Gallery C

Mind Games

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Secret Government LSD Experiments

By James Donahue

It should come as no surprise that the Central Intelligence Agency conducted secret experiments with the psychedelic drug LSD even before it was made known to the world. What is shocking about this story is that the experiments were conducted on many human test subjects without their knowledge or consent.

The project was code named MKUltra and it involved experiments not only with LSD but with a variety of other drugs as agents tested the effects of them in areas of mind control, hypnosis, sensory deprivation and torture. It was said that the CIA used prison inmates, hospital patients and other institutionalized persons, often without their knowledge, and paid these institutions to keep silent. 

MKUltra operated on the order of CIA director Allen Welsh Dulles in 1953 as an effort to develop mind-controlling drugs to use on Korean prisoners of war. The project was headed by Sidney Gottlieb.

The experiments were halted in 1975 after the Church Committee of Congress and the Gerald Ford Commission opened hearings to investigate secret CIA activities within the United States. Gathering information was hampered because CIA Director Richard Helms ordered all MKUltra files destroyed before they could be made public. In spite of this, an estimated 20,000 documents were seized.

One report noted that the MKUltra project involved research at some 80 different institutions, including 44 colleges and universities, hospitals, prisons and even pharmaceutical companies.

A Supreme Court document noted that the CIA experiments sought “the research and development of chemical, biological and radiological materials capable of employment in clandestine operations to control human behavior.”

It was during that same time that some psychologists like Dr. Timothy Leery began experimenting with LSD on their patients. Leery praised the drug and reported success in using LSD to help in breaking smoking habits, prison recidivism and other human mental problems. Leery publicly promoted LSD, which became popular with the Hippie Movement. When President Nixon declared the nation’s “War On Drugs,” LSD was listed among the “Schedule One” list of most dangerous narcotics. Leery was eventually arrested and sent to prison on drug charges.

The CIA operatives certainly knew very well the effects of LSD on a variety of humans. Unlike Leery, who conducted his experiments under controlled conditions, the government program appeared reckless in its use of the drug. They quickly learned that LSD distorted a person’s sense of reality and they wanted to determine if it would help make prisoners of war and spies defect against their will.

The CIA experiments included giving LSD to mental patients, prisoners, drug addicts and prostitutes. As one agency official explained it, they were people who could not fight back.

The drug also was given to CIA employees, military personnel, doctors, government agents, and members of the general public, usually without the subject’s knowledge or consent, just to see what happened.