Paging Doctor Leary

Anyone who came of age during the cultural upheaval of the 1960’s and 1970’s, will likely recall the name and exploits of Dr. Timothy Leary.  An accomplished Harvard professor and researcher, he was well known for his advocacy of mind expansion drugs, with his hallucinogen of choice being LSD (Lysergic Acid Diethylamide).  Leary was also well known for his signature exhortation that we should all: “Tune In … Turn On … and Drop Out.”

When his college research with LSD was discredited by lack of scientific rigor and his failure to adhere to established protocols, Leary was banished from academia.  Not to be dissuaded, in 1966, he founded the League for Spiritual Discovery (LSD) and proclaimed it a church.  He also declared the holy sacrament of his church to be … wait for it … LSD.

Interestingly enough, LSD has been around since 1938.  Though considered, at one time, to be potentially beneficial in treating alcoholism and various psychiatric conditions, its widespread recreational use in the 1960’s resulted in prohibition (See Leary, Timothy).  Nevertheless, Leary continued to urge us to expand the capabilities of our minds through the use of LSD, a position which resulted in his being pursued, arrested, imprisoned and otherwise excoriated.

LSD (also known as “acid”) was, of course, in evidence at the Woodstock Festival in 1969.  In one memorable statement, a stage announcer named Chip Monck (yes, his real name) warned the assembled masses:  To get back to the warning that I’ve received, you might take it with however many grains of salt you wish, that the brown acid that is circulating around us is not specifically too good. It’s suggested that you do stay away from that. Of course it’s your own trip, so be my guest.

Now, here is where it gets really awkward … despite all the bad publicity at the time, Leary may have actually been on to something! 

Some recent and closely controlled studies seem to show that, in very small doses, LSD may, indeed, be of some medical benefit.  According to researchers, hallucinogens appear to “harmonize” parts of the brain that do not usually work together, meaning such drugs could potentially be useful in treating certain disorders including PTSD and chronic depression.

In early 1995, Leary was diagnosed with prostate cancer, passing away on May 31, 1996.  Near the end of his life, he looked upon death as the final trip, and outer space as the great new frontier.  On April 22, 1997, Leary’s ashes (along with those of 23 others) were lifted into space in an American Pegasus rocket.

In his novel The Colorado Kid, Stephen King put it this way: “Sooner or later, everything old is new again.”  If so, then there is little doubt that Tim Leary, that charming huckster, is smiling somewhere.