Mind-Altering Drugs News ArticlesExcerpts of key news articles on mind-altering drugs
Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, a research associate in the Centre for Neuropsychopharma-cology at Imperial College, is ... the first person in the UK to have legally administered doses of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) to human volunteers since the Misuse of Drugs Act of 1971. Born in Durham 33 years ago and raised in Bournemouth, he ... is a careful and articulate speaker, but his enthusiasm for his work is evident. "We're at an early, but certainly promising, stage. It's really exciting," he says. The potential scientific benefits of psychedelics ... fall broadly into two categories. They look like being medicinally or therapeutically useful, and they offer an unconventional view of the workings of the human mind, such that the age-old, so-called "hard problem of consciousness" might be made a little easier. Uniquely potent in minute doses, and with what Carhart-Harris calls "a very favourable physiological safety profile" – which is to say, it is non-toxic – this newly synthesised psychedelic drug opened new doors, in more ways than one. "You could say the birth of the science of psychedelics occurred with the discovery of LSD," says Carhart-Harris. "It was only then that we started to study them systematically." Cary Grant famously used it during his therapy, as did the Alcoholics Anonymous co-founder Bill Wilson. Between the 1950s and 1965, when Sandoz withdrew the drug, there were more than 1,000 clinical papers discussing 40,000 patients. A 2012 meta-analysis of six controlled trials from the era found its clinical efficiency for the treatment of alcohol addiction to be as effective as any treatment developed since.
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On [March 4], The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease is posting online results from the first controlled trial of LSD in more than 40 years. The study, conducted in the office of a Swiss psychiatrist near Bern, tested the effects of the drug as a complement to talk therapy for 12 people nearing the end of life. Most of the subjects had terminal cancer, and several died within a year after the trial — but not before having a mental adventure that appeared to have eased the existential gloom of their last days. “Their anxiety went down and stayed down,” said Dr. Peter Gasser, who conducted the therapy and followed up with his patients a year after the trial concluded. The new publication marks the latest in a series of baby steps by a loose coalition of researchers and fund-raisers who are working to bring hallucinogens back into the fold of mainstream psychiatry. Before research was effectively banned in 1966 in the United States, doctors tested LSD’s effect for a variety of conditions, including end-of-life anxiety. But in the past few years, psychiatrists in the United States and abroad — working with state regulators as well as ethics boards — have tested Ecstasy-assisted therapy for post-traumatic stress; and other trials with hallucinogens are in the works. “The effort is both political and scientific,” said Rick Doblin, executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, a foundation that has financed many of the studies. “We want to break these substances out of the mold of the counterculture and bring them back to the lab.”
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More than 7 million Americans suffer from PTSD, and by most estimates, only half of them -- at best -- are ever cured. A decade ago, the widely acknowledged need for better treatments opened the door to [South Carolina psychiatrist Dr. Michael] Mithoefer and his unconventional approach. By ... February 2005, the soft-spoken, ponytailed Mithoefer had managed to convince the Drug Enforcement Administration to green-light a study of Ecstasy as an adjunct to psychotherapy. He'd gotten the 3,4-methylenedioxy-methylamphetamine (MDMA) -- the chemical name for pure Ecstasy -- from Rick Doblin, the founder of a MAPS, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. The group's stated purpose is to develop "medical, legal and cultural contexts for people to benefit from the careful uses of psychedelics and marijuana." It wants to turn mind-altering drugs like Ecstasy into prescription medicine. To win broader acceptance for MDMA -- and for cousins like LSD and psilocybin, the mind-altering compound in so-called magic mushrooms -- "the medical route was the only route. Everything else was blocked." That meant a formal plan for drug development: study protocols, institutional review boards and the rest. Mithoefer, a University of Virginia-trained clinician who specializes in trauma and had a long-running interest in MDMA, was the perfect partner.
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Charles Grob [is] a psychiatrist and researcher at Harbor-U.C.L.A. Medical Center who [has administered] psilocybin — an active component of magic mushrooms — to end-stage cancer patients to see if it could reduce their fear of death. When the research was completed in 2008 ... the results showed that administering psilocybin to terminally ill subjects could be done safely while reducing the subjects’ anxiety and depression about their impending deaths. Grob’s interest in the power of psychedelics to mitigate mortality’s sting is not just the obsession of one lone researcher. Dr. John Halpern, head of the Laboratory for Integrative Psychiatry at McLean Hospital in Belmont Mass., a psychiatric training hospital for Harvard Medical School, used MDMA — also known as ecstasy — in an effort to ease end-of-life anxieties in two patients with Stage 4 cancer. And there are two ongoing studies using psilocybin with terminal patients, one at New York University’s medical school, led by Stephen Ross, and another at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, where Roland Griffiths has administered psilocybin to 22 cancer patients and is aiming for a sample size of 44. “This research is in its very early stages,” Grob told me earlier this month, “but we’re getting consistently good results.” Grob and his colleagues are part of a resurgence of scientific interest in the healing power of psychedelics.
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A 50-year mystery over the 'cursed bread' of Pont-Saint-Esprit, which left residents suffering hallucinations, has been solved after a writer discovered the US had spiked the bread with LSD as part of an experiment. In 1951, a quiet, picturesque village in southern France was suddenly and mysteriously struck down with mass insanity and hallucinations. At least five people died, dozens were interned in asylums and hundreds afflicted. For decades it was assumed that the local bread had been unwittingly poisoned with a psychedelic mould. Now, however, an American investigative journalist has uncovered evidence suggesting the CIA peppered local food with the hallucinogenic drug LSD as part of a mind control experiment at the height of the Cold War. One man tried to drown himself, screaming that his belly was being eaten by snakes. An 11-year-old tried to strangle his grandmother. Another man shouted: "I am a plane", before jumping out of a second-floor window, breaking his legs. He then got up and carried on for 50 yards. Many were taken to the local asylum in strait jackets.
MDMA, the active ingredient of ecstasy pills, makes people more inclined to cooperate on tasks and quicker to rebuild trust, according to researchers investigating its use in treating psychological disorders. Scans reveal it increases activity in parts of the brain linked to empathy and social behaviour that helps interpret other people’s beliefs and intentions, researchers from King’s College London said. This could make it a useful addition to psychotherapy sessions and the drug is currently undergoing medical trials to assess its use in supporting treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “Understanding the brain activity underlying social behaviour could help identify what goes wrong in psychiatric conditions,” said Professor Mitul Mehta from the King’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN). While it is possible that making users more helpful and collaborative could lead to them being exploited, Professor Mehta and his team found the drug did not make users gullible. During the study ... participants on MDMA were less likely to cheat their partners than those on the placebo. Where they had previously been cheated ... subjects on MDMA were as likely to act selfishly as those on a placebo, however they were quicker to trust these partners again after a run of cooperation. This was backed up with patterns of brain activity.
As more states legalize marijuana, there's growing interest in a cannabis extract — cannabidiol, also known as CBD. It's marketed as a compound that can help relieve anxiety - and, perhaps, help ease aches and pains, too. CBD doesn't have the same mind-altering effects as marijuana, since it does not contain THC, the psychoactive component of the plant. "There's good evidence to suggest that CBD could be an effective treatment of anxiety and addiction" and other disorders, says Dr. Esther Blessing, a psychiatrist and researcher at New York University. "But we need clinical trials." Small, short-term human studies ... suggest CBD exhibits anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety properties. These preliminary findings piqued Blessing's interest. For instance, she points to a 2011 study of a few dozen people, some of whom had social anxiety disorder, who were asked to speak in front of a large audience. Researchers compared anxiety levels in people after they took CBD, compared to those who got the placebo or nothing at all. "People who took CBD reported significantly less anxiety" compared to those who got the placebo, Blessing says. Though CBD supplements are widely available for sale, a legal murkiness surrounds marijuana extracts. Even if you live in a state where marijuana use is legal, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration still classifies the CBD extract as a Schedule 1 substance — the DEA's most restricted category.
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In the last few years, calls for marijuana to be researched as a medical therapy have increased. It may be time for us to consider the same for psychedelic drugs. Two general classes of such drugs exist, and they include LSD, psilocybin, mescaline and ecstasy (MDMA). All are illegal in the United States, [and can] cause harm. The best-known adverse event is persistent flashbacks, though these are believed to be rare. More common are symptoms like increased heart rate and blood pressure, anxiety and panic. Some people have pointed to ... positive effects. People with life-threatening illnesses can also suffer from anxiety, which is hard to treat. In 2014, a small randomized controlled trial was published that examined if LSD could be used to improve this anxiety. Anxiety was significantly reduced in the intervention group for up to a year. More common are studies of the use of psychedelics to treat abuse or addiction to other substances. [One study] exploring LSD’s potential to treat alcoholism [found that] alcohol use and misuse were significantly reduced in the LSD group for six months. Similar studies using psilocybin have also shown promising results. Researchers [have also] examined the potential for MDMA in the treatment of chronic and treatment-resistant post-traumatic stress disorder. At two months after therapy, more than 80 percent of those in the treatment group saw a clinical improvement versus only 25 percent of those in the placebo group. The beneficial effects lasted for at least four years, even with no further treatment.
Note: Read more about how MDMA has been found effective for treating PTSD in a therapeutic context. Articles like this suggest that the healing potentials of mind-altering drugs are beginning to gain mainstream scientific credibility.
For a long time, Daniel Au Valencia got the message that she was wrong, wrong, wrong. “There’s a lot of shame around autism,” she says. Last year Valencia heard about an unusual experimental study ... exploring a treatment specifically for social anxiety in autistic adults. Many traditional therapies don’t work for autistic people, says Nick Walker, [a] consultant on the new study, because they reinforce stigma around autism. He sees this new research as a uniquely “culturally appropriate” approach to addressing the “epidemic” of social anxiety in autistic adults. The treatment is MDMA, known more commonly as Ecstacy or Molly. Early studies ... show it can ease or erase symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. In one study, 83 percent of study participants treated with MDMA and psychotherapy were cured of their PTSD. Psychologist Alicia Danforth [is] conducting the social anxiety study at UCLA’s Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute, along with psychiatrist Charles Grob. Valencia is one of just 12 autistic adults participating in the pilot study. It’s impossible to draw a direct line between the treatment and how Valencia is doing right now, but she says she’s doing great. She’s got a steady full-time job, her own apartment, and she just got married. She says her biggest takeaway ... is more about emotions than social anxiety. She says she’s learned that there’s no such thing as good emotions or bad emotions. “All emotions deserve to exist,” she says.
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Marijuana and the Veterans Affairs Hospital system’s relationship is complicated. On the one hand, 23 states plus the District of Columbia say marijuana is legal for sanctioned medical use, and veterans are clamoring for it for their post-combat symptoms. On the other, marijuana is classified a Schedule I drug. Veterans [have] been stuck in the middle. As many as 20 percent of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Antidepressants like Zoloft and Paxil, along with other heavy-duty pills, have been the traditional mainstays in VA doctors’ arsenals. Non-FDA approved options, marijuana among them, haven’t been options at all. But that has started to change. The Veterans Equal Access Act ... aims to open the entire VA system to judicious prescription of medical cannabis. Prior to its introduction, VA doctors couldn’t even discuss cannabis with their patients, much less prescribe it. Arizona psychiatrist Sue Sisley [has] spent two decades treating patients with PTSD. “All we have now is Zoloft and Paxil. And if you know much about those meds, you know there are many side effects, and they often don’t work. If they are effective, then patients are dealing with these side effects,” Sisley adds. “Vets come home from service, and they just want to reintegrate into their family. And we make them fat and impotent and mired in a bunch of disabling side effects.” When asked why marijuana might be better than other options, Sisley’s quick to answer: “A single plant can provide monotherapy for this whole constellation of symptoms.”
Imagine discovering a plant that has the potential to help alleviate post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal thoughts and paralyzing anxiety. That's what some believe ayahuasca can do, and this psychedelic drink is attracting more and more tourists to the Amazon. War vets are seeking it for PTSD. Former Marine Lance Cpl. Ryan LeCompte organizes trips to Peru for war veterans, like himself, who are seeking ayahuasca as a possible treatment for PTSD and other emotional and mental trauma suffered after multiple combat deployments. "Ayahuasca is a way to give relief to those who are suffering," says LeCompte, who says many veterans are not satisfied with the PTSD treatment they receive when they return from combat. Libby ... is one of the veterans who accompanied LeCompte to Peru to try ayahuasca for her PTSD diagnosis, which includes sexual trauma while on active duty. She says antidepressants made her more suicidal. "I would like to wish not to die all the time," she said, when asked why she was seeking ayahuasca. "I want that to go away." Those of have tried ayahuasca say that any benefits - like with other drugs or medicine - must be combined with therapy. There are efforts to study the medicinal benefits of ayahuasca, explains Rick Doblin, executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies. "At a time when drug policy is being reevaluated ... how ayahuasca should be handled in a regulatory context is really up in the air," Doblin said.
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[There are many] obstacles and frustrations scientists face in trying to study the medical uses of marijuana. Dating back to 1999, the Department of Health and Human Services has indicated it does not see much potential for developing marijuana in smoked form into an approved prescription drug. In guidelines issued that year for research on medical marijuana, the agency quoted from an accompanying report that stated, “If there is any future for marijuana as a medicine, it lies in its isolated components, the cannabinoids and their synthetic derivatives.” Scientists say this position has had a chilling effect on marijuana research. Though more than one million people are thought to use the drug to treat ailments ranging from cancer to seizures to hepatitis C and chronic pain, there are few rigorous studies showing whether the drug is a fruitful treatment for those or any other conditions. A major reason is this: The federal government categorizes marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, the most restrictive of five groups established by the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Drugs in this category — including heroin, LSD, peyote and Ecstasy — are considered to have no accepted medical use in the United States and a high potential for abuse, and are subject to tight restrictions on scientific study. In the case of marijuana, those restrictions are even greater than for other controlled substances. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, though nearly half the states and the District of Columbia allow its medical use and two, Colorado and Washington, have legalized its recreational use.
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Psychedelic drug research is coming back. But the research still faces stigma, and funding is hard to get. Stanislav Grof was one of the leading researchers on the therapeutic applications of LSD in the 1950s and '60s. He studied the effect of hallucinogens on mental disorders, including addiction. Grof tells NPR's Arun Rath, "This was a tremendous deepening and acceleration of the psychotherapeutic process. Compared with the therapy in general, which mostly focuses on suppression of symptoms, here we had something that could actually get to the core of the problems." The Schedule 1 classification of LSD and other hallucinogenic substances in 1970 was a huge blow to research. But by the '90s, attitudes had begun to change. By the 2000s, a small but growing research community was picking up where Grof and others had left off. One area that showed promise was using hallucinogens to ease anxiety and depression in patients with cancer, like Erica Rex. "I was diagnosed with breast cancer, stage 2, in 2009," Rex says. "I went through the treatment, and then there are some drugs that have terrible side effects." She says she became obsessed with the possibility of her death, and it was crippling. Then Rex [was approved] for a study on the experimental drug psilocybin, an active compound in psychedelic mushrooms. In the end, she says, it helped her depression.
Note: Food justice champion Michael Pollan recently wrote a fascinating article prominently featured in the venerable magazine The New Yorker about the amazing power of psilocybin mushrooms to create profound healing in carefully controlled environments. It is subtitled "Research into psychedelics, shut down for decades, is now yielding exciting results." Are the healing potentials of mind altering drugs finally starting to receive honest mainstream attention?
You’ve probably heard about microdosing, the “productivity hack” popular among Silicon Valley engineers and business leaders. Microdosers take regular small doses of LSD or magic mushrooms. At these doses, they don’t experience mind-bending, hallucinatory trips, but they say they get a jolt in creativity and focus that can elevate work performance, help relationships, and generally improve a stressful and demanding daily life. Late last year, the first placebo-controlled microdose trial was published. The study concluded that microdoses of LSD appreciably altered subjects’ sense of time, allowing them to more accurately reproduce lapsed spans of time. Does a microdose change brain function? There’s a myriad of ways to test this, but [Devin] Terhune looked specifically at the way the subjects perceive time. When shown a blue dot on a screen for a specific length of time, the subjects were asked to recreate that length of time by pressing a key. Typically, with longer time intervals, people underrepresent time (i.e. hold the key down for a shorter period of time than reality). In the study, those who received microdoses held the key longer, better representing the actual time interval. Does this mean microdosing makes you smarter? Terhune and his co-authors were cautious in overinterpreting their finding. For one, it’s not clear that perceiving time more accurately is preferable. The brain seems to favor underrepresenting time for reasons that are unclear. The finding does show that microdoses changed brain function.
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When Noa Shulman came home from school, her mother, Yael, sat her down to eat, then spoon-fed her mashed sweet potatoes - mixed with cannabis oil. Noa is part of the first clinical trial in the world to test the benefits of medicinal marijuana for young people with autism, a potential breakthrough. There is anecdotal evidence that marijuana’s main non-psychoactive compound - cannabidiol or CBD - helps children in ways no other medication has. Now this first-of-its-kind scientific study is trying to determine if the link is real. Israel is ...one of just three countries with a government-sponsored medical cannabis program, along with Canada and the Netherlands. Conducting cannabis research is also less expensive here and easier under Israeli laws, particularly compared to the United States. Autism is one of the fastest-growing developmental disorders, affecting 1 in 68 children in the United States. Only two medications have been approved in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration to treat the symptoms of autism. Both are antipsychotic drugs that are not always effective and carry serious side effects. Adi Aran, the pediatric neurologist leading the study, said nearly all the participants previously took antipsychotics and nearly half responded negatively. Anecdotal reports of autistic children who benefited from cannabis ... led Aran to pursue more scientific testing. After seeing positive results in 70 of his autistic patients in an observational study, Aran said, “OK we need to do a clinical trial."
Note: Dozens of studies have found evidence that CBD can treat epilepsy as well as a range of other illnesses. While more people are arrested in the US for marijuana use than for all violent crimes combined and the US federal government continues to regard non-psychoactive CBD as a dangerous drug, the UK government recently announced it will regulate CBD as medicine. For more along these lines, see concise summaries of deeply revealing health news articles from reliable major media sources.
A psychedelic drink used for centuries in healing ceremonies is now attracting the attention of biomedical scientists as a possible treatment for depression. Researchers from Brazil last month published results from the first clinical test of a potential therapeutic benefit for ayahuasca, a South American plant-based brew. The work forms part of a renaissance in studying the potential therapeutic benefits of psychedelic or recreational drugs — research that was largely banned or restricted worldwide half a century ago. Ketamine, which is used medically as an anaesthetic, has shown promise as a fast-acting antidepressant; psilocybin, a hallucinogen found in ‘magic mushrooms’, can help to alleviate anxiety in patients with advanced-stage cancer; MDMA (ecstasy) can alleviate post-traumatic stress disorder; and patients who experience debilitating cluster headaches have reported that LSD eases their symptoms. Ayahuasca, a sacramental drink traditionally brewed from the bark of a jungle vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) and the leaves of a shrub (Psychotria viridis) ... has been studied by anthropologists, social scientists and theologians, but clinical research on ayahuasca has been limited to observation of its effects in mice and rats, and in healthy human volunteers, including brain-imaging studies and retrospective surveys of past use. Further trials are under way.
Note: Are the healing potentials of mind altering drugs finally starting to receive honest mainstream attention?
More than half a century ago, author Aldous Huxley titled his book on his experience with hallucinogens The Doors of Perception. Huxley posited that ordinary consciousness represents only a fraction of what the mind can take in. In order to keep us focused on survival, Huxley claimed, the brain must act as a “reducing valve” on the flood of potentially overwhelming sights, sounds and sensations. What remains, Huxley wrote, is a “measly trickle of the kind of consciousness” necessary to “help us to stay alive.” A new study by British researchers supports this theory. It shows for the first time how psilocybin — the drug contained in magic mushrooms — affects the connectivity of the brain. Researchers found that the psychedelic chemical ... does not work by ramping up the brain’s activity as they’d expected. Instead, it reduces it. Under the influence of mushrooms, overall brain activity drops, particularly in certain regions that are densely connected to sensory areas of the brain. When functioning normally, these connective “hubs” appear to help constrain the way we see, hear and experience the world, grounding us in reality. Psilocybin cuts activity in these nodes and severs their connection to other brain areas, allowing the senses to run free. Huxley ... had predicted what turns out to be a key finding of modern neuroscience: many of the human brain’s highest achievements involve preventing actions instead of initiating them, and sifting out useless information rather than collecting and presenting it for conscious consideration.
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The psychedelic drug psilocybin (the active ingredient in “magic mushrooms”) may produce lasting, positive changes in personality, new research finds. People who took the drug showed increases in the key personality dimension of openness — being amenable to new ideas, experiences and perspectives — more than a year later. Researchers led by Katherine MacLean, a postdoctoral student at Johns Hopkins University, analyzed personality data on 52 participants (average age 46) who had participated in the group’s earlier research on the drug. These volunteers took psilocybin during two to five sessions, at various doses, under highly controlled conditions at the hospital. The earlier study had found positive psychological changes — documented by both participants and their family members and other associates — in calmness, happiness and kindness. The new research found that the drug takers also saw long-term changes to their underlying personality. The personality changes also ran counter to those expected as people age. Normally, as people grow older, they become increasingly less open to new ideas and new experiences. In contrast, in participants who experienced had what researchers call a “full mystical experience,” the scientists saw a shift toward increased openness, as though the volunteers had become decades younger. People became more curious and more interested in new ideas and experiences and in trying new things.
In 2002, at a Johns Hopkins University laboratory, a business consultant named Dede Osborn took a psychedelic drug as part of a research project. She felt like she was taking off. She saw colors. Then it felt like her heart was ripping open. But she called the experience joyful as well as painful, and says that it has helped her to this day. "I feel more centered in who I am and what I'm doing," said Osborn, now 66, of Providence, R.I. "I don't seem to have those self-doubts like I used to have. I feel much more grounded (and feel that) we are all connected." Scientists reported ... that when they surveyed volunteers 14 months after they took the drug, most said they were still feeling and behaving better because of the experience. Two-thirds of them also said the drug had produced one of the five most spiritually significant experiences they'd ever had. The drug, psilocybin, is found in so-called "magic mushrooms." It's illegal, but it has been used in religious ceremonies for centuries. The project made headlines in 2006 when researchers published their report on how the volunteers felt just two months after taking the drug. The new study followed them up [to] a year after that. Fourteen months after taking the drug, 64 percent of the volunteers said they still felt at least a moderate increase in well-being or life satisfaction, in terms of things like feeling more creative, self-confident, flexible and optimistic. The questionnaire answers indicated lasting gains in traits like being more sensitive, tolerant, loving and compassionate.
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The Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, has paid thousands of pounds in compensation to servicemen who were fed LSD without their consent in clandestine mind-control experiments in the 1950s. MI6 has agreed an out-of-court settlement with the men, who said they were duped into taking part in the experiments and had waited years to learn the truth. Don Webb, a former airman, said yesterday: "I feel vindicated; this has been a classic cover-up for years." MI6's counterparts at the CIA also did LSD experiments on men without their knowledge to try to control their minds. Mr Webb said scientists gave him LSD at least twice in a week. He remembers a nightmarish experience when he hallucinated for a long time. He saw "walls melting, cracks appearing in people's faces ... eyes would run down cheeks, Salvador Dali-type faces ... a flower would turn into a slug". He said he had first made inquiries about the experiments in the 1960s but was "blanked by the government, which quoted the Official Secrets Act". He said he experienced flashbacks for 10 years after the experiments. "They treated us just like guinea pigs."
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