Hollywood's Golden Age of LSD Therapy

Revisiting the era of legal LSD research

| November-December 1998

One morning in April 1962, Cary Grant swallowed four tiny blue pills of lysergic acid diethylamide—LSD—and lay back on a couch sipping coffee as the drug began to take effect. It was the 58-year-old actor's 72nd acid trip under the supervision of a psychiatrist, and throughout the five-hour session, he recorded his impressions on tape. “I was noting the growing intensity of light in the room,” he said at one point, “and at short intervals as I shut my eyes, visions appeared to me. I seemed to be in a world of healthy, chubby little babies' legs and diapers, and smeared blood, a sort of general menstrual activity taking place. It did not repel me as such thoughts used to.”


Hardly the suave repartee associated with the star of His Girl Friday and North by Northwest. But as the aging movie idol had already stated in bold public endorsements of the drug, LSD has a way of stripping away cultivated veneers and forcing one to confront unguarded, often unpleasant, emotions. Grant was grateful for his LSD “therapy” and admitted dropping acid more than 100 times. Among other benefits, he credited LSD with helping him control his drinking and come to terms with unresolved conflicts about his parents.

Grant was just one of hundreds in the Los Angeles area who participated in legal LSD studies during the 1950s and early 1960s. Shortly after that, of course, LSD would become the notorious “hippie psychedelic” vilified by the media, criminalized in every state, classified in the United States as a Schedule 1 drug of no medical value, and banned globally by international treaty. But before most Americans had heard of LSD, here in the shadow of the Hollywood Hills, students, professionals, clergymen, writers, artists, and movie stars enthusiastically turned on, tuned in, and didn't drop out. “It was a time when scientific research with psychedelic drugs was perfectly acceptable,” recalls Oscar Janiger, the psychiatrist who administered LSD to Grant and more than 900 others in the longest ongoing experiment of the drug's effect on human subjects in a nonclinical environment.

Flash forward 35 years: In many ways, science has finally caught up with LSD. Given recent advances in the understanding of neurochemistry—the complex chemical pathways that drive human thought, emotions, and behavior—many researchers believe that LSD could become a valuable tool in further unraveling the mysteries of the human brain. What's more, they say, the drug's apparent value in treating alcoholism, drug addiction, and many psychiatric disorders begs for renewed research. Yet LSD remains a sociopolitical pariah. Though research on animals has continued, LSD research involving humans has been at a virtual standstill for three decades.

Some of LSD's latter-day defenders now believe that for acid science to move forward, acid must first be rehabilitated in the public mind. And they're pinning their hopes on a new follow-up study of Janiger's classic experiment, which was conducted between 1954 and 1962. By interviewing the people who participated in the original study, researchers hope to show that few of them suffered negative long-term effects from LSD—and many may have actually benefited.

6/8/2014 5:59:56 AM

I find it very interesting that so much is written about LSD and those who received it from the UCLA Study in the 1950's onward--from the famous to the infamous to the other poor mental cases looking to fix something that cannot be fixed. Perhaps someone can explain to me why these people who write about the "participants, those who are looking for some kind of "worldly acknowledgement" as they cant seem to find something more interesting to write about or perhaps those who want to use their writing as a measure of greatness to continue the usage of mind altering drugs... BUT TELL ME ONE THING--with all the writing about those participants did anyone ever, for one moment think about those who were affected by those mindless idiots (your participants) who exposed family--usually children, to their "TRIPS" which were no better than the trips experienced by your run of the mill street drug addicts--you know the type you see downtown in the streets with filthy clothes, filth under their nails and the pallor of those who one wouldn't bring home to so much as to meet the family dog! What about them???? Anyone ever think of them? Shame on you for allowing these losers--oops, sorry, your participants, to gain even the least bit of acclaim! Shame on you, one and all!!! Kathy

Jan R Young_1
7/19/2010 8:16:35 PM

I have been reading in vanity fair about the use of LSD by celebrities in Hollywood during the 1950's. This drug appears to have a potential for being very beneficial in enabling people to grow past their issues when done under the proper clinical guidance.

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