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By Dan M.

To those who don’t know the history, it may be a surprise that Bill W. experimented with LSD in the 50s. It is worth recounting how that came about and what the repercussions were. Since the mid-forties Bill had been friends with Gerald Heard, the Anglo-Irish philosopher. They had a long correspondence in which they discussed the depression from which they both suffered. It was Heard who introduced Bill to Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World and The Doors of Perception, about his experiments with mescaline. They too exchanged many letters.

 In the late fifties, Bill learned from Huxley and Heard about experiments that two psychiatrists in Saskatchewan, Humphrey Osmond and Abraham Hoffer, were conducting with alcoholics and schizophrenics using LSD. The two doctors had begun these experiments in 1954, when the drug was barely known outside of a narrow world of research. Their feeling was that many alcoholics were also schizophrenic, and the drug could help them have a breakthrough. At first, Bill was against giving any kind of drug to alcoholics, but they were reporting results in reaching these difficult patients. Where they previously had a recovery rate of only 5%, they were now reporting 15% of patients recovering after the use of LSD. Bill began to see it as something akin to his “white-light” experience, hoping it could reduce the ego in alcoholics, making “the influx of God’s grace possible.”

On August 29, 1956 Bill took LSD for the first time under the guidance of Gerald Heard and Dr. Sidney Cohen, a psychiatrist at Los Angeles Veterans Administration Hospital. Bill was enthusiastic about the experience, feeling it helped eliminate the barriers that ego erects that stand in the way of experiencing the cosmos or God. He reported to his associates that he felt it could help many alcoholics have a spiritual breakthrough. He invited those close to him to try it. Father Ed Dowling tried it and so did Lois Wilson, although she took a lower dose and said she wasn’t sure it had much effect.

Although LSD was at least a decade away from its association with the counter-culture and hedonistic excess, word that Bill had taken a drug, even under clinical supervision, was not well-received by the fellowship. Most AA members were understandably opposed to using any mind-altering drug. Bill was open and dealt with the criticism generously, but privately he was frustrated. Having turned the fellowship over to the groups through their delegates at the conference, he felt he should be able to make his own choices. In his correspondence with Dr Jack Norris, he said, “I do believe that I am perfectly aware of the dangers to AA. I know that I must not compromise its future and would gladly withdraw from these new activities if ever this became apparent.”

By 1959, he had taken LSD for the last time, having had several sessions with the drug. In 1968 it was made illegal and most clinical testing stopped.

Dan M.’s home group is Fremont Men’s Stag at Irvington Presbyterian Church on Monday evenings at 7. Hybrid: 187 927 449, PC: 774746