Lysergic acid diethylamyde, or LSD has a fascinating and even clandestine history. Some of the facts you’ll read here you can find simply on Wikipedia, and some you won’t. During my own research of CIA activities during the ’60s and ’70s I discovered more that’s not as widely known.
LSD was not developed. It was discovered by accident by a chemist at Sandoz Labs, a European pharmaceutical company. He apparently left out a petri dish containing something (I’m no chemist, that part IS in Wikipedia) with rye as a catalyst, over a weekend. When he came back, he noticed a strange mold had formed in the dish. He made a classic chemist mistake; he touched it. After an hour he noticed he was not thinking clearly and hallucinating. He left the lab, went to a nearby park, and spent the next 12 hours lying on his back hallucinating.
He returned to the lab the next day to try to figure out what caused it. Thus lysergic acid diethylamyde was introduced. The company patented it as a potential psychiatric medication. That’s where the US CIA comes in. How they ever heard about it I never found out. But the chief of staff at Cornell Medical School was an advisor to them, and he was asked to investigate the new drug for use as a potential “truth serum” chemical, or something to reduce inhibitions of a subject to get them to tell what they otherwise wouldn’t. So he tried it himself. Yes, the chief of staff of Cornell was the FIRST American to “trip”. After that, he told the agency it needed further study.
At that point the agency contacted Sandoz and asked them to hide the existence of their new drug, in exchange for a $140,000 purchase of it, in bulk. It was around this time one of their most notorious, conspiracy theory riddled, and well known instances of their use of it occurred. They invited several agency executives and scientists to one of their retreat properties. While there, most were dosed without their knowledge. This only became well known because one of them went home, exhibited psychotic behavior, rented a hotel room and jumped out the window to his death. To this day, his family insists he was thrown out, has successfully(!) sued the agency for wrongful death, in order to cover up the whole “experiment”.
After that, the agency began mass testing. Using DC area college students (there are tens of thousands). They ran blind tests. Not double blind, just blind. With their own internal subjects (presumably foreign captures, this is still classified) they were more, shall we say, vigorous. This program was code-named MKULTRA. They quickly learned that the drug alone didn’t produce the desired effect. So they tried adding alcohol, even cannabis. Eventually it was determined not to be of use for what they wanted, and that part of the program was abandoned.
Now all the college students involved in the mass study were of course required to sign non-disclosure agreements. But do you think that’s going to stop a good deal from telling their friends about the “awesome”, “life-changing”, or “spiritual” event they had experienced with some mystery drug testing the CIA had them undergo? Word spread like wildfire. No one is exactly sure how the drug made it to the black market, since as far as they knew, the CIA owned virtually all of it. Sandoz had promised not to make any more of it. But it’s likely they grew tired of waiting for some new bulk order from them and began production of it again. Again, for “psychiatric uses.
The drug had its heyday in the ’60s and ’70s as we all know. Then you could buy VERY pure amounts of it. Steve Jobs is widely known to have used more than his fair share. Some even speculate it played some part in his early product ideas. Who knows. I’ve tried very weak forms. They had little effect. I’ll always be on the lookout for a good form that will allow me to experience what millions have already.
UPDATE: There is MUCH more to this story. I’d refer you to the book in particular about CIA activities pertaining to LSD, but, big surprise, it’s out of print. I remember the author was a former executive director of the CIA (not the director, one step beneath) named Albert Marchetti. You’d probably have no problem finding it in any public library. In addition, you’ll find the “filler” details on the gentleman who ‘lept’ to his death on Wikipedia, I’m sure. Look there for chemistry, and other facts about LSD.