Tuesday , December 5 2023
(The bus)...may have represented a generation's dream of freedom and self-expression, but some dreams end up being nightmares.

Dr. Hoffman, Ken Kesey, And LSD

Wow! Talk about synergy and synchronicity man! It’s like the stars aligned in just the most cosmic of fashions, and the universe opened its soul for all of us to step inside. It was right there for all to see too, in that most uptight of places The Globe And Mail on line today.

There they were; like an invitation from the cosmos to remind us of how to open our minds and bare our souls; two articles from two different countries working in conjunction. First, there was the man who started it all. I mean, he unlocked the secret of the stars for us over in Switzerland, and he, Albert Hoffman, turned one hundred yesterday.

Now here’s the real mind-boggling thing; at the same time the grandfather is being celebrated, the original vehicle of consciousness expansion is being resurrected. Can you dig it! Ken Kesey’s original School Bus is being restored and put back on the road.

That’s right, the vehicle that carried the Merry Pranksters across the old U.S.A from 1964 to 1969; spreading the truth about truth, and teaching us to expand our minds, has risen from the dead. It made its last trip to Woodstock in 69, and then was laid to rest. In 1990 it was given its final reward and pushed into the swamp out back of the Kesey farm where it could finally achieve pure oneness with mother earth.

Those of us who never experienced “being on the bus”, but only read about it through the eyes of Tom Wolfe in Electric Kool Aid Acid Test, still most likely think of the bus named “Furthur”(as it was misspelt on the bus) as our initiation to the psychedelic. With the most famous driver in literature at the wheel, Neil Cassidy, (the real life basis for Dean Moriarty in Jack Kerouac’s On The Road) and a fridge full of LSD spiked drinks, they set out to film themselves and America.

Dr. Hoffman discovered Lysergic acid diethylamide-25 (LSD) in 1938 while he was experimenting with the medicinal properties of a fungus. It wasn’t until 1943 that he accidentally became the first human subject for testing. He spilt three drops on a finger during a laboratory test and experienced the first trip. He also experienced the first bummer (bad trip) a few days later when he deliberately ingested a larger amount.

Due to the drug’s ability to exaggerate inner problems and conflicts, bad trips are usually a reflection of some inner conflict or problem. What Dr. Hoffman hoped was the drug would be useful as a means of treating and diagnosing psychiatric ailments like schizophrenia, and never foresaw it having a recreational potential.

Still to this day he abhors both the ban on the drug and its abuse by people looking to get high: “The history of LSD to date amply demonstrates the catastrophic consequences that can ensue when its profound effect is misjudged and the substance is mistaken for a pleasure drug.” He continues to advocate for the revoking of the ban on the grounds that it is not addictive and has vast potential for use in treatment.

In the 1950’s Ken Kesey picked up extra money volunteering his services as a drug tester. This was how he was introduced to LSD. Somehow or other he was able to smuggle a supply of the drug out of the lab and begin using it on his own.

While working a night shift as an intern at a psychiatric institution he began taking doses and observing the patients as they slept. It was from these observations that his most famous novel One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest was born. It seems only fitting than that the bus was paid for from money he earned from that novel.

The bus was to be a grand experiment with living and creating while stoned all the time. There were casualties among those involved in the form of bad trips, people’s insecurities coming to the fore. If you were unable to deal with facing your own demons this type of experience would have been shattering.

The image that bus projected of freedom and creativity carried across the years and fuelled the drug culture of the sixties and the seventies. Even though Kesey himself advocated going beyond drugs in the mid-sixties; that it was time to take the next step in self-exploration and growth; the influence of the bus persisted.

People would read Tom Wolf’s book and revel in the descriptions of the wild parties with the Hell’s Angels and the Grateful Dead and ignore the grim realities of the bad trips and hospitalizations. They also failed to take into account how quality could vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.

While Kesey and his cohorts were ingesting what was pure LSD, when people whose scruples weren’t as pure got their hands on its manufacturing process, there was no knowing what you were taking. In latter days one of the key ingredients, in what was being sold as acid, was Strychnine. The first clue you would get to how badly doctored the dose had been, was the size of your stomach cramps.

No one knows what long-term physical or neurological damage heavy ingestion of LSD have caused, or could potentially cause. Psychological problems have been well documented but there have been no studies on what the effects of base materials like Strychnine could have on the nervous system.

Having known people who have contracted diseases of the nervous system like Multiple Sclerosis latter in life, after having ingested LSD on a regular basis for years, it makes me wonder. Does the drug only work on the brain or does it have more far reaching effects when taken in large doses?

Ken Kesey and Dr Hoffman had a lot in common. They were both researching the potentials of LSD. Dr. Hoffman looked on it as a tool that could be utilized in a clinical setting under the supervision of medical staff. Kesey was experimenting with looking at the world in different way; liberating the mind from the shackles of convention and training. Like the beats of the 1950’s, Kesey unwittingly created a romantic persona everybody wanted to emulate.

Not having the access to the quality of LSD that Kesey did, or the self-assuredness needed to ingest it in large doses, the path he thought he was blazing towards freedom became littered with those not ready to face their own demons. It’s hard to attach blame to Kesey, as he never advocated or documented this experiment; others were responsible for creating the myth.

Like his compatriot Nobel shouldn’t be held accountable for today’s suicide bombers, Dr. Albert Hoffman shouldn’t be held to account for his invention of LSD. What was meant to stay within the hands of doctors and clinicians became available to the general public through bathtub chemists and profiteers. Abuse any psychotropic medication and there is bound to be trouble.

Ken Kesey and Dr. Hoffman both saw a potential for using LSD as a means to a specific end. Neither of them was advocating its use as a means to get “high” or “stoned”. Not with standing Tim Leary’s advocacy to “Turn On, Tune In, and Drop Out”, no drug is a cure all for what ails anybody or the answer to society’s problems.

Given the nostalgia and the hoopla that’s bound to be generated by the resurrection of “Furthur”, the original magic bus, there’s something to keep in mind. She may have represented a generation’s dream of freedom and self-expression, but some dreams end up being nightmares.

About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of three books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion" and "Introduction to Greek Mythology For Kids". Aside from Blogcritics he contributes to Qantara.de and Country Queer Magazines and his work has appeared in the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and has been translated into numerous languages in multiple publications.

Check Also


SXSW 2023: Connecting Your Brain to Computers

Brain Computer Interface technology will allow you to control the world with just your thoughts and bluetooth.