In 1956, when Stanley was twenty-one, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and served for eighteen months before being discharged in 1958. Later, inspired by a 1958 performance of the Bolshoi Ballet, he began studying ballet in Los Angeles, supporting himself for a time as a professional dancer. In 1963, he enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley where he became involved in the psychoactive drug scene. He dropped out after a semester, took a technical job at KGO-TV, and began producing LSD in a small lab located in the bathroom of a house near campus. His makeshift laboratory was raided by police on February 21, 1965. He beat the charges and successfully sued for the return of his equipment. The police were looking for methamphetamine, but found only LSDwhich was not illegal at the time.
Stanley moved to Los Angeles to pursue the production of LSD. He used his Berkeley lab proceeds to buy 500 grams of lysergic acid monohydrate, the basis for LSD. His first shipment arrived on March 30, 1965. He produced 300,000 capsules (270 micrograms each) of LSD by May 1965 and then returned to the Bay Area.
In September 1965, Stanley became the primary LSD supplier to Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters; by this point Sandoz LSD was hard to come by and “Owsley Acid” had become the new standard. He was featured (most prominently his freak-out at the Muir Beach Acid Test in November 1965) in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, a book detailing the history of Kesey and the Merry Pranksters by Tom Wolfe. Stanley attended the Watts Acid Test on February 12, 1966 with his new apprentice Tim Scully and provided the LSD.