Letter from Alpert, Leary

(Following is the full text of the letter submitted to the CRIMSON Monday by Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert.)

To the Editors of the CRIMSON:

In three recent CRIMSON articles (widely reprinted in the national press) Harvard administrators have stated, that consciousness-expanding drugs (LSD, mescaline, psilocybin) are "a serious hazard to the mental health and stability even of apparently normal people." While these statements are conservative from the administrative point of view, they are reckless and inaccurate from the scientific. The published facts and the philosophical-political implications deserve thoughtful review. To understand the importance of this issue, it is necessary to realize that more is involved than the more handlings of drugs. What is in question is the freedom or control of consciousness, the limiting or expanding of man's awareness. Let us consider some of the facts.

These drugs are powerful nonverbal mind-altering substances--probably the most powerful ever known to man. Now any stimulus, verbal or nonverbal, which presents itself to the nervous system changes the bio-chemistry of your nervous system. If you want to play the labelling game you can call some of these changes dangerous and others beneficial. You can label some artificial and others natural. Compare this to the written word. Can the written word be dangerous? Is the written word natural? Are nonverbal stimuli such as the sacred mushroom of Mexico artificial? Is the chemical essence of the mushroom dangerous?

First, it is necessary to remember that the effect of any stimulus--verbal or nonverbal, artificial or natural--depends upon the set and the setting; your expectations and your environmental situation. Consider such words as "drug" or "doctor" or "dean." Your reaction to such words depends on your set and the situation. Nonverbal stimuli such as consciousness-expanding drugs intensify experience many fold--but their effect similarly depends on the set and setting. Historically, expansive words and expansive drugs often been seen as dangerous and "mind-distorting" and administrators have been pressed to impose controls. But history also teaches us that you can't proscribe experience and that the way to approach any new evolutionary development--verbal or nonverbal--is with courage, faith, and an open mind.

There is, however, no factual evidence that consciousness-expanding drugs are uniquely dangerous and considerable evidence that they are safe and beneficial. Any action or any stimulus may involve risk. But in law and science the concept "danger" must be proven clear and present. When we cut through rumor and hysteria, what are the published facts about consciousness-expanding drugs? The classic volume in this field (The Use of LSD in Psychotherapy, Josiah Macy Foundation, 1960) presents a table of "problems encountered" in 8,640 treatment doses and 3427 experimental doses, thirteen investigators reporting. Three problems were reported--"one disrobing," "one suicide in a drug addict," and one three-day paranoia. This represents a danger ratio of .0003. Compare these data with danger expectancies of alcohol, tobacco, or automobile driving.

The most systematic survey of consciousness-expanding drug hazards was published by Sidney Cohen, M.D., "LSD Side Effects and Complications," (Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases, 1960). Dr. Cohen's data from 44 researches on over 5,000 cases in which drugs were administered on 25,000 occasions reveals the following:

POPULATION: Patient

attempted suicide*--1.2

completed suicide*--0.4

psychotic reactions lasting longer than

48 hours *--1.8

POPULATION: Experimental Subjects

attempted suicide *--0

completed suicide *--0