CIA

CIA Doses French Bread With LSD?

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Fifty years ago, as it turns out, according to the UK Telegraph:

In 1951, a quiet, picturesque village in southern France was suddenly and mysteriously struck down with mass insanity and hallucinations. At least five people died, dozens were interned in asylums and hundreds afflicted.

For decades it was assumed that the local bread had been unwittingly poisoned with a psychedelic mould. Now, however, an American investigative journalist has uncovered evidence suggesting the CIA peppered local food with the hallucinogenic drug LSD as part of a mind control experiment at the height of the Cold War.

Just something to think about for those who reflexively assume government agent's never do insanely unprovoked and irresponsible criminal acts. More details in the full story.

UPDATE: Author of a book on the French bread panic, Stephen Kaplan, thinks the CIA story doesn't hold up, with more details on the CIA' acid interests. At least two of Kaplan's points don't make sense–first of all, LSD is not at all highly toxic as he states, and baked goods are a perfectly common means of holding a liquid suspension of the drug, incredibly powerful at small doses. If he is correct in stating that the effects didn't kick in til a day or more after eating the supposedly laced bread, that is a telling point against the "dosed" theory.

UPDATE II: The evidence and arguments of commenter Anon in the comment thread below–more thorough and better reasoned than those of Kaplan as excerpted in the above link–convince me that the Telegraph story linked above is not true. But keep the discussion going!

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89 responses to “CIA Doses French Bread With LSD?

  1. Like, dude. Not cool.

    1. WTF on this article, Doherty.

      Drink!

  2. Never mind LSD. Who is responsible for the lead in the water in Washington, D.C.?

  3. Please don’t put comma’s in plural’s!!

    1. Oh, great. A grammar Na’avi.

      1. haha- do you mean nazi? I really dont see what the heck blue avatar ppl have to do with grammar rotfl, go to school!

    2. Please don’t put comma’s in plural’s!!

      ‘ != ,

  4. The timeline doesn’t work. Wouldn’t you try the controled experiments on individuals first – as they did from 53-65 – then move on to testing it on larger populations? Were they referencing the “Pont St. Esprit incident” as model? Why didn’t the Church hearings bring this up?

  5. I find this very hard to believe. I have never came across anyone who thought they could fly while under the influence of anything. If this is true they would have to been given extremely large doses to produce these kinds of hallucinations.

  6. …as part of a mind control experiment at the height of the Cold War.

    So take that, commies!

  7. Color me skeptical. It wouldn’t be the first time a writer made shit up in order to sell books. I note that no sources are actually named, and no copies of said inciminating documents are shown.

    Until he shows some hard documentary evidence, this has not better standing than the Hiroshima dud story.
    http://vanderbilog.blogspot.co…..ately.html

    1. Agreed. There was a definite ‘tin foil hat’ feeling to the story:

      “I spoke to someone who knew someone who worked at the place next door…”

      No identified sources, no documents.

      1. it on Reason. Is that a good source?;-)

  8. Or it could be ergot poisoning which just so happens to infect the raw ingredients that make the bread that was allegedly dosed with LSD. It also has the same effect. Which is more plausible, a massive government conspiracy or an accidental fungal food poisoning that has historic precedent?

    Of course ergot poisoning could just be a great cover story that the CIA leveraged to throw off suspicion.

  9. Some people are a bit skeptical:

    http://www.theatlanticwire.com…..h-LSD-2818

    http://www.boingboing.net/2010…..-went.html

  10. * face palm *

  11. The mass-poisoning whose symptoms began circa August 16, 1951 in Pont-Saint-Esprit, France most definitely wasn’t caused by LSD, let alone anything that was sprayed through the air.

    The poisoning was traced back to bread made by local baker Roch Briand. It didn’t affect people in the area generally, but only those who had eaten the contaminated bread. So Hank P. Albarelli, Jr.’s claim that the poisoning was due to “a covert LSD aerosol experiment directed by the US Army’s top-secret Special Operations Division at Fort Detrick, Maryland” can be definitely ruled out.

    Further, the symptoms of poisoning were incompatible with those of LSD’s effects. Symptoms began 6 to 48 hours after eating the contaminated bread. Whereas if it had been LSD, effects would have started to occur at about an hour for normal doses and sooner for massive doses (and sooner still for insufflation via aerosol spraying). Secondly, people haven’t died from even massive overdoses of LSD, unlike a number of people who died of convulsions from the mass-poisoning in Pont-Saint-Esprit. There has never been a unambiguous recorded human death from LSD overdose. The therapeutic index for LSD is among the highest known for any pharmacologically active substance. Physiologically speaking, it’s extremely safe.

    For a description of the symptoms of the Pont-Saint-Esprit victims by the physicians who treated them, see Gabbai, Lisbonne and Pourquier, “Ergot Poisoning at Pont St. Esprit,” British Medical Journal, Vol. 2, No. 4732, pp. 650-651, available for free on the National Center for Biotechnology Information website.

    Concerning U.S. Army scientist Dr. Frank Olson, an investigation in 1994 by a forensic team headed by Prof. James E. Starrs of George Washington University concluded that the overwhelming probability is that Dr. Frank Olson’s death was not a suicide but a homicide. Dr. Olson’s family have uncovered evidence that he was involved in lethal torture experiments and anthrax experiments under the C.I.A.’s Project ARTICHOKE, which later became Project MKULTRA. Oslon’s family believe that he became disillusioned with the military and was planning on quiting, and that the U.S. government murdered him as they considered him a risk regarding potentially revealing details of his work. For more on that, see the below items.

    Eric Olson, Ph.D., Stephan Kimbel Olson, Nils Olson, D.D.S., Lauren Olson and Kristin Olson, “Family Statement on the Murder of Frank Olson,” Frank Olson Legacy Project, August 8, 2002.

    Del Walters, “Army Scientist Killed by CIA?,” WJLA-TV (ABC 7 News, Arlington, Virginia), August 8, 2002.

    1. Smart and doesn’t post a name. A little bit intriguing.

    2. its possible but unlikely that it was contaminated with LSD. the most likely explanation is that food made from grains that were contaminated with ergot fungus caused this. throughout history there have been many very similar stories of mass hysteria caused by ergot, fungi from the genus Claviceps, getting into the food supply. ergot contains ergotamine and LSA (Lysergic Acid Amide) which are the precursors used to synthesize LSD. ergot and LSA themselves can cause LSD-like hallucinations and effects.

  12. This story reeks of bullshit. The author’s sources for this information are some scientists at fort detrick and a vague reference to a CIA document, not exactly a smoking gun if you ask me.

    According to this guy http://pipeline.corante.com/ar…..ut_lsd.php the symptoms exibited were more in line with ergot poisioning than with LSD (like burning sensations, death, gangrene). Also, the french (presumably) did an investigation of the incident and concluded it was ergotism, if we are to believe this guy, who is trying to sell a book, btw, then the french based their conclusion on, what, a guess? They didnt have any evidence to back up their conclusions? No tainted grain? No autopsy’s? No forensic work was done at all?

    Also, why do it in France? We know for a fact that the CIA did dose up people here in the US, what would be the purpose of potentially causing an international incident when they could just do it on some indians or blacks or soldiers or something? Also, why are we just now hearing about this, and not when the CIA came clean about all the MKULTRA stuff? Im calling bullshit on this one for sure.

  13. What next? Is Reason going to tell us the USPHS infected Black men with syphilis at Tuskeegee?

  14. Do a post on chemtrails
    it would be more legitimate

  15. So, what about blog posters who simply assume that because a newspaper breathlessly and credulously printed it, an “investigative journalist”‘s “evidence that suggests” something is automatically true?

    I’d expect slightly better from Reason than I would from the Telegraph.

    (SeeHere, comment #23, for some Calming Down.

    Also here.

    Importantly, LSD doesn’t cause burning sensations in the extremities*, while ergotism does.

    That seems to deeply and fundamentally undercut the “CIA LSD” claim, especially in the absence of independent verification of these “documents” that reveal the horrible plot sorta maybe kinda except not.

    * At least not in anyone I know who’s ever taken it, or in any reports in the literature on same.)

    I realize “CIA evil government bad!” is “too good to check”, but, sorry. They’re off the hook on this one.

    1. Sigivald is right and I was wrong—I did not do due diligence on the story before blogging it quickly. Apologies, and the post is updated to link to some of the factcheckers across the internet and draws attention to Anon’s thorough debunking.

        1. SIV, I knew I could count on your understanding and forgiveness.

          1. Take your punishment: No video games or Startrek reruns for a week.

      1. Kudos for a graceful mea culpa, Brian.

      2. I’m disappointed that you didn’t know that LSD hallucinogenic effect onset is about an hour, Brian. You never played pool until the balls started running trails and that’s when you knew your trip was starting?

      3. You must repent by writing an extensive debunking of the JFK and 9/11 conspiracy theories.

      4. Boy, it didn’t take time to Brian to retract. Too bad he doesn’t run the IPCC.

    2. * At least not in anyone I know who’s ever taken it, or in any reports in the literature on same.

      I, too, after an *extensive* literature and friend survey have also concluded that it doesn’t cause burning sensations.

      1. No burning, but if you stand in a creek bedded with pebbles, the current tossing them on top of your feet can feel like fish nibbling on your feet.

        1. Mr Grove, do you have a permit for your stone pedicure?

        2. Or, so you’ve heard …

  16. For a magazine called No, I mean, like, LSD in a Can, Dude. Y’know, like Pam? Sa-weeeeet!

  17. Does anyone here really think liberals have some history of not being properly suspicious of the CIA? Conservatives yes of course, but liberal? WTF? No good liberal would be shocked to hear the CIA would do something like this.

    1. We know you lefties love how WE RULE YOU LIKE A KING!

    2. Yeah, if it’s the CIA doing something bad, it MUST be true!

      I mean, can you believe this guy! LOL!

    3. C’mon. It was Abbie Hoffman that tried to contaminate the drinking water in Chicago with LSD in ’68.

      1. Naw, it was Max Frost dosing the D.C. water supply.

        Fourteen Or Fight!

        … Hobbit

        1. and a handful of Valiums couple of beers really do me right

    4. I agree that liberals are WAY TOO credulous of CIA conspiracy theories. They’ve got a burning need to believe everything evil about the US, and the CIA especially.

      One reason I read Reason is the thankful skepticism towards same. This article being a horrifying exception.

      Being skeptical of the size of government doesn’t mean you have to believe that it is secretly dosing us with mind control drugs, or ritually abusing small boys in secret child-prostitution rings.

      1. I was alluding to this “let this be a cautionary tale towards those who think the government would not harm them” line in the original post. My point is that regarding the CIA this certainly does not apply to liberals. As several of you note if anything liberals are far too skeptical of the CIA.

        1. Indeed. The way government harms people is generally far more banal than this kind of outright consiracy theory stuff.

          There are no grand plots to enslave and exploit the population. Rather, there are unintended consequences, and the corruptive effects of power, the abuse of it by petty bureaucrats and officials, and the generally oppressive effects of having a vastly powerful system swaying ponderously under the influence of the many interests that cater to it, and crushing lonely individuals in the process.

          I could point to the immigration system or eminent domain as examples of the latter. Some of the most oppressive aspects of our society are not the result of vast conspiracies, but the simple product of a powerful state acting in the interests of the people with the most influence.

          1. Agreed.

            In fact, I discovered, and started to appreciate reason.com after the Waco massacre, when one of their journalists said something like: “There was no conspiracy in Waco. The truth is more frightening: there was no NEED for a conspiracy.”

          2. There are no grand plots to enslave and exploit the population.

            That you know of. ;^)

          3. There are no grand plots to enslave and exploit the population. Rather, there are unintended consequences, and the corruptive effects of power, the abuse of it by petty bureaucrats and officials…

            I think that was basically the idea behind the movie Cube.

    5. > No good liberal would be shocked to hear the CIA would do something like this.

      You do realize that it was on Truman’s watch, right?

      -jcr

  18. Not that the CIA is not capable of making people crazy with bread and stuff. Oh, they can do it. They just choose not to.

  19. But keep the discussion going!

    Don’t tell me what to do.

    1. reply to this

      You neither!

  20. reply to this

    Shut up!

  21. You’re not the boss of me

  22. Boys, boys! Relax. Have a nice slice of bread.

    1. Say, thanks!

      Mmm. Nice texture – crunchy crust, chewy with just a hint of sourdough…

      Hey! Colors!

      1. Bwaa ha ha!

  23. Where is Cosmotarian Overlord to tell us we are all fools for believing in the CIA’s science and doubting the conspiracy?

    1. Riding the Orange Line, drinking champagne out of the leather boots of Orange Line party girls, being hand fed buttery LSD laced baguettes and playing Monte Carlo baccarat in the Orange Line gambling compartment. Life is good for the CosmoOverlord.

      1. I rode the orange line, and I can sure you there is no gambling compartment. As far as the party girls are concerned, I remain silent.

  24. Hmm… Poisoning people is a crime. If agents of a government poison citizens of another country, it’s an act of war. I wouldn’t put it past Harry Truman to murder a bunch of French citizens, but wouldn’t someone in the chain of command have put the kibosh on such a plan, or leaked it to DeGaulle?

    -jcr

    1. De Gaulle was not in power at the time.

      His party had not won the post war elections. He left politics, not returning until the formation of the Fifth Republic in 1958.

  25. Strange that no one has mentioned hallucinogenic truffles as the culprit.

    1. Now that, Pro Lib, is one oblique way to call the CIA pigs.

  26. Sorry, but a mass LSD dosing totally explains Jerry Lewis’ popularity over there.

    1. Well, that’s a valid point I hadn’t considered…

  27. Many years ago I read a great account of this by a lousy author (John Fuller) titled “The Day of St Anthony’s Fire”.

    Nothing else he ever wrote was any good, as far as I can tell, but this was a riveting story.

    1. Dr Duck, I have been meaning to ask if you’re are a quack? 😉

  28. It’s my understanding that hallucinogenic poisoning associated with the fungal contamination of bread isn’t entirely unknown to history.

    It’s my understanding that it’s been postulated that the Salem Witch Trials may have been caused by rye bread that was contaminated with the fungus from which LSD is derived, and that this is supported by children being among the first to start seeing visions, as they required smaller doses.

    Anyway, if that’s true, even if the symptoms were like LSD, it isn’t unheard of for people to get reactions like that via bread that’s contaminated with a fungus.

    …none of which means, of course, that the CIA wasn’t running whorehouses in San Francisco and New York as a cover for various mind control experiments using LSD in the early ’60s.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Midnight_Climax

    But how do talk about the CIA running whorehouses to do mind control experiments using LSD–presumably without the subject’s knowledge–without sounding like a Brazil Nut all covered in tin foil?

    1. Does talking about CIA-run LSD whorehouses need an excuse?

      1. No, I don’t suppose anyone needs an excuse to talk about the government’s secret program to put prostitutes on the CIA payroll and observe them through one way mirrors as they administered LSD to their unwitting Johns as part of a mind control experiment.

        I mean, which one is more outlandish? Operation Midnight Climax?

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Midnight_climax

        …or the plot of “Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!”?

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faster,_Pussycat!_Kill!_Kill!

        I think Operation Midnight Climax is farther out there than the Supercamp flick. …and yet apparently it’s true!

        So let’s cut Doherty some slack! Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. …and he didn’t say it was the absolute truth–he said it was being reported and provided the link.

        You’re absolutely right, why should anyone need an excuse to post about CIA LSD experiments on unsuspecting French people or in CIA run whorehouses?

        Check out the Kennedy quote on the Project MKULTRA page… Now you’ve got a Kennedy involved, which is a conspiracy industry all by itself…

        The truth is a freak out. There oughtta be a movie.

        1. What’s amusing to me, especially, is that LSD kind of IS a mind control drug. Only, it’s only useful if you need to make people insanely paranoid. Utterly useless if your goal is mindless conformity.

          And yet! The CIA actually manages to validate exactly the kind of insane theories that a person under the influence of LSD would find easily believable!

          1. Yeah, I used to over-think a lot of proposals, for this old boss I had. I’d stay up late at night for a week working on every conceivable angle about how we should sell the guy…

            We hardly ever used any of that ammunition. All it usually took were some Lakers tickets and a few beers.

            I’m sure the CIA’s tried that too. Actually, I’ve wondered if that might be a better approach with some of these Al Qaeda types…

            Sure, you can waterboard ’em on the one hand, but I wonder how that stacks up against home cookin’ and a little female companionship?

  29. I’m usually the last person to jump to the defense of the government, but this story is highly dubious. Besides the objections raised by others, LSD is easily destroyed by heat, which would make it very difficult to bake into bread. The gangrene and burning sensations in the extremities are consistent with ergotamine, a potent vasoconstrictor (that’s why it’s used to treat migraine) but not with LSD, which isn’t a vasoconstrictor, and has extremely low toxicity compared to the effective dose. Some of the tales in the article actually sound like recycled 1960’s LSD scare propaganda.

    I do believe that the government deliberately experimented on soldiers, mental patients, and others without their consent or knowledge with LSD and other drugs. This is absolutely intolerable and would be a very frightening experience to an unknowing and naive recipient.

  30. I also hear the CIA infected Africa with AIDS.

    Sheesh. Silliest post on Reason in recent memory.

  31. I wanted to go see Alice in Wonderland. Anyone know where I can get some French Bread?

    1. Go ask Alice.

      (Sorry, couldn’t help, too tempting…)

      1. That book freaked me out.

      2. Curiouser and curiouser!

  32. I don’t understand how this is possible.
    How did the CIA dose the bread? LSD is a very fragile chemical. Heat, sunlight,salt,excessive moisture (before you eat the tab) tend to destroy it. Quickly.
    You can drop liquid LSD into fresh bread and eat it, that would work. The ‘trip’ would only be delayed a few extra minutes…Maybe an extra hour on the outside, but not 2 days.

    You can’t cook LSD into bread, it’s not like making pot brownies. It wouldn’t work. The baking process would destroy the drug, pretty much utterly.

    Was there a CIA team with vials and an eyedropper going around to the French Bread shop dosing bread manually? Cause thas the only way this could be true, other than ergot poisoning.

    Ohh, and I agree with the other commenters that LSD doesn’t kill people and the stories of the ‘trips’ sounds closer to a delusional drug rather than a hallucinogenic one. Which sounds more like LSA, not LSD.
    LSA is alot more toxic, does kill people, does cause people to kill themselves, and does occur naturally.

    Don’t eat Morning Glory seeds kids.

  33. I don’t understand how this is possible.
    How did the CIA dose the bread? LSD is a very fragile chemical. Heat, sunlight,salt,excessive moisture (before you eat the tab) tend to destroy it. Quickly.
    You can drop liquid LSD into fresh bread and eat it, that would work. The ‘trip’ would only be delayed a few extra minutes…Maybe an extra hour on the outside, but not 2 days.

    You can’t cook LSD into bread, it’s not like making pot brownies. It wouldn’t work. The baking process would destroy the drug, pretty much utterly.

    Was there a CIA team with vials and an eyedropper going around to the French Bread shop dosing bread manually? Cause thas the only way this could be true, other than ergot poisoning.

    Ohh, and I agree with the other commenters that LSD doesn’t kill people and the stories of the ‘trips’ sounds closer to a delusional drug rather than a hallucinogenic one. Which sounds more like LSA, not LSD.
    LSA is alot more toxic, does kill people, does cause people to kill themselves, and does occur naturally.

    Don’t eat Morning Glory seeds kids.

  34. THE DAY OF ST. ANTHONY’S FIRE
    by John G. Fuller
    (New York: Macmillan, 1968)
    The book tells the true and tragic case of a French village suffering the effects of ergot poisoning, not in the Middle Ages, but in 1951. It builds very slowly at first as the author introduces you to the people of Pont-Saint-Esprit, a small village in the south of France. The author takes the time to gave you a feel of the place and time. Only then does he begin to follow the path of the suspicious, grayish flour as it’s baked into innocent looking bread. Then he takes you through the harrowing days as the mutant ergot works its strange effects on people.

    To be blunt, about 150 people go on an acid trip that doesn’t stop for almost three weeks.

    At a time when LSD was only a laboratory accident, the people of Pont-Saint-Esprit under went what in medieval times was called “the fire of St. Anthony”. Centuries ago, whole villages were swept up in a strange, religious fever and many people suffered from strange visions. Now, in the 20th century, it happened again. No one slept for days, most people walked about in a beatific haze, although some were straddled with strange compulsions and delusions. The worst cases went psychotic – screaming about the tigers that were eating them alive, or about the balls of fire shooting towards them. A few really believed they could fly and jumped out of second story windows trying to prove it.

    It’s also the story of the villagers trying to cope with the insanity that scorched their families, friends and themselves. It tells of the local doctors, afflicted with the ailment themselves who tried to treat those much worse off. It is also the story of a medical search for the culprit which was hampered by ignorance of the ergot and its effects. Lastly, it tells of a tragic miscarriage of justice when the victims tried to get compensation for their sufferings.

    The author interviewed a great number of the victims who survived the ordeal and from their stories he weaves his tale. Here was a village burning with an unknown ailment and struggling to keep working and living. As they wrestled with sleeplessness, strange or terrifying visions, and sometimes violent compulsions, they kept hold of family and friends. In the end sleep came, the hallucinations ceased, and the violent grew calm and were released from their straightjackets.

    Although a little slow-moving at the beginning, it is an interesting and moving story. Look for it your larger libraries. I got my copy when a school library was “cleaning house.”

    (Review copyright 1998 by J.C. James

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