The Time The U.S. Government Gave Citizens a Free Acid Trip

Learn about how the United States started human experiments that injected LSD into participants and monitored the effects in an attempt to weaponize these drugs against the Soviets.

Photo by Everett/Shutterstock (10278173a) Dr. Harry L. Williams squirts LSD from a syringe into the mouth of Carl Curt Pfeiffer, M.D., Ph.D. (1908‒1988) at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, 1955. Dr. Pfeiffer performed experiments in behavior control for the CIA, researching the effects of LSD on prisoners in Atlanta and Bordentown, N.J. in the 1950s and 1960s. Historical Collection

Welcome back everyone! Today, we have a story time history lesson that will prove to you all just how crazy U.S. history actually was. Where are we starting our story? Well, in the middle of the height of the Cold War. You know, the war that was less of actual fighting and killing and more of psychological warfare. The U.S. government was terrified that the Soviets, Chinese, and North Korean agents were using mind control and brainwashing tactics against U.S. prisoners of war in Korea. So, what did we do? Well, we started human experiments that injected LSD into participants and monitored the effects. This was known as MK-Ultra.



In 1953, the Central Intelligence Agency’s director, Allan Dulles, approved the MK-Ultra project. This project was designed to combat the psychological warfares imposed by the Soviets. So, studies were done on U.S. citizens, some willing, and some not, by injecting them with drugs and monitoring their behaviors in addition to other behavioral warfare trials.

Over 150 trials were conducted, all of which were kept as top secret! In these trials, test subjects could be subjected to psychedelic drugs, electroshock therapy, and even paralytics! It’s safe to say, all participants were tripping. However, some participants didn’t even know what they were in for until they were already hallucinating! I’d like to imagine that the whole interaction went something like this:

These tests went on for over a decade from 1953 to 1964. While we now know that these trials existed, we have no clue how many people participated in them as the agency kept terrible records and destroyed most all documents regarding the program when it was haulted in 1973. Basically, the CIA got caught and their immediate reaction was similar to this:

So whose idea was all of this anyways? And how did these trials end? Well, let’s get into it!


Sidney Gottlieb

Meet the mad scientist behind it all: Sidney Gottlieb! He was a chemist with the CIA and an expert on poison. He believed that harnessing the powers of drugs, like LSD, ecstasy, heroin, and mushrooms, could be extremely influential in the psychological torture of enemies.

But, Gottlieb knew that the general public could not know about these studies, so he named the project MK-Ultra, and began to seek funding. Once the CIA approved this project and studies were funded, Universities, including Columbia and Stanford, were actually some of the first to report and record results.

However, tests at Universities over the effects of hallucinogenic drugs were not the only way the CIA conducted experiments under MK-Ultra. The CIA also conducted Operation Midnight Climax.


Operation midnight climax

Operation Midnight Climax was a set of experiments that took place in San Francisco, Marin County, California, and New York City in the late 1960s. The whole premise of this operation was that the government would employ prostitutes that would then lure men into their bedroom where they would drug them with hallucinogenics. There were cameras placed in the rooms, hidden as electrical outlets, and several CIA agents watched the effects the drug had on these men from behind a two-way mirror. The sketchy part here? Well, none of these men consented to trying the drug, and none of the footage from these tests was ever released to the public!

However, there were actually tons of people, some of whom you might find familiar, that actually volunteered for the MK-Ultra experiment… I wonder why.

However, in all cases, the hallucinogenics used were determined to be ineffective for mind control because the reactions to them were far too unpredictable. Simply put, our government found out that it’s virtually impossible to control someone when they’re tripping on LSD.


Who the heck agreed to this?

If you’re wondering who I’m talking about, well, let me share just a couple of people who admitted to their involvement in the MK-Ultra experiments.

SAN RAFAEL, CA – NOVEMBER 1977: Robert Hunter poses at the Grateful Dead’s rehearsal studio, Club Front, in November 1977 in San Rafael, California. (Photo by Ed Perlstein/Redferns/Getty Images)

First we have Robert Hunter, who, if you didn’t know, was the lyricist for the band, “Grateful Dead.” These hallucinogenic drugs made their way into the music scene in the 1960s, creating what we now identify as the “hippie culture.” So, next time you’re at a rave, taking in the florescent paint and black lights, you have musical artists like Robert Hunter to thank! Getting high led to a whole cultural reboot!

Now, stick with me for these next two, because you probably won’t know them by name, or face, but rather what they became notorious for after their involvement in the MK-Ultra experiments.


So, the man on the left is Ted Kaczynski. You don’t know him? Well, have you ever heard about the literal Unabomber? Yea, that’s Ted. Welcome to the absurdity of American History!

And this guy on the right? Well, that’s James Joseph “Whitney” Bulger. He was a notorious Boston mobster, and had a seriously impressive resume to his name. Well, if crime is considered impressive. He was an FBI informant as well, and was indicted on nearly nineteen murder counts before he eluded police for nearly sixteen years. Needless to say, this guy was a pretty big deal, and it’s pretty wild that he was involved in the MK-Ultra tests.


Let’s be real with one another here though, while there were infamous people who participated in these tests, there was also a ton of average Joes who did too. And to them, we don’t really know their names or their stories due to the classified nature of these experiments. Even more, we don’t know the extent of the amount of people who did not consent to these trials, and were injected with hallucinogenics anyways. Their stories and autonomy need to be told, respected, and compensated.

All good things must come to an end

Are you wondering how this whole thing came to an end? Well, would you believe me if I said it was actually a Church investigation that led to the fall of MK-Ultra?

It’s true… kind of! It was a Church Committee, but not the religious one you’re probably thinking of. In 1974, a New York Times journalist, Seymour Hersh, ran a story about how the CIA had drugged non-consenting Americans as a way to spy on them. This obviously led to some serious public outrage, with citizens shocked at the fact that the government would drug them. And honestly, can you blame them?

So, President Ford, who was President at the time, introduced the United States President’s Commission on CIA Activities, which would serve as an investigation to the CIA experiments and tests that were once deemed classified. While this committee was used to examine the legality of these tests, The Church Committee, helmed by Senator Frank Church, looked into the abuses of the CIA, FBI, and other government entities during and after the time that President Nixon resigned.

And boy-o-boy did the Church Committee find tons of juicy information. They uncovered plots to assassinate foreign leaders like Fidel Castro, and several other incriminating documents on top of the MK-Ultra files.

Uncovering all this abuse made it impossible for the Ford administration to turn a blind eye. Instead, in 1976, Ford passed an executive order that prohibited the government intelligence agencies from doing, “experimentation with drugs on human subjects, except with the informed consent, in writing and witnessed by a disinterested party, of each such human subject.”

And so MK-Ultra fell. But its legacy and secrets are still surfacing.

If you want to learn more about MK-Ultra feel free to visit the link below!

History is a bit more wild than you remember, right?


Author: katrinacrouch13

Hello my name is Katrina and I really like law! This blog will help you understand current events, history lessons, personal accountability, and more. I look forward to knowing you all and discussing with you!

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