The CIA's obsession with LSD in the water supply

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It's a classic urban legend of drug culture: A terrorist group/the CIA/the Yippies/the mob is planning to spike a city's water supply with LSD to cause mass hysteria. In two recent articles, Fortean Times traced the rumors back to the 1950s when the CIA first became interested in the potential of LSD as a mind-control drug. From FT:
The psychedelic water saga arose at the height of the Cold War in 1953, when the intelligence agency approached Dr Nick Bercel, a Los Angeles psychiatrist working with LSD in a psychothera­peutic context. After querying him on the possible consequences if the Russians were to put LSD in the water supply of a large American city, the spooks demanded Bercel calculate how much LSD would be needed to dose Los Angeles’s water supply with acid.

Bercel dissolved some LSD in a glass of chlorinated water, which promptly neutralised the psychedelic, leading him to tell the CIA the idea was not worth pursuing. The spooks were unconvinced, allegedly designing another vers­ion of LSD that was not neutralised by chlor­ine. Yet although the experiment had failed, the idea that LSD could be used to mass-dose the population had been created – and even though scientific opinion was against it, the notion was just too powerful to give up and started to take on a life of its own.

Following up on that article about the urban legend, Fortean Times has posted a new feature taking a much deeper dip into the CIA's obsession with mass dosing. Basically, they didn't take the first no as an answer. From Fortean Times:
Dr Jim Ketchum was involved in the US Army’s programme for testing the military effectiveness of a whole range of psychedelic chemicals. He entered his office as Department Chief one Monday morning in 1969 and found a black steel barrel, a bit like an oil drum, in the corner. [1] The military does not always explain everything, and Dr Ketchum assumed there was a good reason for this unusual addition to the furniture. However, after a couple of days he became curious. He waited until everyone else in the building had gone home one evening and opened the lid. 

The barrel was filled with sealed glass canisters “like cookie jars”. He took one out to inspect it; the label indicated that the jar contained three pounds of pure EA 1729. This wouldn’t mean much to most people, but to anyone working in this field the code was instantly familiar. Substances were given EA designations from the Army’s Edgewood Arsenal; EA 1729 is the military designation for LSD. The other glass canisters were the same, perhaps 14 of them in all. This was enough acid for several hundred million doses with, Ketchum estimated, a street value of over a billion dollars.  Some wild ideas about what to do next flitted through his mind, but in the event he simply sealed the barrel up again. By the Friday morning it had vanished as mysteriously as it arrived. 

"Reservoir Drugs: Are the CIA spiking your water supply?"

"Don't Drink the Water" (Thanks, Chris Arkenberg!)


    1. Do you have a better source for this supposed “FACT” than the “Worst Science Article of the Week”?

      1. Correction, and article called the worst science article of the week that also has a paragraph saying that this ‘theory’ doesn’t stand up to scrutiny

        “Now, The Telegraph reports that the incident was not “ergotism” caused by the fungus, as previously believed, but was actually a bad trip caused by the CIA, which had spiked the village bread with LSD, or maybe just sprayed LSD into the air. Quite a story, huh? Too bad it doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.”

  1. For those of you who are interested in “this kind of thing”, there is an upcoming conference about psychedelics in New York City on September 24-26th called Horizons.

    There will be presentations about ongoing medical research using psychedelics from NYU, Johns Hopkins, the University of Hannover, Germany, and also talks on public policy, history, culture and spirituality.

    Learn all about us at We are a non-profit educational organization.

  2. Let me give a shout out to my long-time friend and all around paranoid/right-wing freak Todd Brendan Fahey, whose novel Wisdom’s Maw envisions a world in which the Beats are actually intentionally subverted by Sandoz and others. If you like this, you’ll like the book. Too much of what we suspect has at least a sliver of genesis in truth.

  3. Mandrake, have you ever seen a Commie drink a glass of water?

    I can no longer sit back and allow Communist infiltration, Communist indoctrination, Communist subversion and the international Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids.

  4. “This was enough acid for several hundred million doses”

    Maybe if you’re a frat boy just hitting Amsterdam for the first time, but I doubt it would have last me the weekend.

  5. If you do the math, it’s about 75 million good doses (250-ish micrograms). At today’s 50-ish microgram doses, yeah, it could be a couple of hundred million.

    A billion dollar street value? That’s about $13-14 a dose. Probably a reasonable price, ignoring volume discounts (I imagine if you pull up to someone who sells LSD and ask for, say, 25 million doses, they may be willing to provide a discount).

    Dosing people without their knowledge and consent is evil and rude…on the other hand, I’m feeling strangely thirsty right now…

    Where’s my missile silo?

    1. High Times magazine also broke the CIA crack cocaine connection in 1988 almost a DECADE before the San Jose paper.

      1. Yeah, I’ve seen High Times do some descent stuff. RAW wrote a few articles for em.

        Acid Dreams is a book.

  6. Well, at least we have the CIA’s LSD obsession to thank for introducing Ken Kesey and his friends to the stuff…

  7. More than once back in the ’50s, Soupy Sales showed a brief film clip of a cat freaked out by a mouse for comedic effect. Much later, I found out that the film had been made by the CIA, and the cat had been dosed with LSD as an experiment. How Soupy and his crew got a hold of classified CIA film footage has always been beyond me, but I’m glad that I saw it!

  8. #24, that’s the same article mentioned in #1’s link; It was debunked by both a historian and a chemist.

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