Why The CIA Ran Secret LSD Tests On Unsuspecting Civilians

In the early 1950s, the CIA conducted numerous tests on unsuspecting civilians to determine whether or not psychedelics could control minds.

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Discovery Digital Networks does not condone the illegal use of drugs. The following episode discusses mature subject matter and is intended for educational purposes only.

This week on TestTube Plus, we'll be talking about the world of psychedelic drugs--from uses in different cultures, to military applications, what they do to your brain and perhaps even a few mind-bending alternatives. As always, pop in your headphones, sit back and let's start at the very beginning.

The promise of psychoactive drugs' power--from being able to force someone to tell you their deepest, darkest secrets, to having complete control over somebody's actions--have led a number of governments--from the Nazis to the CIA--to attempt to harness their power by experimenting with them on often-unsuspecting research subjects.

During World War II, the so-called "Angel of Death", Josef Mengele, and other Nazi doctors experimented on concentration camp prisoners with mescaline and other forms of psychotropic drugs. In 1953, a pair of Canadian researchers tried to use high doses of LSD to "scare" alcoholics into sobriety. Their "mystical" and "near-religious experiences" convinced them to stop drinking.

In the midst of Cold War paranoia, the U.S. government thought psychedelic drugs could be used to get people to reveal information against their will. There are numerous reports of the U.S. Navy and the CIA using LSD in a number of nefarious ways in the 1950s. The project, codename "MKULTRA", spanned eight years, during which the CIA experimented with LSD on unwitting American civilians, prisoners, government employees, and even their own agents. It was terminated in the mid-1960s and the CIA destroyed most of the program's records. In 1977, however, the public learned about the program via a discovery of a cache of 20,000 surviving documents. To this day, the full extent of the government's psychedelic experimentation remains uncertain.

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Learn More:
Why Doctors Can't Give You LSD (But Maybe They Should) (Pop Sci)
"When David Nichols earned a Ph.D in medicinal chemistry from the University of Iowa in 1973 by studying psychedelics, he thought he would continue studying hallucinogens indefinitely. "I thought I would work on it for the rest of my life," he says."

Did the CIA secretly dose people with LSD? (History.com)
"The hippies and other counterculture movements weren't the only groups to experiment with mind-altering substances. Starting in 1953, the Central Intelligence Agency conducted research on psychedelic drugs as part of a top-secret behavior modification program codenamed MKULTRA."

Did the CIA test LSD on unsuspecting Americans? (How Stuff Works)
"In 1951, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) received word from a military envoy that the Swiss drug company Sandoz Pharmaceuticals had 100 million doses of LSD, available to anyone who cared to purchase them."