Skip to comments.My 12 hours as a madman [One for pop-culture-history buffs.]
Posted on 05/14/2011 11:24:59 AM PDT by danielmryan
[A brief introduction. This article, published in Maclean's, was the first popular treatment of LSD. Those who associate LSD with the 1960s will be surprised at the way the drug was categorized and presented in the early 1950s. At the time, people thought LSD induced a temporary psychosis: synthetic schizophrenia. Some psychiatrists were recommending other psychiatrists take the drug so as to get an "inside-out" experience of schizophrenia. I've put the beignning and the end just below, while snipping Katz's blow-by-blow depiction of his experience itself: it can be found in the original article, starting on page two.]
Here is the minute-by-minute report of a Maclean's editor who swallowed an experimental drug that turned him into a raving schizophrenic: what he saw, what he felt, what he said and didfully documented by tape recordings, photographs, scientific witnesses and his own tormented memories that still haunt him.
On the morning of Thursday, June 18, 1953, I swallowed a drug which, for twelve unforgettable hours, turned me into a madman. For twelve hours I inhabited a nightmare world in which I experienced the torments of hell and the ecstasies of heaven.
I will never be able to describe fully what happened to me during my excursion into madness. There are no words in the English language designed to convey the sensations I felt or the visions, illusions, hallucinations, colors, patterns and dimensions which my disordered mind revealed.
I saw the faces of familiar friends turn into fleshless skulls and the heads of menacing witches, pigs and weasels. The gaily patterned carpet at my feet was transformed into a fabulous heaving mass of living matter, part vegetable, part animal. An ordinary sketch of a woman's head and shoulders suddenly sprang to life. She moved her head from side to side, eyeing me critically, changing back and forth from woman into man. Her hair and her neckpiece became the nest of a thousand famished serpents who leaped out to devour me. The texture of my skin changed several times. After handling a painted card I could feel my body suffocating for want of air because my skin had turned to enamel. As I patted a black dog, my arm grew heavy and sprouted a thick coat of glossy black fur.
I was repeatedly held in the grip of a terrifying hallucination in which I could feel and see my body convulse and shrink until all that remained was a hard sickly stone located in the left side of my abdomen, surrounded by a greenish-yellow vapor which poured across the floor of the room.
Time lost all meaning. Hours were telescoped into minutes; seconds stretched into hours. The room I was in changed with every breath I drew. Mysterious flashes of multicolored light came and went. The dimensions of the room, elasticlike, stretched and shrank. Pictures, chairs, curtains and lamps flew endlessly about, like planets in their orbits. My senses of feeling, smelling and hearing ran amuck. It was as though someone had rooted out the nerve nets in my brain, which control the senses, then joined them together again without thought to their proper placings.
But my hours of madness were not all filled with horror and frenzy. At times I beheld visions of dazzling beautyvisions so rapturous, so unearthly, that no artists will ever paint them. I lived in a paradise where the sky was a mass of jewels set in a background of shimmering aquamarine blue; where the clouds were apricot-colored; where the air was filled with liquid golden arrows, glittering fountains of iridescent bubbles, filigree lace of pearl and silver, sheathes of rainbow lightall constantly changing in color, design, texture and dimension so that each scene was more lovely than the one that preceded it.
Two weeks have now passed since I spent half a day as a madman. (I was so frightened and bewildered by the experience that it is only now that I am able to sit down and write a complete account of what happened to me. Even now, as I relive the nightmare from this safe distance, I grow tense and my body is bathed in perspiration.)
I volunteered to become a temporary madman in the interests of medical research into the problem of mental illness. This is one phase of research where some of the guinea pigs have to be human beings. For animals can't describe their sensations.
The drug I took was LSDlysergic acid diethylamidean alkaloid of ergot, the poisonous rust that sometimes grows on rye. Two years ago when bread made of infected rye flour was sold in a French village many of the inhabitants died of poisoning or went stark raving mad. The mental condition produced by this drugdeveloped by a Swiss chemistclosely resembles acute schizophrenia, the most prevalent and the most serious form of mental disease in Canada. About half the patients in our mental hospitals suffer from some form of this terrible mental torture.
In spite of the fact that psychiatrists identified schizophrenia (sometimes known as dementia praecox or "split personality") fifty years ago, our information about it is still scanty. We do know that the victim lives in a disordered world of his own, suffering from hallucinations and delusions. His thinking, mood and behavior are affected. Schizophrenics sometimes commit suicide and murder in response to false beliefs which overpower them.
As to the cause of this disease, there are two main schools of thought. One groupparticularly the psychoanalyststends to believe that the schizophrenic can't cope with the difficulties of life and therefore withdraws to a world of fantasy. The other group holds that schizophrenia is the direct result of a metabolic disorderthe internal glands have gone haywire, upsetting the body chemistry. They suspect that the culprit is the adrenal gland system, which in a complicated way produces a poisonous substance which causes the insanity.
These theories are not necessarily exclusive. Dr. Hans Selye, the University of Montreal scientist, has shown how stress and strain can so affect the functioning of the internal glandsincluding the adrenalsthat they can produce a variety of illnesses, including mental illness.
By artificially creating a condition like schizophrenia in a normal personas was done in my caseresearchers hope to find the answers to a number of hitherto baffling questions. The psychiatrist wants to know: What does a schizophrenic feel? What does he see? What does he think? How does he think? How can he best be approached by a therapist? These answers are not easy to obtain from the chronic psychotic who has little or no insight and is usually uncommunicative. The biochemist seeks information which may finally lead to a cure for schizophrenia: What toxic substance is found in the psychotic which is absent in the body of the normal person? If this substance can be identified, then it is conceivable that a chemical agent can be created to counteract it, very much as penicillin and Aureomycin can kill certain kinds of infection. This could theoretically lead to the cure of half our mental patients.
[After the LSD experience finally came to an end, and after an agitated but later dreamless sleep,] I was starving. I showered, dressed in clean clothes, and picked up Mike Kesterton and grabbed a cab into Weyburn. I walked along the street looking at the passing people and glancing at the store windows, rejoicing that I was back again in the land of the living. We went to a restaurant where I demolished large quantities of orange juice, eggs, toast and coffee. Food never tasted better. I thought of my wife and my children and went to a store to buy them some gifts.
My thoughts now turned to the patients in the mental hospital. I was fortunate. I had endured the torment of hell for only twelve hours and now I was free. But how about them? Many of them have been mentally ill for five, ten and even fifteen years. How long did a single tortured hour appear to be to them? A day? A month? A year? An eternity?
I retuned to the hospital and walked through the wards alone. In the past, I have spent many, many hours in mental hospitals, both as a student psychiatric social worker and as an observer. But on this day, I saw everything through different eyes. A tall and gaunt schizophrenic patient came up to me, grasped my hand and for a few seconds, and then without uttering a word stole away. I recalled how desperately I had clutched at Osmond's hand. What endless vortex was this man fleeing from? A blond youth in his late twenties stood trancelike, staring at a shadow on the wall, an ecstatic smile frozen on his face. How many millions of miles away was he?
New Hope for the Insane?
Another patient, his face full of desperation told me that a lizard had been living in a hammock in his chest. It had given birth to three small lizards which had crawled up into his head and eaten away his brain. What comfort could I offer him? Could I tell him that all this was a figment of his imagination when he could see the beasts in a thousand colors and dimensions and actually feel their slightest movement? No real experience of the normal person will rival this patient's sensation of reality.
From the far end of the hall I could hear the terrible chant of a disturbed schizophrenic repeating over and over:
"Burn, goddam body; burn goddam body, burn goddam legs, burn goddam belly, burn goddam body, burn goddam body..."
What corner of hell did he inhabit? What terrors beset him? Fresh from my experiences of yesterday I could imagine what they might be, and imagining, wince with pain.
I left Weyburn with a sense of urgency. Half of all our hospital beds are filled with mental patients. Half of these again suffer from schizophrenia. We don't yet know the cause of this disease but there is good reason to suspect that it is due to an error in body chemistry. A few specks of a drug changed me, a normal person, into a madman. Is it, therefore not entirely possible that the schizophrenic is a person whose body constantly manufactures minute particles of a similarly poisonous substance?
If this should be the case science can only hope to identify and counteract it when the funds are available for research are in the millions, not in the thousands as at present. We should insist that our best doctors, technicians and laboratories be immediately sent to rescue the schizophrenic from his endless hell. No goal can be more urgent or more humane. I know.
Any dream-analyis buffs or amateur psychoananlysts may as well have a go at Katz's experience: his recounting starts half-way down on page 2.
IU’d have to say that either he took a whole lot more than anyone I’ve ever heard of did or that he simply had a bad trip?
And while this drug is very dangerous and should not be trifled with, I know people who claim to have taken it over 300 times. They appear normal and function normally in society and within their families.
I also know people who after one or two doses were never able to get completely home again.
Brain chemicals should not be taken lightly. It's an intricate balance which some can manage and some cannot. Even prescription drugs can permanently alter the balance of chemicals in the brain...from which some people never recover.
Alcohol can as well.
No, that was a standard dose; it was a bad trip.
Here's my take on why. Neurochemically, LSD is a serotonin antagonist: it blocks the workings of that neurotransmitter. Serotonin is known as the "leadership chemical": alpha males - the real thing - have twice the normal level in their bloodstream. It shows in their stand-up-straight, take-charge gait. On the other hand, lower than normal serotonin levels tend to coincide with being low on the totem pole. People with lower than normal serotonin levels tend to be depressed or angry. They slouch an awful lot.
LSD being a serotonin antagonist, it - apart from the hallucinations, sensory distortions, etc. - makes you feel like you're the lowest of the low. That's why people in the early and mid-1960s, like Timothy Leary, held it up as a spiritual experience.
Based on the above, I believe that the prime factor behind whether or not a trip is bad depends on how comfortable the user is with being the lowest on the totem pole. Some people are, and they tend to have good trips. Others aren't, and they tend to have a terrible time.
Later psychological research, before LSD was made illegal, indicted that bad trips tended to be correlated with hanging on to one's ego instead of letting it "dissolve." That gibes with what I sketched out above.
Possible unknowing MK-ULTRA/Project Bluebird participant ie persons dosed with LSD, mescalin ,psychlobin and other psychoactive drugs singularly or in a cocktail also subjected to electro-shock therapy while dosed .
Several folks had really nasty after effects at least one decided to make like a little bird & try to fly out a 13 floor window in New York .
Informed consent for the most part was NOT sought from the participants . This is what government health care can & will do to you.
I should add that the theory of schizophrenia in the article - that the disease is caused by the secretion of "natural LSD" by a broken adrenal gland - has long been exploded. Had it panned out, schizophrenics would be treated with Prozac.
Good guess, but it was actually 200 micrograms.
methamphetamine does this to folks everyday.
That is a very good observation, "bad trips" always seemed self induced, and a sensitive observant person could predict in advance the rare person that would have one.
Until very recently certain enthusiasts have tried using it as an adjunct to psychotherapy for substance abuse and other disorders. These experiments have never yielded any useful results.
This was true well into the fifties. The emergence of antipsychotic medications changed all that beginning with the introduction of Thorazine about 1955.
Those who smirk at psychiatric medications should consider the implications of this revolution in treatment.
I can tell you firsthand that a trip is nothig like this video at all. So if this is what they base their assumption on that a trip is like schizophrenia I’d have to tell them they are full of it.In my younger years I did many things I shouldn’t have done and let’s just say I am well experinced in this area.
What emptied the mental hospitals and moved them to our streets was the bill that JFK signed.
I’m with you Chris. Even a bad trip was far removed from the depiction within the video. The thing I remember most about “those days” is my jaws aching from the constant laughter.