'I Wish I Could Talk in Technicolor'

Don Lattin, author of The Harvard Psychedelic Club (which Nick Gillespie reviewed in the May issue of Reason), presents "some extraordinary and rare TV footage about LSD research in 1950s." In the first six minutes,  psychiatrist Sidney Cohen interviews a certifiably "stable and well-balanced" woman, the wife of an employee at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Los Angeles (where the research was conducted), before and after she has taken a 100-microgram hit. The experience she describes includes familiar themes such as gorgeous colors, geometric patterns, microscopic particles suddenly visible, and a sense of transcendence, oneness, and ineffability:

I can see everything in color. You have to see the air. You can't believe it....I've never seen such infinite beauty in my life....Everything is so beautiful and lovely and alive....This is reality...I wish I could talk in Technicolor....I can't tell you about it. If you can't see it, then you'll just never know it. I feel sorry for you.

Today all this may sound hackneyed, but what's striking about this woman's account is that her expectations were not shaped by the huge surge of publicity that LSD attracted in the next two decades. Although she had not heard what an LSD trip was supposed to be like, her experience included several of the features that later came to be seen as typical—a reminder that, as important as "set and setting" are, "drug" matters too.

Despite the similarity between this woman's description of her experience and testimonials from acid aficionados of the '60s and '70s, her presentation is so calm and nonthreatening that it is hard to imagine how anyone could perceive this drug as an intolerable danger to society. Had hers been the public face of LSD in the '60s, would it still have been banned?

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  • aeronathan||

    technicolor sound? Would that be hi-fi?

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    That woman ran down Bill O'Reilly's kids with her VW Bus right after that interview.

  • ||

    On some cable channel not long ago (NatGeo?) they had a fascinating piece on psyechedelics that went into the early research and potential therapeutic uses. Really interesting.

    The early research subjects were engineers, psychiatrists, that sort. I remember the engineers loved it; they regularly reported breakthroughs on previously intractable problems during or after sessions.

  • nekoxgirl||

    Watson or Crick were suppose to have been taking LSD when he figured out the structure of DNA.

  • Videogame-playing kid||

    Boooring!!

  • Old Mexican||

    With LSD, I was able to see music and hear the colors... and it felt like felt feels like... cozy and fuzzy.

  • Irresponsible Hater||

    her presentation is so calm and nonthreatening that it is hard to imagine how anyone could perceive this drug as an intolerable danger to society

    Nonthreatening to who? I'd guess that demos like this, showing that a simple drink of the stuff can allow a typical housewife to have her reality busted in half and see entirely new dimensions of reality is exactly why this was not put forward as the face of LSD, and that it probably was a danger to 1950's society, such as it was. I mean, wasn't it?

    Reminds me of Pleasantville (especially the black and white vs color dynamic), and the friggin' Matrix.

  • Robert||

    I agree with that assessment, and it surprises me Jacob would even ask the question, "Had hers been the public face of LSD in the '60s, would it still have been banned?"

  • JSinAZ||

    I agree with this as well. Remember that there was a zeitgeist at the time that included brainwashing for geo-political purposes (think Bundist, Communist, Rosecrucian, etc.) so the tension is from the appearance of induced change in this woman. That she was so normal-seeming before and so effuse afterwards about the experience would have only increased the creepout factor for your standard model voter in the '50s and '60s.

  • R U Experienced||

    I'm convinced that the true motto of the DEA is "If it's fun, it must be Schedule I"

  • ||

    Definitely one of the most fun drugs out there. I love the fractals and colors.

  • stoopid joke alert||

    a sense of transcendence, oneness, and ineffability

    I dunno, she looks effable to me - despite that hairdo.

    Anyway, I'd like to see the video about six hours into her trip when she's all "Okay, I have to drive home and cook dinner now, when does this shit end?"

  • Wind Rider||

    Yeah, setting is important. My experience involved a hammock and the sensation of becoming part of a thousand mile long forming droplet headed towards the center of the planet. Kinda put me off from trying it ever again.

  • SIV||

    Had hers been the public face of LSD in the '60s, would it still have been banned?

    Perhaps sooner.

    100 mikes was kind of a low dose back in antiquity wasn't it?

  • ||

    I considered 200 - 300 µg the best dose.

  • ||

    I used to trip. A lot. Almost every weekend for a couple years. I had loads of fun, no bad experiences and occasionally found it useful for self examination though most of the time it was just entertainment. Sore side and face muscles the next day caused by excessive laughing and smiling were the only negative side effects I can report.

    I never saw God, confused a hallucination with reality, had a "bad trip" or a flashback (I'm unconvinced they really occur).

    For most people in is a relatively benign drug, yet I still do not recommend its use to people with a tenuous grasp on reality.

    Naturally I support legalization.

  • Pip||

    I had one flashback two years after taking it (referenced below).

  • Paul||

    LSD or Shrooms?

    I found the experience of shrooms markedly different from that of LSD, even though on the surface they were similar, and the experience of shrooms was not very pleasant (for me) unlike that of acid.

  • I think||

    Some of the tight-asses in the present administration should drop a tab -- kind of a free your mind and your ass will follow thing. As long as they don't get behind the wheel.

  • question||

    Did it have a bad effect on your skin? I recall it causing me to break out.

  • Tim||

    Like this.

    http://www.hallucinogens.com/lsd/francis-crick.html

  • ||

    "Had hers been the public face of LSD in the '60s, would it still have been banned?"
    Any new intoxicant will be greeted by hysteria by a large segment of the population. Yep. It would have still been banned.

  • ||

    Jeez, I've had some good fun on acid and shrooms, but I never had that extreme of an experience, even on really clean shit.

  • Pip||

    I was given two hits of strawberry barrels when I was 14, back in about 1971. It was my first time ever high on anything, so it really sucked ass. But one of the many things I still recall from that night was that no matter where we went, I thought that I knew everybody.

  • Prohibition Kills||

    Tripping kicks ass. It just takes too long nowadays and I don't have that kind of time.

  • Lowdog||

    I've had me some experiences on LSD before, and it can get pretty heady. Especially the one time where I took waaay more than I probably should have, and everything fractalised with a kind of video-gamey, synthesized swwwwoooosh! sound as it did so. That was a sweet trip. (Around 1995)

    I think it would have still been banned, because people are afraid of others having such amazing, mind-expanding experiences. Although maybe if more people had been exposed to it in a manner like this housewife, it could have caught on...

    That's why I support the folks at MAPS, because I think that MDMA, LSD, and other psychedelics can be highly beneficial to many people.

  • Almanian||

    Cool. One "bad trip", ever (I think it was microdot? who can remember 30 years later) - all the others were fucking GREAT.

    I've thought about doing it again WHEN I RETIRE! That seems VERY humorous and incongruous to me...but I wanna do it. As others have noted, I don't have the time now, with a job, to wait to come down...whenever that might be....:)

    Youth is misspent on the young, ain't it :)

  • Steve||

    Yea, take a drug that may or may not be fun?

    I'll stick with glue, thanks.

  • Or gasoline...||

    the poor person's glue..

  • Ramones||

    Carbona not glue!

  • socalspliffmaster||

    someone should really pay to have her reaction played as a commercial on tv

  • Jason S. ||

    Had hers been the public face of LSD in the '60s, would it still have been banned?

    That's an interesting question. I think it would've still been banned.

    There's a scene in Joan Didion's "Slouching Towards Bethlehem" where she decribes a house in the Haight-Ashbury where parents (a housewife?) has given their toddler LSD. It's a disturbing, unstable scene.

    Although Didion is a witness of the mid-late '60s, I can't help but see a little bit her book in the clip of this '50s housewife experience.

    But that's not to say that LSD shouldn't be legal or that it can have therapeutic value. (In my opinion, fire waters have the same, if not more, detrimental effects on individuals and families than other mind altering substances.) I think there's always going to be a nervous unknown with something like this. I'm glad it's illegal. I hope we bring back prohibition on alcohol too.

  • JSinAZ||

    Lowly proles just cannot be left to their own devices and must be carefully tended by the State to become useful units.

  • ||

    I look back at the time I spent getting high and I think, "What a colossal f-ing waste of time."

  • Robert||

    So, Jacob, time for you to answer: What made you think testimony like this would've made it any less likely LSD would've been classified similarly to the way it was in actual history? We know you did an entire book on stories of "normal" people's illegal use of intoxicants, with an eye as an author toward making their use more acceptable -- which book I still haven't read -- but what makes you think anything about this type of account would've had that effect in a world where LSD hadn't already had a lot of publicity?

  • FreeLibertine||

    I did a lot of LSD around 1989-1991 (it was going around my high school). I had that "Clear Light of Reality", intense bliss, overwhelming sense of oneness experience. And that was without ever reading any Timothy Leary.

    Best drug I've ever taken.

  • ||

    I had a handful of shroom trips in college -- some of which were beyond euphoric, and some of which were terrifying. I hope to trip again at some point in the right circumstances.

    But to be honest I never once heard about anybody who had a line on some acid during my years in college (2002-2006). I'd be interested in reserving a weekend and dropping some, but I've never once been offered it.

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