Monday, February 12, 2007

LSD: The Beyond Within

The documentary embedded below is a two-part study of LSD, undertaken in 1986 by the BBC Documentary series "Everyman". This refreshingly frank and impartial study of the discovery and development of the notorious hallucinogenic drug is notably free of moral judgemment, and features contributions from such legendary heroes of psychedelia as Albert Hoffman - the Swiss scientist who discovered the drug in 1943 - Aldous Huxley - author of 'The Doors of Perception' - Ken Kesey - author of 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' - and a certain Lord Christopher Mayhew (more on his contribution in a moment.

The main question this documentary asks is whether the experiences of LSD users can make legitimate claim to being spiritual in nature, or whether this is just psychedelic delusion. Split into two parts, 'The Rise of LSD' and 'The Fall of LSD', the research starts at the beginning, with Albert Hoffman (pictured above), a Swiss research scientist who discovered the LSD-25 molecule when he accidentally ingested a dose of the drug in his lab. His experience made him think he was either mad or dead and already in hell, and he could think of nothing to do but retreat home and try to suffer through whatever he was experiencing. After a trip lasting around six hours, he returned to his senses, and it became clearer to him the type of discovery he had just made. After a couple of days convalescing, he returned to the lab, and revealed his discovery to his colleagues.

LSD was used in the '50s in number of guises, and it's startling to think of it being routinely prescribed in mental hospitals in the U.K. Although the tests were carried out in safe conditions, and the subjects were aware that they were being dosed with LSD in order to perhaps stimulate the unconscious mind, and aid them to relate blocked memories which may help their recovery, it is unsettling to note the scale on which the drug was used. Thousands of English mental patients were given the drug.

More alarming though, are the methods employed by the CIA to test LSD in the 1950's. Rather than testing on volunteers, the CIA tests were on unwitting subjects, which Hoffman warns of as the most dangerous way to administer the drug. Archive footage shows the effects of LSD on a military unit, as they attempt to march in formation after unwittingly ingesting a dose of LSD.

As the 60's rolled in, the LSD's popularity grew as a recreational drug, and its users identified with the spiritual side of the experience, as a means of getting close to nature, seeing things differently, or as Ken Kesey puts in, 'jarring the mind' into a new way of thinking. Intellectuals and artists such as Aldous Huxley - author of 'Brave New World' - used drugs such as LSD and Mescalin as a source of inspiration, and Huxley even made public his desire for the drug to be consumed on a wider scale. The growth of the 'psychedelic' movement promoted the use of LSD, and it's use continued to spread, among groups such as Timothy Leary's Millbrook movement on the East Coast (Turn on, tune in, drop out - Ed), and Ken Kesey's fun-loving West Coast band of psychedelic misfits.

Huxley's critics disputed the spiritual merit of the drug, pointing to the fact that true spiritual enlightenment cannot be attained 'on the cheap'. However, media and public interest in LSD reached a point in the early 60's that a politician by the name of Christopher Mayhew agreed to undergo an experiment, and for this experiment to be filmed by the BBC. This fascinating experiment involved his taking a dose of Mescalin in the company of a physician, and answerin certain basic brainteasers over the course of his little trip. The footage of his experience is extraordinary, as this eloquent upper-class Mr. Cholmondley-Warner-style aristocrat describes what he is experiencing under the influence of the drug, his eyes wide as saucers. Indeed, the footage proved too controversial for the BBC at the time, and was not shown until this Everyman documentary broadcast it in the 1980's. Interestingly, Mayhew, who in 1986 was a member of the House of Lords, watches the footage, 30 years later, and stands by his description of the experience. "I had an experience in time" he says, and his conviction is apparent.

The mystical side of LSD experiences is referred to constantly in the second half of the documentary. The experiment involving student priests in the U.S. is fascinating, and I will simply say you have to see it to believe it.

In 1968, Lyndon Johnson (LBJ) maded LSD illegal in the U.S., after a wave of negative media attention on the drug. Other countries around the world soon followed, and the psychedelic era didn't last very long once the element of criminality was attached.

Critics of the apparently mystical experiences of LSD point out that although these people thought they were on a journey, discovering new methods of thought, they were actually just dropouts. Hoffman himself has some of the last words in the documentary, claiming that, while he didn't believe his LSD experiences to be spiritual, he did believe that they represented 'another dimension to reality'.

In addition, the 'bad trip' side of LSD is also explored, and users of the drug relate negative experiences suffered while under the influence. These experiences are relayed with such intensity, despite the fact that they are describing pretty mundane events, such as getting a verbal dressing down from a stranger while under the influence, that the effect of such a 'bad trip' will not be under-estimated by the audience.

This is a truly excellent documentary, and I would encourage you to have a look at the link below. It's free, and let's face it, it's better than 'Celebrities Doing Stuff' or whatever pap's on TV this evening.

The verdict: they don't make em like this any more. Chilling, enlightening and thoroughly entertaining.
The rating: 9/10

Here it is, enjoy:


Cahony said...

Hi Paddy, I've edited my original post with the clip to mention your review and added your blog to our blog roll on In Fact, Ah. Great blog, keep up the good work!

PaddyC said...

Thanks Cahony, well done for finding that, it's a bit special alright!


Cuschino said...

Hi Paddy,
that's a great movie. Is it available for purchase anywhere? Or can I download it in a good quality? (the link did not work).
thanks and all the best

don said...

Great review PaddyC! I'm going to check out the doc right now based on your recommendation! Thanks

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