Sobering Drug Tales that didn’t make it into “Higher”

The following are three drug tales and a few Vin Mariani ads that we cut from our recent post
Higher than the Shoulders of Giants, because they were too long or didn’t fit.

From Was Dr. Carl Koller driven from Vienna in 1885?

After his colleague, Dr. Fritz Zinner, called him an impudent Jew in public in the General University Hospital of Vienna, Koller reacted by hitting the man in the face. A duel with heavy sabres was the outcome; Koller was unharmed, whilst his opponent received two deep gashes. Such duels were strictly forbidden at that time already, but were nonetheless still executed. In consequence, Koller’s hopes of obtaining a position in the Eye Department, for which he was very well qualified, and of an academic career in Vienna were dashed and he had to emigrate.

Tidbits on the history of MDMA per Wikipedia

American chemist and psychopharmacologist Alexander Shulgin reported he synthesized MDMA in 1965 while researching methylenedioxy compounds at Dow Chemical Company, but did not test the psychoactivity of the compound at this time.

While not finding his own experiences with MDMA particularly powerful, Shulgin was impressed with the drug’s disinhibiting effects and thought it could be useful in therapy. Believing MDMA allowed users to strip away habits and perceive the world clearly, Shulgin called the drug window. Shulgin occasionally used MDMA for relaxation, referring to it as “my low-calorie martini”, and gave the drug to friends, researchers, and others who he thought could benefit from it. One such person was Leo Zeff, a psychotherapist who had been known to use psychedelic substances in his practice. When he tried the drug in 1977, Zeff was impressed with the effects of MDMA and came out of his semi-retirement to promote its use in therapy. Over the following years, Zeff traveled around the United States and occasionally to Europe, eventually training an estimated four thousand psychotherapists in the therapeutic use of MDMA. Zeff named the drug Adam, believing it put users in a state of primordial innocence.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, “Adam” spread through personal networks of psychotherapists, psychiatrists, users of psychedelics, and yuppies. Hoping MDMA could avoid criminalization like LSD and mescaline, psychotherapists and experimenters attempted to limit the spread of MDMA and information about it while conducting informal research.

In an early media report on MDMA published in 1982, a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) spokesman stated the agency would ban the drug if enough evidence for abuse could be found. By mid-1984, MDMA use was becoming more noticed. Bill Mandel reported on “Adam” in a 10 June San Francisco Chronicle article, but misidentified the drug as methyloxymethylenedioxyamphetamine (MMDA). In the next month, the World Health Organization identified MDMA as the only substance out of twenty phenethylamines to be seized a significant number of times.

After a year of planning and data collection, MDMA was proposed for scheduling by the DEA on 27 July 1984 with a request for comments and objections. The DEA was surprised when a number of psychiatrists, psychotherapists, and researchers objected to the proposed scheduling and requested a hearing. 

Sensational media attention was given to the proposed criminalization and the reaction of MDMA proponents, effectively advertising the drug. In response to the proposed scheduling, the Texas Group increased production from 1985 estimates of 30,000 tablets a month to as many as 8,000 per day, potentially making two million ecstasy tablets in the months before MDMA was made illegal. By some estimates the Texas Group distributed 500,000 tablets per month in Dallas alone. According to one participant in an ethnographic study, the Texas Group produced more MDMA in eighteen months than all other distribution networks combined across their entire histories. 


Urged by Senator Lloyd Bentsen, the DEA announced an emergency Schedule I classification of MDMA on 31 May 1985. The agency cited increased distribution in Texas, escalating street use, and new evidence of MDA (an analog of MDMA) neurotoxicity as reasons for the emergency measure. The ban took effect one month later on 1 July 1985 in the midst of Nancy Reagan‘s “Just Say No” campaign.

As a result of several expert witnesses testifying that MDMA had an accepted medical usage, the administrative law judge presiding over the hearings recommended that MDMA be classified as a Schedule III substance. Despite this, DEA administrator John C. Lawn overruled and classified the drug as Schedule I. Later Harvard psychiatrist Lester Grinspoon sued the DEA, claiming that the DEA had ignored the medical uses of MDMA, and the federal court sided with Grinspoon, calling Lawn’s argument “strained” and “unpersuasive”, and vacated MDMA’s Schedule I status. Despite this, less than a month later Lawn reviewed the evidence and reclassified MDMA as Schedule I again, claiming that the expert testimony of several psychiatrists claiming over 200 cases where MDMA had been used in a therapeutic context with positive results could be dismissed because they weren’t published in medical journals.

Kary Mullis describes his first time taking LSD in his autobiography, Dancing Naked in the Mind Field:

At Georgia Tech, I had a wife and a little girl. I had short hair and I studied all the time. My senior year I made perfect grades. I studied physics and math and chemistry to the point where I would never have to study them again. And all I knew about drugs was what I read in magazines like Time and Life. I learned that marijuana was a dangerous addictive drug and that I should stay away from it. On the other hand, I learned that LSD was a miracle that just might enable scientists to understand the workings of the brain, could be the cure for alcoholism, and, just incidentally, might prevent World War III. Psychiatrists were prescribing it for their patients. In 1966 LSD had not yet been made illegal. Respected, well known people were admitting that they had experimented with LSD. The Luce family, the publishers of Time and Life, were so intrigued by the scientific potential of LSD that they funded the research of Harvard professor Timothy Leary.

A person who loved playing with chemicals as much as I did just couldn’t help but be intrigued by LSD. The concept that there existed chemicals with the ability to transform the mind, to open up new windows of perception, fascinated me. I considered myself to be a serious scientist. At the time it was still all very scholarly and still legal. There was no tawdry aura over it. People weren’t blaming their kids’ problems on it yet. Hippies had just started to differentiate themselves from beatniks and the difference seemed to be fewer years and more hair on the hippies. And they stayed in college.

In 1966 I wanted to try LSD. My wife, Richards, helped me pack up the Impala, we put our daughter Louise in the back seat, and we drove to Berkeley for graduate school. It was the first time I’d been to California and it surprised me. I had not expected that the trees would be different. I didn’t know that the Pacific Ocean was always cold. I didn’t expect San Francisco to be foggy in the summer. I thought there would be naked girls. I certainly didn’t know that I would be changed so profoundly.

I didn’t want to take LSD alone. I had learned that from magazines. The first week of class I became friendly with the only guy in my class with long hair, Brad. I figured he would have LSD. Brad was smart. He appreciated the fact that I could calculate how long it would take the moon to fall to the Earth. He had graduated from Oberlin College, where they knew it was possible to do such a calculation but they wouldn’t be so crass as to actually learn how.

Brad had experimented with psychedelic drugs and agreed to guide me through my first trip. He suggested that before I took LSD, I should smoke some marijuana because it might give me some idea of how my consciousness would be changed. Marijuana scared me, I told him. Everything I’d read about it said that it was a bad drug, an addictive drug — one toke and you’re a slave for life.

He persuaded me to smoke a “joint,” as he called it. Within moments my fear disappeared. I was laughing. Brad and I talked about wise things for hours. At some point, Brad left. I looked at Richards, my wife, with new eyes. She was the same Richards, but not to me. I grabbed her in a primitive way, rolled her onto our enhanced bed, and felt the surging power of bliss.

A week later I said, “Brad’s going to come over tonight. I’m taking acid.” Richards said she would make a nice dinner.

During dinner, Brad gave me what was called a double-domed 1000 microgram Owsley. He had bought it for five dollars. It was soon to become illegal. I didn’t finish dinner. I started laughing. I got up from the table and realized, on the way to the couch, that everything I knew was based on a false premise. I fell down through the couch into another world.

Brad put Mysterious Mountain by Hovhaness on the stereo and kept playing it over and over. It was the perfect background for my journey. I watched somebody else’s beliefs become irrelevant. Who was that Kary Mullis character? That Georgia Tech boy. I wasn’t afraid. I wasn’t anything. I noticed that time did not extend smoothly—that it was punctuated by moments—and I fell down into a crack between two moments and was gone.

My body lay on the couch for almost four hours. I felt like I was everywhere. I was thrilled. I’d been trapped in my own experiences—now I was free. The world was filled with incredibly tiny spaces where no one could find me or care what I was doing. I was alone. My mind could see itself.

Brad had given me 1000 micrograms because he wanted me to have a thorough experience. I think he said “blow your ass away.” With 100 micrograms you feel a little weird, you might hallucinate, and you can go dancing, but you know you’re on acid. You’re aware that you’re having a trip and the things that you see are hallucinations. You know that you should not respond to them. When you take 1000 micrograms of LSD, you don’t know you’ve taken anything. It just feels like that’s the way it is. You might suddenly find yourself sitting on a building in Egypt three thousand years ago, watching boats on the Nile.

After four hours Brad told me we were going to take a ride in the car. I didn’t know what a car was. We got inside this thing and it started moving and I started to panic. I didn’t want to be in a car. I didn’t like movement, I just wanted to find a quiet place. Eventually we stopped in Tilden Park by a fountain. I got some water. It was cold and fluid but it wasn’t the water I knew. It left trails and it was alive. I didn’t know Brad, I didn’t know my wife. When they got me back in the car I understood I was inside a vehicle. I knew it had a key that made it work, but I didn’t want it to. I was sitting in the back seat, and we started down Marin Avenue, which drops 800 feet in four blocks. Berkeley was below and I was dizzy. I reached over from the back seat and pulled out the key. Brad took back the key, told me to behave, and drove home.

About five o’clock in the morning I began to come back to earth. The most amazing aspect of the entire experience was that I landed back in the middle of my normal life. It was so sweet to hear the birds, to see the sun come up, to watch my little girl wake up and start playing. I appreciated my life in a way I never had before.

On the following Monday I went to school. I remember sitting on a bench, waiting for a class to begin, thinking, “That was the most incredible thing I’ve ever done.”

I wrote a long letter to my mother. I often wrote to my mother to tell her what I was thinking about. As I was writing the letter, I began to realize that for the first time in my life, there were some things that I might not be able to explain to her. But I tried.

My mother responded by sending me an article she’d torn from the Reader’s Digest. It said that taking LSD was bad for your brain and will cause flashbacks for the rest of your life. She entreated me not to do it anymore. I wrote back that it was too late. It had already changed me.

I wanted to understand what had happened. How could 1000 micrograms—one thousandth of a gram—of some chemical cause my entire fucking sensorium to undergo such incredible changes? What mechanisms inside my brain were being so drastically affected? What did these chemicals do to my visuals? I wanted to know how it worked. I wanted to know more about neurochemistry.

Berkeley had a classic biochemistry department, meaning it consisted of professors who specialized in the chemical mechanisms underlying all life. They didn’t know much about mammals, besides their wives and students, and they weren’t interested in neurotransmitters. I was on my own. I knew that my brain was behind my eyes. I learned that no one knew very much about how it functions. We knew which parts of the brain controlled certain things, but we didn’t know how or why. It seemed pretty obvious to me that neuroactive drugs might help us find out. These chemicals caused a really interesting interaction between psychology, biochemistry, and anatomy, but we didn’t know why. There was good reason to expect that we might learn something about mental illnesses, which might be caused by an imbalance in the chemistry of the brain.

Drug laws don’t have much to do with science or health. Opium was made illegal in California because Chinese dock workers in San Francisco were taking jobs away from Irish dock workers who preferred to be drunk than opiated. Opium dens were raided and Chinese workers were arrested. Conveniently, they couldn’t report for work in the morning. They moved north.

Marijuana was declared illegal after the end of Prohibition in 1938 because the opium/alcohol cops needed something to police or they’d lose their jobs. To gain public support, marijuana was depicted as a dangerous drug that caused black and Mexican men to lust after white women. It wasn’t the drug. Black men and Mexican men didn’t suddenly develop a need for white women; white men suddenly developed a need, after 1938, for jobs. Alcohol was back in; marijuana was shortly going to be out. People who wanted to be into prohibition would now prohibit marijuana. The same people, and maybe their children, would be happy to make a living prohibiting LSD.

LSD somehow got connected with the anti–Vietnam War movement. Drugs had to be the reason that the youth of America had long hair, wore beads, enjoyed sex, and didn’t think it was a good idea to go to a foreign country and kill the locals. Psychedelic drugs were made illegal.

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