Psychedelics, Psyops, and Secret Societies

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Hallucinogens are hip again. Far out.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2021 saw a record-high rate of 8% for past-year hallucinogen use among young adults.

With rising rates of hallucinogen use has also come a general softening of old attitudes toward laws outlawing psychedelic drugs. Oregon, for instance, decriminalized possession of psilocybin mushrooms in 2020. Colorado followed suit in 2022. As of December 2022, California is considering legislation (Senate Bill 58) that would do the same.

Read the news for a month or two, and you are certain to encounter a slew of (mostly softball) pieces shining up the psychiatric, creative, or spiritual benefits of psychedelic drugs (and it's not just VICE anymore). Consider suggestively titled headlines such as The "Psychonauts" Training to Explore Another Dimension (New Republic), The Psychedelic Revolution is Coming. Psychiatry May Never Be the Same (New York Times), and Aaron Rodgers says psychedelic drugs led to "best season of my career" (New York Post).

Such favorable perceptions of psychedelic drugs can, of course, be traced back to the familiar cultural “myth” of hallucinogens and the golden age of American counterculture in the 50s and 60s, when such popular intellectuals as Aldous Huxley, Richard Alpert (Ram Dass), R. Gordon Wasson, and Timothy Leary hailed the “mind-expanding” properties of drugs like LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, and mescaline. Picked up by the Beats and the Hippies, such drugs were used by some of the brightest young minds of those decades, catalyzing great artistic innovation and cultural change. Or so the story goes.

But the closer we look, the more we realize that this familiar narrative is based on a misconception, if not a deception. Early psychedelic drug culture appears not so much to have grown organically, erupting into western consciousness from the “bottom up” as a vital outgrowth of marginalized countercultures in the 50s and 60s, but rather “top down” as a byproduct (or intentional manifestation) of abusive psychological ops such as MK-ULTRA, perpetrated upon the American public by elite factions in the CIA.


Declassified MKULTRA Project Documents, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Starting in 1953, the CIA engaged in a series of criminal psychological experiments perpetrated on the American public under the code name MK-ULTRA. Many MK-ULTRA experiments involved the drugging of unwitting citizens with then-novel psychoactive drugs such as LSD, sometimes accompanied by experimental techniques of mind control and psychological torture. Blackmail and sexual abuse were also utilized (see Operation Midnight Climax). The significance of MK-ULTRA in the early history of LSD production and distribution in America is widely noted. The program was ostensibly terminated in 1973.

Even foundational Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, first introduced to LSD through government-funded psychedelic experiments at Stanford University, asked himself:

"Am I […] the product of one of the CIA's lamentable, ill-advised, or triumphantly successful experiments in mind control?"

–Quoted from Martin A. Lee, Bruce Shlain, Acid Dreams: The Complete Social History of LSD: The CIA, the Sixties, and Beyond. (USA: Grove Press., 1992) p xix

If we interrogate the cultural myths about the so-called psychedelic era, many cracks begin to appear. In particular, disclosures about grossly abusive CIA involvement with psychedelic drug research (the notorious MK-ULTRA psyop in particular) have become a matter of public record. While not yet mainstream, such revelations are also no longer “fringe.”

Yet, despite the public availability of verified historical accounts on the matter (see David McGowan, Henry Makow, Peter Levenda, Jim Keith), we have not yet been able to square these disturbing revelations with increasingly positive perceptions of psychedelic drug use. What are we to make of this?

As a veteran of the Beat generation, poet, religious scholar, and conspiracy analyst Charles Upton had a front row seat to the psychedelic era. Upton delves into this impasse in Vectors of the Counter-Initiation (2012), a collection of essays probing the complex relationship between global political elites, occult ideologies, and the New World Order agenda. The ninth chapter Drug-Induced Mysticism Revisited: Interview with Charles Upton (p207-258), presented as a dialogue between Upton and Samuel Bendeck Sotillos, considers the impact of psychedelic drugs on public consciousness during the 20th century as a possible vector of occult influence. Upton remarks:

And we also need, not just to remember, but to grasp the full import of, the fact that LSD was first distributed in the United States by the CIA, partly in the context of the infamous MK-ULTRA mind-control program, which included experiments practiced upon unsuspecting American citizens that were worthy to stand beside those conducted in the Nazi death camps [...] Timothy Leary was assigned to feed acid to the intelligentsia, Ken Kesey to everybody else; the idea was to compare how it acted under “controlled conditions” with its effects in a totally free-wheeling, “party” atmosphere. And the hippies actually knew about this! They said “SURE we were a CIA experiment, man – an experiment that GOT OUT OF CONTROL!” But the fact is that LSD initiated a kind of “bardo” or revelatory decay of American culture […] And the social engineers simply sat back and took notes. […] The hippies naively equated social control with a simplistic authoritarian repression; they rarely awoke to the fact that REAL control is based on co-optation, on the covert implantation of engineered beliefs and attitudes in the mass mind. (p239)


Further by Joe Mabel licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

First introduced to LSD through the CIA's infamous MKULTRA program, noted Beat writer Ken Kesey (best known for One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest) became a figurehead of psychedelic drug culture during the 1960s. This bus, owned by Kesey, was famously used to distribute LSD at drug-fueled parties called “Acid Tests” between 1964 and 1969. The exploits of Kesey and his “Merry Pranksters” are recorded in Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968).

Elaborating on this point, he cites examples of connections between the US intelligence community and psychedelic counterculture during the 1960s. He notes, for instance, that William Mellon Hitchcock, associate of CIA front organizations Castle Bank and Trust and Resorts International, was not coincidentally landlord of Timothy Leary's “psychedelic manor house” at Millbrook. Hitchcock was known to have paid chemists to produce “millions of doses of acid,” having collaborated with Robert “Tim” Scully to produce the famous “Orange Sunshine” LSD. (p241)


Timothy Leary with Ram Dass by Robert C. Demarest licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Harvard professor and clinical psychologist Timothy Leary (right, pictured with Ram Dass) was one of the foremost proponents of psychedelic drugs during the 1960s. His research on LSD and psilocybin generated great academic scandal, leading to his firing from Harvard in 1963. After this, having gained the patronage of noted CIA affiliate William Hitchcock Mellon, Leary continued to engage in psychedelic research at the Hitchcock Estate in Millbrook, New York, which was turned into a sort of psychedelic party house between 1963 and 1967. Speaking of the psychedelic sessions at the estate, Leary wrote that “on this space colony [Millbrook] we were attempting to create a new paganism and a new dedication to life as art.” (quoted from Jay Stevens, Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream. [Flamingo, 1983] p208)

As Upton reveals, such entanglements are only scratching the surface of elite involvement in psychedelic research. Cults and secret societies, in fact, have demonstrably steered psyops such as MK-ULTRA to study psychedelic drugs for their own questionable purposes.

Upton presents a number of compelling pieces of evidence on the involvement of Freemasonry and other cults in the early history of psychedelic research, via vectors of influence in the intelligence community (see Endnote VII, p255-256) He quotes conspiracy researcher Jim Keith:

"Curiously, another MK-ULTRA faction consisted of representatives of the Scottish Rite of Masonry, which had sponsored research into eugenics, psychiatry, and mind control since at least the 1930s. MK-ULTRA doctor Robert Hanna Felix was director of psychiatric research for the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, and the director of the National Institute of Mental Health. Felix was the immediate senior of Dr. Harris Isbell, already noted in relation to MK-ULTRA. Another prominent Freemason involved in MK-ULTRA was Dr. Paul Hoch, financed by the Army Chemical Center."

—Jim Keith, quoted from “The CIA and Control” in Mass Control: Engineering Human Consciousness (Kempton, IL: Adventures Unlimited Press, 2003) p65

Upton also notes the career of Andrija Puharich, a parapsychologist who who was involved with a new age divination cult which claimed to channel the will of a group of extraterrestrials called the Council of Nine. He quotes Keith:

After the demise of Puharich's Round Table [Foundation, located in Glen Cove, Maine] he spent time with social engineer Aldous Huxley in Tecate, Mexico, again studying the effects of electronics on the human organism. Puharich was also employed at the Army's Chemical and Biological Warfare Center at Fort Detrich, Maryland, researching the effects of LSD for the CIA in 1954. He delved into the effects of digatoid drugs at the Permanente Research Foundation, with funding from the Sandoz Chemical Works.

–Jim Keith, quoted from “Electronic Mind Control” in Mass Control: Engineering Human Consciousness (Kempton, IL: Adventures Unlimited Press, 2003) p176


Andrija Puharich, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Andrija Puharich was a parapsychologist, military scientist, and CIA affiliate noted for his research on psychedelic drugs and various non-pharmacological techniques for producing altered states of consciousness. Beginning in 1948, he founded a paranormal research organization called the Round Table Foundation. In 1952, collaborating with Indian psychic D.G. Vinod, Puharich and associates claimed to be in touch with a group of extraterrestrials and/or spiritual beings from the star Sirius called the Council of Nine.

Are cults and secret societies still involved in studying psychedelics? Evidence points in this direction. In the Afterword to chapter nine, Upton notes that during the 1990s, the Freemasons again took interest in funding psychedelic research. He writes:

Some time after granting this interview, I talked with a physician acquaintance of mine who had participated in the second round of psilocybin experiments within academia in the 1990s; I hadn't realized that they had started up again that early. He investigated the source of the funding for the experiment he'd been part of at the University of New Mexico, and discovered that the money for the DMT research that led up to the experiments he had been involved in had been provided by the Scottish Rite Foundation for Schizophrenia Research – the Freemasons!” (Afterword, p243)

Upton corroborates this report with a quote from Dr. Rick Strassman himself, the same UNM scientist whose research (notably presented in the book DMT: The Spirit Molecule [2001], turned into documentary film in 2010) was responsible for catapulting the hallucinogen DMT (dimethyltryptamine) into the public eye. Upton quotes Strassman (see Endnote VII):

“A grant from a branch of the Masons, the Scottish Rite Foundation for Schizophrenia Research, helped establish the merit of my study a year before I actually began it. Why the Masons had an interest in schizophrenia in general, and DMT in particular, I do not know, but I believe that garnering such support enhanced the esteem of my study in the eyes of the relevant regulatory and funding agencies.” (emphasis added)

—Rick Strassman, quoted from “DMT: The Brain's Own Psychedelic” in Inner Paths to Outer Space: Journeys to Alien Worlds through Psychedelics and Other Spiritual Technologies (Rochester, VT: Park Street Press, 2008) p48

You don't need to be a “square” to find this alarming. I do not particularly object to ethical scientific research on, or even limited therapeutic usage of, psychedelic drugs in a controlled psychiatric context (for treatment of PTSD, for instance). Do some people have positive, even genuinely therapeutic, experiences with psychedelics? Yes. Have thousands of otherwise harmless citizens been harshly, even unjustly, incarcerated for simple possession and personal use? Also, yes.

Yet, there is reason to view the recent spate of media enthusiasm for psychedelic drug use with great suspicion. Patterns of cult and intelligence community involvement in hallucinogen research should be a huge “red flag.” We must be especially wary of propaganda which elevates drug trips to the level of mystical revelation, and thereby reifies the various visions and delusions experienced by the tripper. Projects such as the quest to “map” the DMT headspace and its resident “sentient entities” by researchers at Imperial College London's Center for Psychedelic Research, for instance, smack of occult influence. Even as alternative media giants like Joe Rogan excitedly promote such undertakings, I believe we should maintain skepticism, even caution, toward those who make such claims.

Be safe out there, and as the hippies said, question authority. Especially if they're offering you drugs.

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