Chapter 7. Mushrooms and Timothy Francis Leary
Fig. 12. John W. Allen and Timothy Leary
Psychedelic Symposium, 1994
After an exciting non-conformist childhood, in August of 1940, Tim, as his father had done before him, entered West Point--a mistake if there ever was one. Because of Tim's shenanigans (drinking and covering up his actions), he was court-martialed and in two minutes of judgment Tim was acquitted. However, his sentence was total silence by his fellow cadets, a silence which lasted for more than seven months. During this period, Tim was constantly harassed and by August of 1941 he had decided to resign his commission from West Point (Leary, 1983).
In August of 1941, Tim began his study of human behavior at the University of Alabama with psychology as his major, yet by the fall of 1942, Tim was expelled for sexual misconduct and because of his expulsion he lost his draft deferment. In January 1943, Tim reported for basic training at Fort Eustis, Virginia where he was trained in anti-aircraft artillery. After basic training, Tim was selected for Officer's training and before too long Tim was promoted to corporal and assigned to the Acoustic Clinic as a clinical psychologist. After five years in the military, Tim and his new wife Marianne moved west and in 1946, Tim finally received his master's degree in psychology from Washington State University. His thesis was a statistical study of the dimensions of intelligence. In September, Tim was accepted as a doctoral student in psychology at Berkeley. It was at Berkeley where Tim began to foster his ideas on existentialism.
By 1959, Tim had become somewhat successful yet was sufficiently broke. He was the author of numerous scientific papers and two well-regarded books on the diagnosis of personality and had just finished typing a manuscript on new humanist methods for behavior change which he called Existential Transaction. Tim was living in a penthouse in Florence, Italy when he was visited by an old drinking buddy from Berkeley, a creativity researcher named Frank Baron. It was Frank who first told Timothy of the Sacred Mexican Magic Mushrooms. Frank even told Timothy that he had brought a bag of the sacred mushrooms back to Harvard. Timothy balked at the idea of the mushrooms and suggested to his friend about the possibility of losing his credibility if he babbled this information to any of his other colleagues. It was Frank Baron who set up an appointment for Tim with David McClelland, Director of the Harvard Center for Personality Research. McClelland was interested in Tim's ideas of existentialism, saying to Tim that "You're just what we need to shake things up at Harvard."
In the summer of 1960 (August), Timothy Leary began his lectureship at Harvard University. This began yet another colorful and exciting chapter in the history of the divine and sacred mushroom. Leary had read R. Gordon Wasson's amazing account recalling his rediscovery of "mushrooms that caused strange visions." This Life magazine article had apparently generated Leary's interest enough so that he wished he could someday experience the effects of the Mexican "magic mushrooms".
Because of Leary's interest in the sacred mushrooms as an adjacent to psychotherapy, clinical applications were soon brought to the academic scene and psilocybin became a new therapeutic tool in psychiatric medicine. This course would soon lead to the widespread recreational use of other drugs such as LSD, mescaline and marijuana, all of which were readily available to students, especially undergraduates, at Harvard University. Such use became pandemic, soon leading to mass civil disobedience in many large metropolitan cities throughout America. All of a sudden, millions of citizens throughout the United States started to take drugs. Eventually, interest and use of psychedelic drugs spread to other countries throughout the world.
While the use of these substances caused no mental or physical problems among those in academic circles where users reported that they experienced euphoria, insight and an awareness of God, there were many new unguided "trippers" who experienced severe dysphoria---resulting in what became known as a "bum trip" or "bad trip". It was because of the "bad trips" resulting from the frivolous use of LSD which eventually led to the prohibited use of these substances by mainstream society's law-making legislature. The death of TV host Art Linkletter's daughter who jumped from a window while high on LSD led the country into a mass hysteria, and many states as well as the Federal Government soon passed legislature banning the use, manufacture and sales of LSD and many other natural entheogenic plant substances. Years later Art Linkletter changed his attitude about many drugs and even felt that marijuana should be legalized.
"Timothy Francis Leary holds the honor as the man most responsible for the creation of a new era by which mankind used psychoactive substances in search of neo-religious ideologies through the consumption of certain psychotropic herbs/plants."
-- J. W. Allen, "Mushroom Pioneers" (2002)
Because of a few individual dysphoric reactions which occurred in individuals who had ingestion psychoactive drugs, many new laws were created and voted upon, mostly out of fear by legislators who enacted new and harsh drug laws in ignorance---laws which would specifically curb the illicit use of drugs among common citizens of America. This occurred quite hastily in order to pacify the law-enforcement agents who had no real knowledge of drugs. This might cause one to ask, "How can a just society create unjust laws that make criminals out of its citizens?"
These unjust laws eventually brought forth a new breed of American citizens, young and old alike, from all walks of life, including law-enforcement officials. These laws also brought forth an unreal form of civil disobedience, where millions of citizens decided that they were not afraid of being arrested and sent to prison just because they felt that they were within god's right to smoke a joint, eat peyote or consume a sacred mushroom, or any of the other drugs/plants which society deemed to be unacceptable.
Nowhere in any other society or culture in the history of the world have millions of people so blatantly disobeyed the law with such ill-respect as in regards to the drug laws of America. If one is caught breaking these sanctions then that person is liable to prosecution and may be punished for his or her beliefs. Many casual users of entheogenic drugs/plants believe that the plants let them achieve a oneness with god. It must never be forgotten that, when Wasson (1957), Schultes (1978), Leary (1968), and Weil (1980) first experienced the majesty of spirit communion with mushrooms, many of the natural drug-plants were not illegal and that their initial exposure caused a reaction which brought unto them a symbiotic relationship with the magical plant and the true meaning of life. We must never forget that many different species of entheogenic plants were not illegal until the late 1960's and their existence was shared only by an elitist academic segment of society, who for many decades had kept their knowledge sacred and only shared it with their close friends or colleagues.
Under discussion are some of the factors which led to the popularization of hallucinogenic drugs, mushrooms included. The first clue regarding this domino effect, common among those people who have formed a sacred communion with entheogenic healing plants, comes from word of mouth among friends, the public press, drug sub-culture publications, television and Timothy Leary---who was the first person to bring the mushrooms, their effects and their benefits to the attention of the academic public.
While Wasson and his colleagues introduced us into the fascinating world of the "magic mushrooms," it was Leary who introduced us into the "psychedelic" age. He shared his special knowledge with the world. What else could he do once the mushrooms had spoken to him? "Tune in, turn on, drop out" found meaning with many. It became the creed of a whole generation. Imagine that, the beneficial and euphoric rewards of "mind-tripping" into the subconscious, what a trip. Fantastic journeys through the mind. By the early 1970's, President Richard Milhous Nixon had referred to Timothy Leary as "the most dangerous man in the world."
Leary's First Voyage
Fig. 13. Tim Leary
Chapman University, 1994
Leary was waiting for Gerhardt Braun, an anthropologist-historian-linguist from the University of Mexico. Braun was a frequent visitor to Leary's villa, and he had read of the mushrooms while translating ancient Aztec Nahuatl texts. His growing interest had aroused something within him, definitely causing him to want to experience the wondrous mushrooms. After a short period of time Braun learned that the so-called "magic mushrooms" could be found growing on the volcanic slopes of Toluca near the village hamlet of San Pedro.
However, it was on the streets of San Pedro, under an arch in the local market, that Gerhardt Braun finally purchased a bag of "magic mushrooms" which he had obtained from an elderly sun-baked Señora named "Old Juana." So, Braun, very excited, then called Leary at the villa in Cuernavaca to inform him that at last he had finally purchased some "magic mushrooms." Leary had first heard of the mushrooms from his friend and colleague Frank Baron. In Baron's own words, "And so I commended the mushroom to the attention of a colleague of mine at Harvard University, Dr. Timothy Leary, who was an active practitioner of group therapy. He [Leary] became interested in its possibilities as a vehicle for inducing change in behavior as a result of the altered state of consciousness that the drug produces (Baron, 1963)." Thus began the "psychedelic age" as Leary and several of his friends would participate in their first communion with the sacred mushrooms of Mexico.
As Leary consumed the fungi (seven mushrooms, Psilocybe caerulescens Murr.), he complained of their somewhat bitter and acrid taste with no impending comprehension as to what was about to happen to him. He never thought for one minute that it would forever change the course of his life.
"You are never the same after you've had that one flash glimpse down the cellular time tunnel. You are never the same after you've had the veil drawn."
-- Timothy Leary, "High Priest" (1968)
Later, Leary's friend and colleague Richard (Baba Ram Dass) Alpert, also from Harvard, had flown down to Mexico and offered Leary a ride back to Massachusetts. Leary decided to share with his friend some comments concerning his mushroom experience by describing to Alpert his most recent ecstatic and religious experience while under the influence of the metaphoric fungi. Leary claimed that "I was whirled through an experience which could be described in many extravagant metaphors but which above all and without question was the deepest [most] religious experience of my life" (Leary, 1968, 1983).
Alpert's response to Leary's experience came as a shock, since neither person had attained much knowledge in the field of psychoactive drugs. However, Alpert was familiar with the "tea" scene (the use of marijuana and hashish) and related to Leary his impression of the drug marijuana by mentioning that there were cults of beatniks and Bohemians in San Francisco who used hashish and marijuana in dark corners of jazz houses and other nightclubs. They did this in secret out of fear of being arrested for their illicit activities. Alpert even went on to refer to this practice as "cultic." At the time of this conversation, very little research had been conducted involving humans and psychedelic drugs. These comments by Leary and Alpert in the fall of 1960 appeared to be their only knowledge of drugs and drug use. This occurred approximately two to two and a half years before Leary had consumed his first tablet of Sandoz LSD. Of course, it should be mentioned that there were numerous sessions of drug therapy being conducted at Harvard where researchers in a controlled environment gave LSD, mescaline, marijuana, hashish and DMT to student volunteers.
For several years after Leary first consumed the sacred mushrooms in Cuernavaca, he had been offered LSD but was afraid to experiment with it (Metzner, 1970). The mushroom trip which Leary had experienced would soon trigger a series of events during the next few years, events which would lead to the massive popularization of many mind-altering drug/plants. Leary eventually came to prosthelytize the use of mind-altering chemicals and his advocacy of these drugs played a central role in their re-emergence into western civilization. The use of these drugs was like a religious revival, a revival of people from all walks of life, who would soon become willing pawns in the psychedelization of mind-altering drug/plants. These innocent pawns would soon began to experiment with many varieties of entheogenic drug/plants and use them as sacraments and as a new form or type of recreation. Leary's eminent concern of course would be to use these substances as adjacents to psychotherapy. Soon research grants were sought and applied for and eventually approved. Leary soon began to conduct laboratory experiments with human subjects in controlled environments, all within the framework of the law. It should be mentioned that when Leary conducted this research, most, if not all of the drugs he utilized, were legal at the time, possibly with the exception of peyote (mescaline) and marijuana.
The Harvard Psilocybin Project and Marsh Chapel
Leary's first experiments using what became known as psychedelic drugs involved prisoners at the Concord Massachusetts Reformatory for Men. At first, Leary earned public acclamation among his peers and colleagues at Harvard by opening the door into a new and somewhat mystical dimension and an unusual approach to psycho-therapeutic research.
A new adventure and chapter into the often mysterious subconscious mind of man was about to formulate into existence, a concept in therapy that would shake the very foundation of an established Christian-orientated society. A society which would not condone mankind's intellectual use of mind-altering drugs as a way of life.
One of the most important factors which evolved from Leary's research with psychoactive substances was that Leary created an atmosphere where, because of him, millions of individuals began to use hallucinogenic drugs for purposes other than spirituality, healing or divination. However, who is to say that one's experience under the influence of such drugs is not of a religious nature? This frivolous use of mind-altering drugs created an overall negative attitude amongst the ruling class and legislative branches of the government. They were apparently afraid that these drug/plants would enable users to expand their natural minds into a more flexible opened mind and a new way of thinking--a way of thinking which was definitely not adherent within society's moral turpitude and Christian way of living.
Leary also began to turn friends on to these mushrooms and felt that theses sacred mushrooms should only be used by gifted people. Allen Ginsburg ate mushrooms at Leary's home in Millbrook, took off all his clothes and then ran naked from Leary's home.
He was not to be seen for more that a few months. Leary also turned on many other gifted people to the mushrooms during the early and middle 1960's (Koestler, 1960).
Leary first began his program of therapeutic mushroom use by placing an order with Sandoz Pharmaceuticals in Basil, Switzerland, for the mushroom pills known as "indocybin". Leary had no comprehension that his work with hallucinogenic drugs as an adjacent to psycho-therapy would ever become as popular as it did.
On the day Leary received his first batch of "indocybin" pills, he was at his home in MillBrook and his friends soon encouraged him to return to his office at Harvard to retrieve the pills. Leary and his friends had decided that if they were to attempt to use these pills on human subjects then maybe they should try them first. Before the night was over, Leary and several of his friends had somehow managed to consume the entire vial (100/ 2 mg. pills) of "indocybin". This caused Leary to then re-order another vial of the mushroom pills. It took several weeks for the pills to arrive, giving Leary enough time to prepare his group of researchers to begin implementation of his program. Leary, like María Sabina, also believed that the mushroom pills were no different in effect than the actual mushrooms which he had consumed while vacationing in Mexico (Leary, 1968).
During 1961 (Leary, Litwin & Metzner, 1963; Leary, 1968), and the following academic year, Leary and Jonathan Clark worked an intensive tightly structured program involving several small groups comprised of inmates from the Concord Massachusetts State Reformatory for Men. The experiments conducted by Leary and his colleagues on prisoners in this institution gave the psychopharmacologists a new insight into each prisoner's mind and life (Leary, 1961e).
One of the primary goals set in the Harvard psilocybin research projects which used LSD, mescaline and psilocybin as an adjacent to psycho-therapy, was to set goals for the prisoners so that upon their release from prison they would be better able to adjust their lives--both physiologically and psychologically--back into society.
Another goal was to help the prisoners by changing their aggressive thinking disorders which originally caused them to be put in prison. It would appear that the ultimate goal of Leary and his associates would be to change these unhappy thinking anti-social individual souls into happy peaceful loving citizens who, upon release from prison, would end up becoming more productive members of society.
The end results of these early experiments using human subjects were quite satisfactory, but inconclusive as far as prison officials were concerned. The program was abruptly halted because of the adverse publicity which surrounded Leary and his use of consciousness-expanding drugs on human volunteers. Thirty-four-years later, follow-up studies to Tim's experiments at Concord were conducted and the results published (Doblin, 1999-2000; Leary, 1963; Leary, 1969; Leary & Metzner, 1968; Metzner, 1999-2000; Metzner & Weil, 1963; Riedlinger & Leary, 1994).
Another interesting aspect to Leary's approach to psychoactive substances occurred when Leary administered psilocybin pills to a pregnant woman. Leary provided this subject with psilocybin every two weeks during the woman's pregnancy until her delivery. Leary continued to do follow-up research on the woman for about one year after the child was born. Both the woman and child suffered no ill effects from the consumption of the mushroom pills. The mother did experience some nausea with vomiting while under the influence of the mushroom pills, but no other uncomfortable, unpleasant, or undesirable effects were noticeable or reported during the experience (Leary, Litwin & Metzner, 1963). Other studies by JWA in 1976-1977 (unpublished notes) indicate that severe nausea does occur from the consumption of psilocybin- containing mushrooms if taken during pregnancy and if taken with alcohol. Furthermore, no one should ever, under any set of circumstances, take any drugs when pregnant unless prescribed by a physician.
Another well-publicized experiment occurred in a University Chapel in Boston on the evening of Good Friday 1962. It was here that twenty theology students took part in Walter Pahnke's Psilocybin experiments. Ten students were given 30 mg. of psilocybin and ten others were giver 200 mg. of nicotinic acid, laced with a small amount of Benzedrine to stimulate the initial physical sensations attributed to a psychedelic experience.
This experiment became know as "The Miracle of Marsh Chapel". During the following six months after this experiment, researchers collected extensive data which included tape recordings, group discussions, follow-up interviews and a 147 - item questionnaire used in quantifying the characteristics of a psychedelic experience (Stevens, 1987c, d; Leary, 1961c, 1961d; Koestler, 1961; Roberts & Jesse, 1998).
Eventually, Tim was fired from Harvard for failure to attend his lectures. Interestingly, it was partially the fault of Harvard Crimson reporter Andrew Weil that brought Tim Leary his walking papers. Weil had been reporting on Tim's extra-curricular activities involving the giving of drugs to undergraduates which resulted in the firing of both Tim and his friend and colleague Richard (Baba Ram Dass) Alpert (Unsigned, 1963a, 1963b).
Years later, John Lennon and Yoko Ono wrote Tim that they had written a song during their Toronto bed-in in Tim's honor. The song: "Come Together".
In June of 1996, Tim Leary passed away and in March of 1997, one gram of Timothy Leary's cremated ashes, along with the ashes of "Star Trek's Gene Roddenberry and 23 others, was launched into space via a satellite and is now part of the universe.
As a final word regarding some of the early research involved with hallucinogenic mushrooms, the author remembers hearing a story which circulated during the early 1970's which indicated that Sandoz laboratories in Mexico allegedly received a grant to study psilocybin.
They were supposed to manufacture a headache tablet to replace aspirin. According to this story, Sandoz could not produce a pill for headaches because they could not separate the visuals from the tranquil effects of the mushroom experience. It should be noted that this story has not been verified by the author. However, it would appear that if Sandoz had conducted such investigations, they could have made a mild pill which would have produced mild tranquillity in patients rather then a hallucinogenic visual experience.
Image 7: John's Logo For Mushroom John's Shroom World
Graphic Design: John W. Allen