October 6, 1966, at the dawn of the Summer of Love. San Francisco’s youth is on fire. Some come from Palo Alto, others from Los Angeles. Even the date, 10/06/66, is not chosen at random: the holy 666 will free them from oppression.
They meet in the cradle of the Flower Power: the Haight-Ashbury district. An uninterrupted flow runs through the streets, pounding the pavement towards the Golden Gate Park. The big garden is full to bursting point; a thousand, two thousand, three thousand people… one couldn’t say. The ground shakes under the steps of the crowd and the vibrations of the guitars. All are gathered for the Love Pageant Rally, a concert protesting against the LSD ban.
Despite all their good will — and their level of high — their action will remain in vain…. A little over 50 years later, what is our society’s relationship with blotters?
From laboratories to Hollywood
In search of a neurological stimulant, LSD is born in 1938 under the hands of the Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann. From the beginning, the substance is associated with a medical context and is intended to treat psychiatric illnesses. Even its inventor, who tests its effects himself, first considers its action too powerful for recreational use. Note the “first”.
Its benefits are quickly perceived as miraculous. The three magic letters cure depression, alcoholism, smoking… Originally a medication, they inevitably become a drug, with the advantage of not creating any real addiction. From Jack Kerouac on the road with his Beat Generation friends, to Aldous Huxley and his science fiction novels, they first seduce intellectuals, then icons like Cary Grant who get a prescription from a charismatic doctor in Beverly Hills.
However, LSD is still consumed discreetly, and it is difficult to do so without a medical intermediary. The situation really changes with Timothy Leary, professor at Harvard and dealer. Believing strongly in his product, and wanting to test it on a large scale, he floods the black market. A passionate, he even creates the League for Spiritual Discovery, or “LSD”. Thanks to him, hippies can finally enjoy the cosmic journey… and they are not alone. The phenomenon is such that Hollywood devotes several films to it, including the precursor Hallucination Generation. LSD is almost mainstream.
LSD and ADSL
Despite the 1966 ban, LSD continues to flourish until the mid-1970s. Exhausted by police surveillance and urban legends — some accusing it of altering the genetic code — it eventually withdraws from the public.
It is to the techno culture that we owe its re-emergence. From the end of the 80’s to the 90’s, the concept of rave took hold. At a time when synthetic drugs are not very common, it carves out a special place for itself on squares of coloured paper. Although nowadays MDMA and ecstasy have overtaken LSD, it is still an integral part of this universe.
However, nothing would have been possible without the action of another group of marginalized people: the geeks. While Steve Jobs defines his discovery of LSD as “one of the most important experiences of[his] life”, the myth also persists in the Silicon Valley and on the internet. It even evolves to the invention of microdosing: taking low doses to take advantage of the energy and concentration the substance brings, without seeing a single pink elephant. A few drops in your green smoothie, and you’re ready to face the day.
Social networks also offer exposure to aficionados. Convinced spiritualists, they play with Twitter and the hashtag #psychedelicbecause, organize themselves in associations, have their own dating sites and manage to influence the progress of medicine. On Google, the number of LSD-related searches has doubled in two years. Has the time for a “psychedelic coming out” arrived? •
This article is part of the #21 — Life on acid series
(Gif via Giphy)