Book 3: LSD and Beyond: How Being a Research Subject Transformed My Life

When I was a senior at Stanford University, I took a class titled Human Potentialities. It was taught by an engineer, Willis Harman, and it opened my eyes to many things. Bill, as he invited us to call him, had explored widely. What intrigued me the most was that he had taken LSD.

LSD was still legal then. It was 1964, Bill was part of a small team of researchers who had formed an off-campus group called IFAS. I’m sure that those initials were chosen deliberately, for the “if as” implication. They were short for the International Foundation for Advanced Study. The study was about LSD.

Bill had research papers we could read, and I took a couple of them home with me. They explained how normal people responded to taking LSD in a controlled setting that Bill and his colleagues provided in an office they had nicely fitted out. The room where people went had a sofa and a record player… this was before the days of tape players. One of their team would be available for the research subjects at all times. What they found was that their subjects typically had powerfully positive experiences.

Well, I wanted to try it myself. It cost $500 for a session, and I mailed those studies to my mother. She read them and agreed to pay it as a graduation gift. Actually, what she said was that she and my stepdad would give me that amount of money as a gift and that it would be up to me how I used it. I could take LSD or not.

That was a no-brainer. I signed up to take it through IFAS. (Later, when psychedelics were more widely available in the street, a lot of my friends laughed that I had paid that much, but even now I still think the support and setting were so good that it was worth the money.)

I was scheduled to take it in May, not too long before finals, but serendipity intervened. I got a nasty case of poison oak after going hiking with a boyfriend one evening after dark. I had to take meds to cope with the intense itching, and the student health service said that the meds might have a bad effect on the LSD. So my experiment was postponed a few weeks, until after I graduated.

Really, that was best, because it turned out that I had such a powerful experience that it was just as well that I didn’t have to think about final exams and term papers at the time.

The Morning I Took LSD

I went to the IFAS office on the morning my experience was scheduled for. As advised, I had brought along some of my favorite music on records, symphonies of Brahms and Beethoven. I was given a dose of LSD. My helper for the day was a psychologist named Bob, who had taken it himself. He got me settled on the comfy sofa, with an afghan over me, and he advised me to close my eyes and put my attention inward.

I did just that, and I began to wonder if anything would really happen. But then I noticed that the symphony was moving through my entire body. And I was off, so to speak, to the races. What happened? A lot. Good and bad but ultimately transformative.

The Memoir I Wrote About It

That single day had more effect on my life going forward than any other day. The book that I wrote describes the LSD trip in detail, but really the book is much more about its effects.

In Part I, I tell the story of how it lead me to a new boyfriend in Berkekely, and how he and I went to live in Spain and France. We eventually returned to California. I won’t give you any spoilers about that.

In Part II, I describe the many ways my inner life changed. I became a Quaker, I learned self-hypnosis, and much more.

To see the book, click on the image.

LSD and Beyond