Rare footage of a "normal person" given LSD in 1950s clinical research

In this video, Sidney Cohen (author of The Beyond Within: The L.S.D. Story, administers LSD under clinical conditions to an unnamed "normal person" (her description), some time in the 1950s. Her description of her experience is really wonderful -- you can tell she's going through something profound and amazing. As Reason's Jacob Sullum wrote in 2011,

The experience she describes includes familiar themes such as gorgeous colors, geometric patterns, microscopic particles suddenly visible, and a sense of transcendence, oneness, and ineffability:

"I can see everything in color. You have to see the air. You can't believe it....I've never seen such infinite beauty in my life....Everything is so beautiful and lovely and alive....This is reality...I wish I could talk in Technicolor....I can't tell you about it. If you can't see it, then you'll just never know it. I feel sorry for you."

Today all this may sound hackneyed, but what's striking about this woman's account is that her expectations were not shaped by the huge surge of publicity that LSD attracted in the next two decades. Although she had not heard what an LSD trip was supposed to be like, her experience included several of the features that later came to be seen as typical—a reminder that, as important as "set and setting" are, "drug" matters too.

Despite the similarity between this woman's description of her experience and testimonials from acid aficionados of the '60s and '70s, her presentation is so calm and nonthreatening that it is hard to imagine how anyone could perceive this drug as an intolerable danger to society.

'I Wish I Could Talk in Technicolor' (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)


  1. Without giving any details away, I can say that LSD is single-handedly the best experience I’ve had in my entire life. I wish I could talk in techno-colour as well, because it’s awesome.

    1. “Taking LSD was a profound experience, one of the most important things in my life. LSD shows you that there’s another side to the coin, and you can’t remember it when it wears off, but you know it. It reinforced my sense of what was important —creating great things instead of making money, putting things back into the stream of history and of human consciousness as much as I could.”-Steve Jobs

      The subconscious is one of the last unmapped destinations. It’s pretty fun to poke around in there. DMT is also a unique and rewarding experience (also better for noobs because its ‘high’ only lasts 5-10 mins) though its visuals and body-high are off the charts compared to LSD. Diviners Sage (Salvia Divinorum – best as concentrated extract) is also a pretty wild time but MUCH more alienating and weird than D or acid… more of a minimalist halucination rather than the standard patterns/colours. “Merging with or becoming objects” is a listed effect. I was a wall. It was wild.

      1. While smoking DMT may be an easier experience to get over quickly, I would hardly consider it better for “noobs,” due to the extremely strong effects it can have. LSD has such a gradual come up, I’ve had experiences where I couldn’t even tell I was tripping until I really started paying attention. However, with DMT, some people (including myself) find that going from 0 to 120 MPH in 30 seconds is a whole lot more jarring and potentially terrifying that even the strongest LSD peak.

    2. At the peak of it I felt like I was senile.  As it was wearing off however it was almost fun. I could taste colors, feel things I saw without actually touching them, lots of synesthesia.

    3.  I far prefer Psilocybin to LSD, but I utterly agree with you on the experience aspect. It’s simply the most amazing thing.

      1. Dude… silk road… get on it.

        Personally I’ve actually found that hallucinogens are, more often than other drugs, labelled exactly what they are (because when tripping it’s kind of important).

      2. I doubt that any normal LSD dose could be tainted with any other drugs, assuming you’re taking it in either blotter or dropper form, simply because no other drug gets dosed out in micrograms. If there were more drugs like that, we’d see more drugs distributed on blotters.

  2. I’ve never taken LSD, but I did try synthetic cannabis when it was legal, and it was as close to a psychedelic experience I’ve ever had.

    I kept seeing some kind of fractal overlay on everything, and had the most convincing feeling that if I could just do the math and figuer out the fractals I would understand the whole universe. I kept trying to model them, and was so disappointed that I couldn’t take a picture and work on them once I was back in the normal state of mind.

    1. I spent years back in the day grooving on the Mandelbrot set with Fractint, and sometimes when I do acid I can get into a state where it feels like I’m staring into a mind-shatteringly infinite abyss of fractal vastness, as if I can see the rest of the universe from my armchair.

      I wish I had the math to go deeper.

    1. I was going to make the same comment. But much like the differential video, this one is worth reposting.

  3. Love this video, great to see it on here.  Two essays that are worth checking out (for those interested in further reading):

    Psychedelics and Religious experience – Alan Watts

    Drugs and Mysticism – William Pahnke

    And a couple great books (one is an anthology):

    The Highest State of Consciousness – John White

    The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide: Safe, Therapeutic, and Sacred Journeys – Dr. James Fadiman

    Both deal with some of those early experiments with psychedelics.  The second one, in particular, is by a researcher who was in the middle of a study of LSD’s effect on creativity when the government banned all such trials effective immediately (including his study).  He’s actually profiled (and the study is featured) in this excellent long-read article:

    The Heretic

  4. Kinda makes you want to drop acid,eh? Too bad they didn’t show this to us in High School instead of the Sonny Bono acid freak out video.


    1. The opening intro of things that I allegedly wouldn’t do on pot is *damn* funny.

      ☑ Taken huge jumps in a terrain park on a snowboard.
      ☑ Performed or presented artistic expression
      ☑ Using a panel saw to cut sheets of timber
      Challenge: Completed

      I also think that in most of the situations listed I’d prefer they’d smoked a joint instead of a cigarette.

      1.  i know, right?  jumping and twisting in the air into a clean landing describes the activities in every single skate and snowboarding video.  i’m hard-pressed to think of any pros that don’t blaze regularly, and while boarding.  I mean, that’s kind of the point.

  5. I always find it very difficult to string together coherent sentences when I am on acid.  It’s not that what I experience is so profound its beyond words, it’s just that I am so high that I am beyond words.  Ask me to describe whats happening to me, or ask me to describe how Monopoly is played…It’s all going to come out as a little less coherent than if I just drank a cup of coffee and called it good.  

    1.  I’ve had the opposite experience.  There were a few times (you know, back in college), where I had the most excellent and profound talks with people who weren’t tripping, while I was.  And one of them was my girlfriend, I told her a couple days later and she WAS miffed about it.  But in the end, she had to admit it was a really good and intense conversation. 

      1. Yep. Same here, but it’s usually at the end of the trip, not in the middle.

        @boingboing-bdce83ad01a398f523eefa9cbcdab720:disqus Pretty standard man, nothing to worry about. It’s only an issue when there are people around who aren’t comfortable with acid. Trippers usually understand that getting lost in thought/speech is par for the course.

  6. Yup. Good for figuring out stuff and understanding the world on a different level. But like all mental exercises, it’s easy to go down a rabbit hole of thought. That’s the problem with it – there is no control over where the thoughts lead to.

    That said, the colors and shapes are truly amazing. Sometimes, it’s as if every single image that the visual processing system normally plays back to the visual cortex in one continuous movie is seen individually, causing our perceived spacial image to get disjointed.

    I feel that it should be experienced by everyone, so that they will see that the brain is not nearly as humdrum as they’ve been told.

    1.  “But like all mental exercises, it’s easy to go down a rabbit hole of
      thought. That’s the problem with it – there is no control over where the
      thoughts lead to.”

      The problem might not be that there is no control. The problem might be that you’re trying to control. Just let go and you will see that the thoughts don’t pull you in, they just come up, one after the other and disappear. It’s beautiful and wonderful and you can still have amazing realizations and interpretations without holding on to them.

  7. LSD is both wonderful and terrifying. It kinda reminds me of that moment near the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark when the Ark is opened and the spirits are flying around and the Nazi archeologist says, “it’s beautiful!” and then the spirits suddenly transform into horrifying wraiths and everything goes completely to hell.

    I’ve had good trips and bad trips. The good ones make me want to tell everyone to try it because it’s a powerful, unique experience. The bad ones make me want to warn people of the terrifying power of the mind when it breaks from reality.

    1.  It’s a good point.  People tend to proselytize about psychedelics, but it needs to be stressed that 1). they are NOT for everybody, and 2) even if they are for you, you need to be careful and not underestimate their potency.

      1. yep.  I’m naturally anxious, and that’s a good enough reason for me to never do DMT or LSD. Or, at least, not do it till I’ve learned how to kick back and not worry so much.

          1. Eh, why risk having a heart attack today when I know I’ll have one tomorrow?

            And besides, yours is anecdotal evidence (which is the best we have for LSD, I can’t claim I have better evidence other than what different people have said), and I’d rather have some statistics to munch on before judging it safe.  And nearly everything else I’ve taken has been pretty well characterized.  I’ve never had an interest in psychedelics and things that’ll completely change my state of mind and outlook, so I never studied them deeply, and therefore don’t have a clue to know what’s accurate to think about them other than to be cautious and “better safe than sorry”.  I have things to read and thoughts to think, but I’m sure that set and setting, while important, can’t get an edge over my anxiety and paranoia.

          2.  Been there once, brother.  Very bad ride.  However, from then on, regular life stress couldn’t bother me.  Sort of like “Aww, this is nuthin! Remember that Saturday night in the dorms with the mean batch?”

          3. Maybe it’s dose related. I always took five to ten hits at a time. The worst thing that happened to me was eating a whole loaf of bread and a whole jar of Miracle Whip. Unless you count the brownies that looked like Barbra Streisand.

          4. Chocolate/ Blonde swirl. They looked like they were designed to be viewed on acid.

        1.  YMMV, but I have to say that with the right friends and the right environment the experience is the antithesis of anxiety.

          1. Let me explain to you what my understanding is of LSD as far as I can tell from anecdotal records from friends as well as what I’ve absorbed from culture:

            LSD is a very powerful drug.  It will strip back the regular facade of how your conscious mind thinks and will show you what your subconscious has to say about you.  It can show you what you’re made of, what you fear most, your place in the universe (as you understand it, consciously or subconsciously) and how your consciousness is a thin veneer on top of what your internal and unconscious is doing.

            That sounds terrifying to me.  I don’t want to know what my unconscious is doing, as far as I can tell, that guy’s an asshole, and won’t let me be happy.  Every time I’ve gotten in touch with my unconscious (and/or semiconscious or subconscious) mind it’s turned out to spawn metaphorical and emotional demons who won’t let me have a moment of peace till I spend a lot of time forgetting, and not thinking at all.

            What happens if he has access to my conscious mind and ego?  That’s truly terrifying.  I don’t want to be intimate with my inner selves.  They don’t have my best interests at heart.  They are powerful enough without drug augmentation, and they can barely be kept at bay by my normal cognitive function.

          2.  The internet is an excellent place for venting, but as someone who’s struggled with a Lot of stuff from my childhoodn and upbringing, I really hope you can look into finding a good psychatrist or psychologist. I would lay good money that you could function at a much more relaxed level if you can gently tease out some of those demons and give them the boot.

        2. I’d have to agree with Anti.. again it’s just anecdotal but typically hallucinogens make you loose, not tight. Amphetamines and Coke will give you a heart attack.

          not do it till I’ve learned how to kick back and not worry so much
          Trust me, the Acid/D will do that for you. There’s always a little anxiety before it kicks, but once it has you won’t even remember you were anxious.

    2. My most enlightening trip, and my most terrifying trip are both from the same trip.

      Then there’s the time I was eating mashed potatoes…

      1.  I’ve also heard that taking a huge dump while tripping is a mystical experience.

        Heck I’ve had a few of those without drugs.

      2. Then there was the time I was taking out the garbage, ran into my neighbor and took him to the ER for his brown recluse bite. I arrived home several hours later to find that I had dismantled my telephone to study its circuit boards.

      3. I’ve never had a really powerful trip, but it’s hard to dependably find good acid.  (In general, mushrooms seem easier to find, and I find them to be more emotionally complex but less geometrical.)

        On the other hand, I have found that on a moderate trip, nachos are sufficiently complex that they need pretty much all the attention span I’ve got, especially if they have beans on them that need to be actually picked up instead of just staying glued on :-)

    3. I think the issue is that the message of OMG LSD WILL DESTROY YOUR SOUL message is so blaring from drug “education” and popular culture, that people tend to overcompensate on the other side of it.  The truth is somewhere in the middle, but far closer to the hippy porthyletizer than OMG DRUGS EAT YOUR SOULZ.

      You can have a bad trip.  You can do a lot to increase the odds of a bad trip by tripping in a place where you don’t feel comfortable and safe or with people who you are not comfortable with.  Nearly all of the ‘bad trip’ stories I have heard involve some element of a person tripping in a place or with people who they didn’t feel comfortable and safe with.  When you are tripping hard, you are extremely vulnerable.  You are easily suggestable and more or less incapable of rational planning and responding to stimuli correctly.  You shouldn’t do it in a place where you need those skills functional.

      If you are going to trip for the first time, I would highly suggest doing it at your house or a friends house, with a close friend or three who have done it before, and preferably with a sober kid for at least the first couple of hours.  I can’t say that will eliminate the chance for a bad trip, but it will be damn close.The truth is that hallucinogens, when taken in the right environment have the potential to be fucking awesome.  It is unfortunate that due to their illegality, at lot of people take them for the first time in the ‘wrong’ place.  A good trip is awesome in the short term, and for a lot of people, the long term.  They call it a trip for a reason; it beats the shit out of a night in Cancun.  It can let you blow off some mental steam in a way that your average resort is unlikely to match.  For a lot of people, some of the experience can even have long term positive benefits.

      So yeah, it isn’t without risk.  Minimize the risks and give it a shot at least once in your life.  It is well worth the risk.

      1. One of my friends got dosed, back when acid was still 500mg, and she hadn’t taken it before.  She says it was 18 hours of hell.

        1. Yup.  Getting dosed is exactly the wrong way to take a hallucinogen.   Anyone who does that is a complete piece of shit, especially if they dose someone who doesn’t know what is going on or has never tripped.  It is one thing to be chilling with close friends in a safe place and have a trip.  It is another thing all together to be out and suddenly start hallucinating in a place that clearly isn’t safe and filled with friendly people.

          Tripping with friends in a safe place vs getting dosed is like the difference between sexy time with a lover and getting raped. People who dose, especially people who dose someone who has never tripped, deserve to get their face beat in.

      2. I agree, but with the addendum that, you really can’t tell what acid is like (that is, what effects are acid related and what are strychnine (or whatever it’s cut with) ) unless you have good reason (like in the video) to think it’s pure. For that matter, if you take it like she did, does it make a difference if it is taken in distilled water or tap water or directly out of a mountain stream or whatever.

  8. This sounds similar to the effects of injecting dish soap into your retinas.  or so I’ve heard.

    1.  It is “rare” in the sense that the vast majority of people  have not seen it.  And they should.

      1. Probably also rare in the sense that more videos of LSD trips from the same time, under the same conditions are themselves very rare, and hard to come by, or nonexistent.  It’s rare by virtue of being one of only a few of its kind.

        does that make sense? (I’m honestly wondering (I wish I didn’t have to qualify that I was sincere))

    1. The observer changes the nature of the observed, especially when he wont quit with the annoying fucking questions.

    2. Wow, I hadn’t seen that one before… Bill seemed like a nice guy.

      The researcher was quite a dick, though… I get the feeling he’d never sampled his wares.

  9. her presentation is so calm and nonthreatening that it is hard to imagine how anyone could perceive this drug as an intolerable danger to society.

    Only the kind of worthless shit who hates the idea that anyone else might discover themselves, think for themselves, or enjoy themselves.  Unfortunately, we seem to be cursed with an abundance of people like that.   

    Most of the trouble in this world has been caused by folks who can’t mind their own business, because they have no business of their own to mind, any more than a smallpox virus has. -William Burroughs

  10. I found that introspection was possible on a completely different level. It was as though I could view my thoughts as a neutral third party observer. So many epiphanies. Any scientist interested in cognition would have a field day.

    1. Oliver Sacks has a number of discussions on psychedelics and various details of cognition, though the ones I remember were using mescaline rather than acid.

        1.  He just wrote a book on hallucinations.  Surprisingly dull, actually, but he does describe a few LSD experiences.  Some interesting stuff towards the end about migraine, epilepsy, hallucinating presences, and out of body and near-death experiences.

    2. I had that exact same experience on synthetic cannabis (spice or whatever people want to call it.)
      Normally I tend to avoid introspection (I dislike myself, I am a harsh judge on my own actions) but when I was on spice, I could introspect and think about why I feel the way I did about things I had done, the way I act, and the reasons for my own actions.  I was able to emotionally handle looking at myself beyond the regular rough approximation of myself I normally use.  People tend to think of themselves as decent, or fairly good people, normally I think of myself as weak, mean (or at least spiteful), selfish and ugly (both physically and in my private thoughts and feelings).  Altering my state of mind let me see that even if that view were accurate, I’m the way I am for a reason, and I have the ability to make myself better than I have been in the past.

      1. People tend to do what is necessary, at any time. You can’t doubt what you thought was necessary, because you will never know the information you had when you made the decision. Also you don’t have the chemicals(natural or otherwise) you had in your system at that time.

  11. Another great clip from yesteryear (with Dr. Humprhy Osmond administering mescaline).  They even have the guy (Christopher Mayhew…who was apparently a Member of Parliament at the time) commenting on it from decades later:

    The Mescaline experiment: Humphry Osmond and Christopher Mayhew

    “Perhaps half-a-dozen times during the experiment I would be withdrawn from my surroundings and from myself and have an experience, a state of euphoria, for a period of time that didn’t end for me.  That didn’t last for minutes, or hours, but for months.”

  12. She was so shy and repressed at the beginning. Watching her lose that was actually more beautiful to me than anything else, like we all got to see a bit of the sensitive intelligent woman under the feigned ignorance and humble giggles. I hope she found it fun.

  13. The film of British troops being given LSD and being sent on a field exercise is pretty funny.  They ended up getting lost in an open well-mapped area, wandering around giggling, and climbing a tree.

  14. I’m so flabbergasted that no tried to interview her and find out what happened after. I really want to hear from her when she came back and what life view she had.

  15. Seen it before, but it still brought tears to my eyes.

    If you can’t see it, then you’ll just never know it. I feel sorry for you.

    : D

  16. That’s the way it was for me. Everything was crisp, clear. It was like waking up from a dream. Pity it only happens that way once. Subsequent trips were still great, but nothing like driving down an unknown road for the first time. Much later, I realized that, even under the most nominal of conditions, one’s perception of reality can be a house of cards. I became fascinated by stories of people who had suffered injuries to specific parts of their brain. For instance, a woman who had suffered an injury to the part of the brain that interprets motion. She saw life as a series of still images (dangerous if one is a pedestrian in traffic). Or the guy whose connection between the left and right brain was severed. His intellect no longer had any control over his emotion. To this day, I wonder if there is anything like true self-awareness. I suspect not. We’re too close to the situation. It’s rather like trying to bite your own teeth.

  17. LSD is an intolerable danger to society when you give it to a bunch of army guys with a bazooka:

    But really, go try it. In december last year I had 4 tabs at once just to see what happens… it was pretty intense and I probably shouldn’t have done it in a sleep-deprived state but in the height of it I felt like I was on the surface of an ice-like planet with particles flying everywhere. My friends were floating faces and I could not tell where a cigarette began or ended (though I was still oddly able to smoke it). It was unlike anything you will ever experience in a state of sobriety or with pretty much any other non-hallucinogenic drug.

  18. Love this video. First saw it on here a while back. I would LOVE to find out what became of this woman as she continued on in life.

  19. LSD is a drug that really demands it be taken in the right environment.  Not something to be taken casually.

    1.  Or something to be taken casually in the wrong environment with the right liquor! Shit. We should feed it to our council men and see what happens.

  20. Needless to say, she got the pharmaceutical grade pure stuff, which would have been much mellower, cleaner experience than whatever’s floating around these days.

    There was a good article a while back about how the feds finally busted the guy who was making most of the LSD in the United States.

  21. A friends brother made a pitcher of electric Kool-Aide in college, put it in the fridge with a sign that said “Do NOT drink.”  He cam back and his asshole roommate said “I drank your Kool-Aide” and was told “Well I hope you have some free time because you just did more LSD than anyone I’ve ever seen.”

  22. Thanks for posting that.  I had never seen it before, and it is just so moving to watch her have this experience. 

  23. “it is hard to imagine how anyone could perceive this drug as an intolerable danger to society”

    Maybe this will give you a better idea? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5hW6Dm_m5t4

    If you have a hard time watching the beginning, feel free to skip to 1:40 for Ram Dass’ interview.

  24. I see posts from fanboys and non-trippers but what about the people who aren’t perfectly normal and don’t know it? Has anyone read Through a Scanner Darkly? Phillip K Dick was writing about friends he had lost, who ended up in institutions – they didn’t come back. LSD can trigger latent psychosis. Stop lauding it as if it was harmless and look into the people who aren’t often talked about. It’s not harmless, I can’t tell the difference but others tell me I’m not the same person. Try tripping for 5 days on one tab. I found the word apophenia recently – that’s what it’s like.  Messages and meanings everywhere that don’t exist of course. I read in the newspaper that someone was dead and I thought I had done it.  It is chemical insanity I tell you. I bet some other poster says I’m making it up. This was 30 years ago, I had separate 4 goes (stupid), and I have had two flashbacks since then.

    1. It isn’t for everyone. Human beings are complex. To me, it was well worth the risk, and time bore that out. It never surprised me that, after taking a hallucinagin, I would hallucinate.

  25. I sat and smiled throughout the whole video, remembering back to some of my own experiences.  I like to see people trying to express the joy in discovering their being one with it all, Bill Hicks’s squeegee effect.

  26. The fact we can’t have this legally in the so called Free West proves we are not free. We have been cut off from much of creation by some pernicious force that presently controls this world:

    If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to you as it is, infinite.William Blake

    1. Blake quote continued: 
      For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.

      Speaking of which … I recommend Aldous Huxley’s books Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell, about his psychedelic experience. Also, Alan Watts’ The Joyous Cosmology subtitled Adventures In The Chemistry Of Consciousness

  27. I wouldn’t count on it, but I wonder if  Obama’s brain research initiative will have anything to do with this.

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