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Psychologists Disagree On Psilocybin Research

By Robert E. Smith

Members of the Center for Research in Personality clashed yesterday in a dramatic meeting over the right of two colleagues to continue studies on the effects of psilocybin, a consciousness-expanding drug, on graduate student subjects.

Opponents of the studies claimed that the project was run nonchalantly and irresponsibly and that alleged permanent injury to participants had been ignored or underestimated.

Richard Alpert, assistant professor of Clinical Psychology, and Timothy Leary, lecturer on Clinical Psychology defended their work, saying that subjects can not be told specifically what the drug will do to them during its four-hour spell because the experimenters would then be "imposing effects and directing the experience." Alpert also asserted that the Food and Drug Administration, the University Health Services, and the synthesizer of psilocybin have approved the experiments.

David C. McClelland, head of the Center, said that he was concerned about the possible permanent effects of the drug but was convinced that the drug research work had been misrepresented. Presiding over a 90-minute open meeting, McClelland said that he supported Leary's and Alpert's project but viewed it, like all research at the Center, with a certain amount of skepticism.

"I wish I could treat this as scholarly disagreement," said Herbert C. Kelman, lecturer on Social Psychology and leading opponent of the psilocybin research, "but this work violates the values of the academic community." He charged a "non-chalant attitude" by Leary and Alpert toward controls of the experiments, effects on the subject, and administration of the project.

"The program," argued Kelman, "has an anti-intellectual atmosphere. Its emphasis is on pure experience, not on verbalizing findings. It is an attempt to reject most of what the psychologist tries to do."

Further, he claimed, graduate students who have experienced the drug's hallucinations and enhanced mental effects have formed an "insider" sect which views non-participants as "square." He said the program had no standards, no social usefulness, and a "perfunctory manner without an interest in what it discovers."

Take Drugs at Home

Leary disputed a colleague's claim that scholarly articles on psilocybin say it should be taken in a hospital setting. He said it was standard procedure to hold meetings in subjects' homes at which all in attendance were under the influence of the drug. "But no staff member," Leary added, "has ever been in a situation when he couldn't handle any eventuality."

In addition, a University Health Service physician is on 24-hour call, by telephone, with full knowledge of how to treat any abnormal effects of the drug, Alpert explained.

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