Did LSD change Britain?

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By Finlo Rohrer
BBC News Magazine

Sixty-three years ago the first acid trip was taken by an unwitting research chemist, Albert Hofmann, who has died at the age of 102. To its detractors LSD is perhaps the most dangerous drug in the world, but did its advent really change society in Britain and even the way we eat?

In 1965 something lurking under the meniscus of British society punctured the surface.

A man named Michael Hollingshead opened an office of the World Psychedelic Centre in Chelsea in central London. Having helped turn soon-to-be hippie guru Timothy Leary on to LSD, Hollingshead came on a mission of hallucinogenic proselytisation.

Albert Hofmann
Swiss research chemist for Sandoz
First created LSD in 1938
Accidentally absorbed LSD through fingers in 1943
Took deliberate higher dose “trip” three days later
Had hallucinatory bicycle ride
19 April 1943 now known by users as “bicycle day”
Believed in therapeutic use of drug

Soon musicians and artists were coming into regular contact with LSD. The rock historians still argue long and hard about the full extent of the effect LSD had on the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, Britain’s biggest musical exports.

But it’s hard to dispute the evidence of its impact in terms of psychedelic-inspired music, record covers, and even the commercial art of the time.

Before then LSD had been in Britain, but only in the hands of tiny groups of psychiatrists and military scientists. From 1965 onwards it suddenly came into the pockets and mouths of students,drop-outs, and “free thinkers”.

And soon it drew the attention of the authorities. By the summer of 1966, the home secretary had moved to ban it. It cropped up in court cases and four decades of newspaper opprobrium commenced. Over the years it has been blamed for poor mental health and numerous suicides and accidental deaths.

Today the government advice warns of the possibility of terrifying trips, vivid flashbacks and triggers for those susceptible to mental health problems.

But there were those in the 1960s and 1970s who felt that rather than being a mere dangerous recreational drug it was the spark for dramatic changes in British society.

‘Strait-laced culture’

This was the time of seismic shifts in sexual behaviour, the legalisation of homosexuality and abortion, the genesis of modern feminism and the green movement. To its defenders, LSD was part of the reason why the old ways of thinking could be challenged.

“British culture was extremely strait-laced in the 1950s – it was rigid and confined and everybody went to church. LSD blasted a hole right through the middle of that,” says Sue Hall, who was a student at Watford Art College when she first encountered LSD on a visit to London in 1966. Hall last took the drug at the 100th birthday celebrations for Hofmann in Switzerland.

For Gregory Sams and his brother Craig an LSD trip at Berkeley in California in 1967 provided an epiphanal moment that led them to London to spark a major change in British eating habits.

“It was as a direct consequence of my brother and myself taking LSD that we introduced natural and organic foods in the UK. At that point people were looking forward to the day we all live on vitamin pills. Today you can’t open a newspaper without reading about organic foods.”

After the trip Gregory and Craig thought long and hard about what people were eating. They decided they were fed up with a Western diet big on garish food dyes, additives and cheap meat. It changed their thoughts on a career.

“My brother said he would have been a US navy fighter pilot, I was thinking of being an oceanographer. LSD clarified you. It gives you that primeval uncluttered vision.

In 1968, Gregory and Craig set up the Seed restaurant in London and started trying to source organic food. Together they founded Whole Earth Foods.

‘Wider horizons’

Craig went on to be head of the Soil Association and to set up the chocolate company Green and Blacks. In 1982, Gregory is credited with inventing the vegeburger. Since then he has moved on to other projects including design and distribution of posters and T-shirts featuring fractal patterns and writing political works such as Uncommon Sense – the State is Out of Date. He continues to use LSD.

Paper bag
Visual and auditory distortion common
Hallucinations in some people
Pupils dilate
“Trip” can last eight hours or more
Delivered on paper or tablet
Class A drug in UK
Can provoke terror in users
Some users report fears over mental state
Can cause vivid flashbacks
UK government health advice says no evidence of permanent physical or psychological harm
Potential to trigger mental health problems in susceptible people
Implicated in a number of suicides and accidental deaths

“So many people made their breakthrough as a result of seeing wider horizons,” Sams explains.

For John “Hoppy” Hopkins LSD was enough to take him out of his world as a Fleet Street photographer into the orbit of stars like Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney.

“The effect of acid is to kick your frame of reference and give it a good old shake. People are never quite the same again.

“The effect of acid on me was to cause me to question the whole business framework. It caused me in the parlance of the time to drop out. I was making the press barons richer by working for them without being able to set my own agenda.”

To him there is a path to be traced from the sense of community generated by LSD to the social networking that is such a feature of today’s internet.

“One of the things that acid enabled was for us all to recognise we were part of the same tribe.

“Acid was like a tin opener or a Pandora’s box. Hofmann was as important as Oppenheimer and those other scientists who invented the atomic bomb…”

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One Response to Did LSD change Britain?

  1. Please see the view about related matter but from different angel at the Malaysian Tin Products Manufacturers’ Association (MTPMA) website

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