Aldous Huxley’s LSD Death Trip

Aldous Huxley put himself forever on the intellectual map when he wrote the dystopian sci-fi novel Brave New World in 1931. (Listen to Huxley narrating a dramatized version here.) The British-born writer was living in Italy at the time, a continental intellectual par excellence.

Then, six years later, Huxley turned all of this upside down. He headed West, to Hollywood, the newest of the New World, where he took a stab at writing screenplays (with not much luck) and started experimenting with mysticism and psychedelics — first mescaline in 1953, then LSD in 1955. This put Huxley at the forefront of the counterculture’s experimentation with psychedelic drugs, something he documented in his 1954 book, The Doors of Perception.

Huxley’s experimentation continued right through his death in November 1963. When cancer brought him to his death bed, he asked his wife to inject him with “LSD, 100 µg, intramuscular.” He died later that day, just hours after Kennedy’s assassination. Three years later, LSD was officially banned in California.

By way of footnote, it’s worth mentioning that the American medical establishment is now giving hallucinogens a second look, conducting controlled studies of how psilocybin and other psychedelics can help treat patients dealing with cancer, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, drug/alcohol addiction and end-of-life anxiety. The New York Times has more on this story.

For a look at the history of LSD, we recommend the 2002 film Hofmann’s Potion (2002) by Canadian filmmaker Connie Littlefield. You can watch it here, or find it listed in our collection of Free Movies Online.

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  1. Jon says . . . | October 15, 2011 / 3:09 pm

    This is a terrifically interesting post. And thanks for the link to the NY Times story on potential therapeutic effects of psychedelics. I hadn’t seen it.

  2. Sidney Raphael says . . . | July 9, 2012 / 7:19 pm

    The more things change…

    In the early 1960s I worked in the laboratory of Dr Humphrey Osmond in Princeton NJ. He is responsible for Huxley’s first LSD experiment (for which he is credited in Huxley’s book). At the time he also gave LSD to alcoholics and several other diagnosed groups. I worked before the days of Timothy Leary and the hippies’ enchantment with psychedelics (a word Osmond invented).

    My recollection is Osmond’s experimental results were underwhelming. Nothing much came of Osmond’s LSD work not because it was unconventional or counterculture. The wider world didn’t learn about LSD until a few years after my employment. The conclusion to be drawn from these early trials is that LSD just didn’t do the job. To the best of my recollection Osmond never bragged to his staff about any LSD ‘cures.’

    But, hey, this is a new century, so you never know.

  3. Gyan says . . . | July 15, 2012 / 8:20 pm

    I remember buying a book called “Lsd Psychotherapy” somewhere between 1975-1982. It described how a number of psychotherapists were having very good results with Lsd in the 70′s. An excellent book and worth seeking out secondhand for anyone interested in the history of Lsd. I think I may even have my own copy buried somewhere.

  4. Mary F. Board says . . . | March 27, 2013 / 11:59 pm

    Bill Wilson was also very interested and spent time with the Timothy Leary circle in the early to mid fifties while they were experimenting with LSD. He wondered and hoped that perhaps the drug could bring on the necessary spiritual experience that the alcoholic needs to have a change of heart to embrace and find true peace and honesty to begin permanent recovery. He took it, wife Lois and several others in that early close-knit group of recovering drunks all tried it in Dr. Leary’s laboratory. Observations of their behavior were jotted down. I remember reading a biography of Bill Wilson where the actual notes were clearly written and easily read in a photograph. I’ve read several biographies about Mr. Wilson and oddly, this LSD experimentation by the writer of the 12 steps is only mentioned in one or two of his biographies. And he too along with the others in the group who tried the drug, must not have been terribly impressed or encouraged. An hour or so after taking the drug, according to the notes taken, Mr. Wilson did quite a bit of laughing and giggling and asked for a cigarette several times. He blew smoke rings and asked for water to help his dry moth.

  5. Aerica says . . . | November 22, 2013 / 9:08 pm

    psilocybin was SERIOUSLY helpful in treating my anxiety and PTSD. also, it helped my fear of death, artistic and existential angst, and helped my hygiene and ability to function in society with a positive attitude. just sayin.

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