Do psychiatric institutions want to make people well?

from FLASHBACKS, an Autobiography by Timothy Leary (Published by Jeremy P. Tarcher ©1983, 1990 Timothy Leary.

MARCH 1961
HARVARD UNIVERSITY I walked through the first tall cellblock, across the prison yard to the hospital. Bell, peephole, metal hinges creaking. Entered the hospital. Knocked on the door of the prison psychiatrist. It opened and facing me was good news. The prison psychiatrist was black and definitely avant-garde. Hurray! Philosopher Thomas Kuhn said that when you wish to introduce change-technology to a culture, you’ll find your best allies among the outsiders, those whose alienation from the establishment makes them more open to change.

Aside from being a black psychiatrist Dr. Jefferson Monroe [Madison Presnell] stood out in the primitive period of 1961 as another kind of rarity—a sophisticated psychiatrist. Impeccable, graceful, hip. He had a twinkle in his eye and a wise, cool way of looking at you. He was definitely ready for something neew.

A few days later Dr. Monroe paid a return call at the Faculty Club and then came to a staff meeting at the Center. We put him on the Harvard payroll as a consultant. The following Sunday he brought his wife over for cocktails.

“Your plan to teach prisoners to brainwash themselves is simply delicious. There’s even a slight chance you can pull it off. Do you know what that might mean?”

“A great boon to society,” I suggested.

Dr. Monroe crossed his legs gracefully and laughed. “My dear, you don’t really understand what you’re getting into, do you? Sooner or later you’re going to discover that law enforcement people and prison administrators have no desire to cut crime. They want more crime and more money to fight it. I’ll cover you from the medical and psychiatric end, but sooner or later, if your methods work they’ll start coming down on you. Reporters, bureaucrats, officials. ‘Harvard Gives Drugs to Prisoners!’ And you’re going to have to do the impossible. Cure prisoners with your left hand while you try to hold off the entire bureaucracy with your right. ”

“So what? If it works.”

“Being human, sooner or later you’ll make a teeny little mistake. One of your subjects will revert. ‘Harvard Drug Parolee Robs Bank.’ ”

 “As long as we do everything out front, no secrets,” I said, “we can make a few honest mistakes.”

“Maybe,” said Monroe. “Look, here’s the deal. I’ll back you all-out, until you goof. When they start coming down on you, exactly at that point I’ll have to protect my own pretty black ass. ‘Cause, I’m not you. I’m not the new Freud. So I’ll win with you, but I can’t afford to lose with you.”

On that basis we agreed on a plan: Monroe would line up volunteers in the prison population for the drug project and I’d line up Harvard graduate students willing to put their nervous systems on the line taking drugs with maximum security prisoners.

Hallucinogens Have Doctors Tuning In Again

Hot off the press from the New York Times. Talk of coincidences!

Scientists are taking a new look at hallucinogens, which became taboo among regulators after enthusiasts like Timothy Leary promoted them in the 1960s with the slogan “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” Now, using rigorous protocols and safeguards, scientists have won permission to study once again the drugs’ potential for treating mental problems and illuminating the nature of consciousness.

A. A., LSD, and SZ

Doctors Abram Hoffer and Humphrey Osmond had a pronounced biochemical approach to alcoholism and schizophrenia. Their research showed niacin (vitamin B3) was an effective treatment in combination with vitamin C and other B-vitamins. Bill W. and A.A. had taken a more spiritual approach to the understanding of alcoholism, which had been derived from the teachings of the Oxford Group (later renamed Moral Rearmament).

Bill W. was introduced to these doctors in the 1950s, initially because of their work using LSD and mescaline on their schizophrenic and alcoholic patients in Saskatchewan. In the case of alcoholics they noticed that many who had once experienced an attack of delirium tremens swore off alcohol for good. Hoffer and Osmond thought that if they introduced LSD under controlled settings to alcoholics, it would give them a taste of what was in store for them if they continued to drink.

Bill W. at first resisted the idea of giving alcoholics more drugs, but later changed his mind. His thinking was not what Hoffer and Osmond were thinking, though. “It was not the material itself that actually produces these experiences. It seems to have the result of sharply reducing the forces of the ego — temporarily, of course. It is a generally acknowledge fact in spiritual development that ego reduction makes the influx of God’s grace

Many psychiatrists at this time also acknowledged that a high percentage of alcoholics were also schizophrenics and reasoned that LSD was one way of shortening the long process of psychotherapy. I couldn’t agree more. Should we have to wait for a random chance encounter with God’s grace if there is some way we can experience it sooner?

The non-chemical experience that Chris has been undertaking recently with the sound shaman seems as close to LSD as you can get and still be legal. Chris tells me he feels happy, but he knows he doesn’t look especially happy and he is very unsure of what he wants. Chris these days reminds me of Aldous Huxley’s quote. “The man who comes back through the Door in the Wall will never be quite the same as the man who went out. He will be wiser but less cocksure, happier but less self-satisfied, humbler in acknowledging his ignorance but better equipped to understand the relationship of words to things, of systematic reasoning to the unfathomable Mystery which it tries forever, vainly, to comprehend.”

A.A. outside of Bill W. wasn’t keen to align itself with LSD. It was nonetheless a controversial drug and only became more so once it found its way into street use in the 1960s.

From ‘PASS IT ON’ The story of Bill Wilson and how the A.A. message reached the world, Alcoholics Anonymous World Service, Inc. 1984, pg. 383-385.