NARRATION: When Sherry Marcy was diagnosed with stage-three endometrial cancer, her life changed overnight.
SHERRY MARCY: I had been an athlete all my life so to suddenly have cancer was shocking. I think I looked up from the phone call and said to Nancy, “I’m stunned.”
NANCY QUAY (MARCY’S SPOUSE): After Sherry’s diagnosis, even prior to treatment, it was just like this doom had descended on her and then subsequently on us.
SHERRY MARCY: It took away my whole identity. I wasn’t who I used to be and I wasn’t the person that Nancy had formed a life with. It felt like I sat on the couch and did nothing all day.
NARRATION: Then Sherry read an article about a study for cancer patients struggling with depression. They were given an unusual treatment – psilocybin – a chemical cousin of LSD… with one important difference.
MATTHEW W. JOHNSON (ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE): It comes down to the spelling of psilocybin. It’s a hard word to spell but at least it’s not spelled L, S, D which is a very strong word that people react to.
NARRATION: That reaction can be traced back to the 1960s, when LSD burst onto the scene.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, THE HIPPIE TEMPTATION, 1967):
HARRY REASONER: CBS News, without any flowers in its hair, is in San Francisco because this city has gained the reputation of being the hippie capital of the world.
NARRATION: It was January of 1967 and thousands of young people gathered in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park to celebrate a counterculture based on peace, love and psychedelic drugs like LSD.
JAY STEVENS (AUTHOR, STORMING HEAVEN: LSD AND THE AMERICAN DREAM): There was political speakers. There was countercultural speakers. There was rock music and yes, the LSD flowed like wine.
NARRATION: A psychologist who had taught at Harvard named Timothy Leary praised the power of LSD, an increasingly popular mind-altering drug.
ARCHIVAL (NBC, 1-15-67):
TIMOTHY LEARY: Turn on, tune in, drop out.
PETER COYOTE (ACTOR AND SAN FRANCISCO ACTIVIST): Timothy Leary had an insight that if you changed yourself it would change the world and change the society.
ARCHIVAL (KRON, 1964):
TIMOTY LEARY: When people say ‘what’s the use of LSD?’ I translate that into ‘What’s the use of my head?’ That’s a fascinating problem. Suppose man can use more of his brain.
JAY STEVENS: People that took the drug felt if everybody can have this experience the world would be a profoundly different place, a much better place and within months this drug, this sensibility, this countercultural revolution, if you want to call it that, attracted mass media from around the planet. And that blew it up.
ARCHIVAL (KRON, 1967):
REPORTER: The city of San Francisco has been warned of a hippie invasion come summer in numbers almost too staggering to comprehend.
PETER COYOTE: I think a lot of people intuited in the establishment that LSD was a direct threat to industriousness.
JAY STEVENS: I mean what, you want to drop out, not get a job? You know just go and live on the street in San Francisco, I think this was seen as profoundly threatening to the social order.
ARCHIVAL (NBC, 5-8-67):
TIMOTHY LEARY: The kids who take LSD aren’t going to fight your wars. They’re not going to join your corporations.
HOWARD SAFIR (FORMER POLICE COMMISSIONER, NEW YORK CITY): Psychedelics are not groovy, ok? Psychedelics are dangerous.
NARRATION: Former New York City Police Commissioner Howard Safir was an undercover narcotics agent in the late 1960s.
HOWARD SAFIR: Back then everybody thought of LSD was for hippies until suddenly kids who looked like they were straight showed up in emergency rooms.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, THE HIPPIE TEMPTATION, 1967):
HARRY REASONER: There is a steady flow into San Francisco hospital of young people who have freaked out and been picked up by the police in a state of desperate terror.
HOWARD SAFIR: I had seen people on the street who had no idea where they were. I had arrested people on LSD who were incredibly violent. So it wasn’t the peaceful, non-harmful, easy drug that Timothy Leary professed it to be.
ARCHIVAL (KRON, DANGER: LSD, 1967):
GOVERNOR RONALD REAGAN: There is nothing smart, there’s nothing grown-up or sophisticated in taking an LSD trip at all. They’re just being complete fools.
NARRATION: Headlines warned of additional dangers.
ARCHIVAL (LSD: INSIGHT OR INSANITY, 1967):
DOCTOR: Instant insanity.
ARCHIVAL (LSD: YOU DECIDE):
POLICEMAN: Chromosome damage.
ARCHIVAL (BEYOND LSD, 1967):
MOTHER: It may affect your unborn children.
NARRATION: After Diane Linkletter fell from a sixth-story window in 1969, her father, TV personality Art Linkletter, blamed LSD.
ARCHIVAL (KPIX, 1969):
ART LINKLETTER: Anybody who has said anything which would encourage my daughter to take LSD was unwittingly a part of being her murderer.
HOWARD SAFIR: I think that raised public consciousness probably as much as anything that happened in the ‘60s.
ARCHIVAL (NBC, 10-27-70):
ANCHOR: President Nixon went to the Narcotics Bureau today to sign a drug bill.
NARRATION: In 1970, the Controlled Substances Act made LSD a Schedule 1 drug – the class of dangerous substances with high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use.
But it turns out that until that point researchers had been testing the medical use of LSD in the lab – with some promising, early results.
WILLIAM A. RICHARDS (PSYCHOLOGIST, JOHNS HOPKINS BAYVIEW MEDICAL CENTER): It was all legal in those days. Nothing controversial about it at all.
NARRATION: Bill Richards helped conduct scientific research with LSD and other psychedelics as a young researcher in the 1960s. He says the early experiments in the 1950s were rudimentary.
WILLIAM A. RICHARDS: You’d simply be given the drug and see what happens.
ARCHIVAL (LSD MODEL PSYCHOSIS):
SCIENTIST: Do you find any difference between one half of your body as opposed to the other half?
MAN ON LSD: Well I have sort of a wavering tendency. I don’t know which half is trying to get into the other half, but somehow or other I seem to be going like that.
WILLIAM A. RICHARDS: Most people got mildly psychotic and the thought then was that it might help us understand schizophrenia or other severe forms of mental illness.
NARRATION: The CIA investigated LSD as a potential truth serum, and the Army tested the effect LSD might have on soldiers in battle.
ARCHIVAL (DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE, 1958):
ARMY NARRATOR: After a few minutes, the men found it difficult to obey orders. And soon the results were chaotic.
NARRATION: Some early test subjects had bad reactions, and some scientists began to use LSD in a more controlled manner, as one step in an ongoing program of psychotherapy.
WILLIAM A. RICHARDS: There was a lot of excitement about the potential of psychedelics in treating alcoholism. And then we moved into working with terminal cancer patients, treating anxiety and depression.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, THE SPRING GROVE EXPERIMENT, 1966):
DOCTOR: You’ve taken head-on the biggest thing that’s bothered you.
NARRATION: The LSD experience was closely monitored and guided, with music and eyeshades used to calm and reassure the patient.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, THE SPRING GROVE EXPERIMENT, 1966):
PATIENT: At the end I felt a great weight had been taken off me.
WILLIAM A. RICHARDS: There was an incredible spirit of excitement. International conferences, papers published on LSD and psychotherapy.
NARRATION: But as the 1960s progressed, and as people like Timothy Leary spread LSD from the laboratory to the counter-culture, the drug’s potential for therapy was overshadowed by stories of its dangerous street use.
HOWARD SAFIR: I’m a pretty black and white guy. There was never any thought in my mind that there were positive uses for LSD. I saw the results and the results were not pretty.
NARRATION: And after LSD was declared a Schedule 1 drug in 1970, funding and support for psychedelic research dried up.
JAY STEVENS: This is the most powerful tool ever discovered to look at consciousness. And it was taken away.
MATTHEW W. JOHNSON: There’s really no other example that I can think of in science where an entire area of research was put on the deep freeze for decades.
NARRATION: Today, the psychedelic glow of the 1960s has faded, and recreational use of LSD, which is still illegal, has fallen to low, but steady, levels. But in the world of science, a new age is dawning.
MATTHEW W. JOHNSON: Folks are studying a lot of things with psychedelics now.
NARRATION: In recent years, several dozen academic studies have investigated the use of psychedelic drugs and therapy to treat problems ranging from addiction to treatment-resistant depression and anxiety in cancer patients.
Sherry Marcy took part in one of them.
SHERRY MARCY: There was sort of a ceremony about taking the pill. And then I was there for six hours reacting to the pill. And I process by talking, so something I really learned about myself because every now and then they would say why don’t you stop talking and just feel.
But what happened to me was that I ended up getting totally reconnected – first to Nancy. Nancy and I had a wonderful life together, and it could go on, and I hadn’t known that before. And then also my kids, getting reconnected to them. So there was this family dynamic that just reformed and that was, that was just great.
NANCY QUAY: She was just lighter. Immediately a difference. And then we came home, and it persisted.
NARRATION: Today Sherry, who is now cancer-free, says the psilocybin study helped her re-engage with life.
SHERRY MARCY: It wasn’t like it was psychedelic for me. It was just me, back. I don’t know how it did that exactly, except to broaden out, you know. You lift up your head and you take a good long look and you start seeing things again.
NARRATION: Brain imaging studies have investigated the impact of psychedelics. They’ve found that both LSD and psilocybin foster connections between parts of the brain that normally work independently.
MATTHEW W. JOHNSON: It’s an exciting area in neuroscience right now. More and more groups are jumping in and it’s only just begun, but people should really be aware that there are potential dangers.
NARRATION: Those dangers can range from a temporary bad reaction, to the triggering or worsening of an underlying psychiatric condition, so caution is a guiding principle in today’s research.
But it turns out that not all of the claims made about LSD in the 1960s were true. Studies have found little evidence that it damages chromosomes or causes birth defects. And Diane Linkletter’s autopsy found no drugs in her system when she died.
On the other hand, Sherry Marcy says Timothy Leary didn’t get it right either.
SHERRY MARCY: I think the emphasis was wrong. I mean, the turn on doesn’t have to be emphasized at all. The drop out is an absolute mistake. But the tune in is crucial. I tuned in. Tuned in to the world, to me, to things I used to love, to my relationships to my family. Tune in is what it’s all about.