Before Timothy Leary, LSD Was Being Tested on 1950s Housewives

In the postwar era a new dawn of psychological study was underway. New drugs, new research methods, and a new focus on what it meant to be truly happy drove a number of clinical tests. The advent of modern chemistry played no small part in the evolution of a changing psychiatry field. And, before the days of 1960s counterculture, before lysergic acid diethylamide (or LSD) was even illegal, the controversial new drug was being tested on everyday housewives in the 1950s.

Dr. Sidney Cohen (above) had begun experimenting with LSD in the 1950s. The drug had been invented in 1938 by Swiss chemist, Albert Hoffman, and introduced to the U.S. in 1949. Under the trade name Delysid, LSD had been used in an experimental capacity throughout the 1950s and 1960s. By 1960 Dr. Cohen had released his findings that LSD was an effective treatment for some mental disorders. However, by 1962 he had become increasingly concerned with the black market value of such a powerful drug and what LSD usage might look in the wrong hands.

As a professor of Psychiatry at UCLA, Dr. Cohen would go on to become a leading expert in the field of substance abuse and illicit drug use, even serving as the director of the Division of Narcotic Abuse and Drug Addiction at the National Institute of Mental Health under President Nixon.

In contrast, Timothy Leary advocated the widespread use of psychedelic drugs in non-clinical settings, and Nixon once decried him as “the most dangerous man in America”.

In 1964 Dr. Cohen was quoted in Time magazine as saying that LSD could kill people by making them think they could fly– a common quote which is still used today in discussions why the drug could be dangerous. LSD was made illegal in 1968 and currently has no approved medical uses anywhere in the world. The widespread illegality of the drug has made it more appealing to counterculture groups over the years, though by some accounts usage of the drug peaked between the 1970s and the 1990s.

Some of the early tests by Cohen were filmed and narrated for educational purposes. The reaction of a regular housewife to tripping on LSD -in a world largely devoid of psychedelic and street drugs at the time- is truly astounding to watch.

The footage shows the dosing (1/600th of a grain of LSD-25 in a glass of water) and follows the subject as she is interviewed by Dr. Cohen in her altered state at the Los Angeles Veterans Administration Hospital. She seems almost entranced! Have a look in the video below.

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