'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?