and special appreciation of others. Upon occasion, we were told, these interpersonal delights became quite specific as the partying people took off their clothes and played romantic roulette." 7

Members spent "much of their social life with like-minded drug-taking persons," 8 and actively recruited additional LSD users–– "there was pride when a father or an aunt could be persuaded to join the inner circle." 9 They saw nothing wrong with a fourteen-year-old taking "acid"–– but they did hesitate to initiate "unstable" people. "I feel I have a responsibility when I 'turn someone on' to LSD; you want to be sure they won't go sour"; and again, "You want them to have enough sense to know how to act; I mean to be discreet and not get themselves or anybody else in trouble." 10 Thus there was at least a casual "screening" process among nontherapeutic users, with few seriously disturbed individuals given LSD.

Most of the members of the circle were in their twenties, some in their teens–– but the ages ran up into the forties and fifties as the users "turned on" their parents and other older people. "They were well educated, socially respectable, and ambitious as far as career goals were concerned. All but two appeared to make excellent work adjustments. None appeared to have serious personality pathology." 11 The high ambitions and good work adjustments during this early LSD period stand in marked contrast to later reports that many or most LSD users were "dropouts" from school or society.

This circle, the Blum group concluded, was generally happy; members were motivated to use LSD by a "desire to enhance an already pleasurable state rather than a desperate need to escape misery. 12 Many other such LSD circles arose in other parts of the country. 

The Blum group also studied 8 patients given LSD therapeutically in a free public clinic, 13 private patients who took LSD therapeutically in the home or private office of their psychiatrist, and 20 who paid as much as $500 for LSD sessions at a "center," opened in 1960, which promised both therapeutic and religious-mystical benefits. Most of the "center" users were in their thirties.

"Nearly all center sample members report self-improvement as a consequence of LSD use," the Blum group noted; "often personal changes, spiritual benefits, and reduction in competitive or material concerns are cited. Although practically none of the sample had originally had any interest in having a religious experience through LSD, nearly half reported a religiously significant experience." 13

The majority in this sample "described both pleasant and unpleasant reactions to the drug. For most, the unpleasantness was recalled as initial and transient. Frequently the unpleasant features were said to have been valuable, 'part of the price of self-knowledge! Quite clearly, several people felt it was necessary to suffer to gain from LSD. The belief that suffering is a necessary requirement for salvation is extensive in our culture. It is found in psychoanalysis, in the Christian doctrine of salvation from sin, and in the Protestant work ethic which holds that good things do not come easily. One suspects that the welcome accorded to the painful facets of the center LSD experience is not unrelated to these larger themes." 14 One may also have here an explanation of the strange fact that some people who have personally experienced a bad trip nevertheless take LSD again–– and recommend it to their friends. Others, of course, abandon the drug.

Reviewing the 92 LSD users in their sample, the Blum group found that many of them reported various benefits–– as a therapeutic tool, a means for enhancing values or expanding the self, a road to love and better relationships, a device for art appreciation or a spur to creative endeavors, a means to insight, and a door to religious experience." 15 Also mentioned were  pleasurable effects–– "release from anxiety or troubles, euphoria, heightened sensations, fantastic images or hallucinations, orgiastic excitement, and the like." 16 In recruiting new users and talking about "what LSD has done for me," the Blum group noted, the emphasis was generally on the ethical and aesthetic "changes for the good" rather than on these transient pleasures of the LSD experience.

A notable finding of the Blum study was the extent to which both the benefits and the unpleasantnesses of LSD varied among the groups studied. Thus more than 90 percent of the "informal professional" and "religious-medical-center" groups claimed that they benefited in their personal adjustments; the proportion was lower among those receiving LSD therapeutically from private psychiatrists, still lower from those receiving LSD at a public clinic, and lowest of all among healthy volunteers who received LSD as part of an experiment. 17 Among the informal professionals the chief unpleasant reactions were "physical distress [and] feelings of helplessness or loss of control." The clinic patients said that they "felt self-conscious or were embarrassed by what they did or felt during the experience." The patients of psychiatrists in private practice "suffered raw fear–– of madness, of loss of control, of the unknown lying ahead." In the social circle using LSD for pleasure, "the one bad effect was disappointment at the failure of LSD to meet their expectations–– to produce the desired aesthetic, euphoric, or self-expanding sensations." 18 These and other differences among the groups–– plus data from countless other studies–– serve to underline the fact that "the LSD experience" to an even greater extent than experiences with most other drugs, varies with the setting, the expectations, the motivations of both giver and receiver, the companionship, and a variety of similar ancillary factors. In this study, interestingly enough, the group receiving LSD from psychiatrists in psychotherapy reported neither experiencing as much benefit as the Nontherapeutic users, nor enjoying as much freedom from undesirable effects, The Blum sample of 92 was much too small, of course, to supply reliable data on such occurrences, rare at that time, as suicide, attempted suicide, accidents, or prolonged psychotic reactions following LSD.

Chapter 49

1. Richard H. Blum and Associates,  Utopiates: The Use and Users of LSD-25 (New York: Atherton Press, 1964).

2. Ibid., pp. 22-23.

3. Ibid., p. 23.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid., p. 29.

6. Ibid., p. 31.

7. Ibid., p. 32.

8. Ibid., p. 35.

9. Ibid., p. 33.

10. Ibid., p. 34.

11. Ibid., p. 35.

12. Ibid., p. 41.

13. Ibid., p. 36.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid., p. 49.

16. Ibid.

17. Ibid.

18. Ibid., pp. 42-43.


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