PLAYBOY INTERVIEW: TIMOTHY LEARY -- A CANDID CONVERSATION WITH THE CONTROVERSIAL EX-HARVARD PROFESSOR, PRIME PARTISAN AND PROPHET OF LSD
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On a sunny Saturday afternoon in 1960, beside the swimming pool of his rented summer villa in Cuernavaca, a 39-year-old American ate a handful of odd-looking mushrooms he'd bought from the witch doctor of a nearby village. Within minutes, he recalled later, he felt himself "being swept over the edge of a sensory niagara into a maelstrom of transcendental visions and hallucinations. The next five hours could be described in many extravagant metaphors, but it was above all and without question the deepest religious experience of my life." The implications of that fateful first communion are as yet unmeasured; that they are both far- reaching and profound, however, is generally conceded for the fungi were the legendary "sacred mushrooms" that have since become known, and feared by many, as one of the psychedelic (literally, mind-manifesting) chemicals that have created a national fad among the nation's young and a scandal in the press. The American was a Harvard psychotherapist named Timothy Leary, who has since found himself transmogrified from scientist and researcher into progenitor and high priest of a revolutionary movement spawned not by an idea but by a substance that's been called "the spiritual equivalent of the hydrogen bomb."
Few men, in their youth, would have seemed less likely to emerge as a religious leader, let alone as a rebel with a cause. At the age of 19, Leary distressed his Roman Catholic mother by abandoning Holy Cross two years before graduation ("The scholastic approach to religion didn't turn me on"), then affronted his father, a retired Army career officer, by walking out of West Point after 18 months ("My interests were philosophic rather than militaristic"). Not until he transferred to the University of Alabama did he begin to settle down academically to work for his B.A. in psychology. On graduation in 1942, he enlisted as an Army psychologist, served in a Pennsylvania hospital until the end of the War, then resumed his schooling and earned his Ph.D. at the University of California at Berkeley. Acquiring both eminence and enemies with his first major jobs as director of Oakland's progressive Kaiser Foundation Hospital and as an assistant professor at UC's School of Medicine in San Francisco Leary began to display the courage and sometimes rash iconoclasm that have since marked every phase of his checkered career. Contending that traditional psychiatric methods were hurting as many patients as they helped, he resigned in 1958 and signed up as a lecturer on clinical psychology at Harvard. There he began to evolve and enunciate the theory of social interplay and personal behavior as so many stylized games, since popularized by Dr. Eric Berne in his best-selling book "Games People Play," and to both preach and practice the effective but unconventional new psychiatric research technique of sending his students to study emotional problems such as alcoholism where they germinate rather than in the textbook or the laboratory.
At the time, predictably enough, few of these novel notions went over very well with Leary' s hidebound colleagues. But their rumblings of skepticism rose to a chorus of outrage when Leary returned to Harvard in 1960 from his pioneering voyage into inner space beside the swimming pool in Cuernavaca to begin experimenting on himself, his associates and hundreds of volunteer subjects with measured doses of psilocybin, the chemical derivative of the sacred mushrooms. Vowing "to dedicate the rest of my life as a psychologist to the systematic exploration of this new instrument," he and his rapidly multiplying followers began to turn on with the other psychedelics: morning glory seeds, nutmeg, marijuana, peyote, mescaline and a colorless, odorless, tasteless but incredibly potent laboratory compound called LSD 25, first synthesized in 1938 by a Swiss biochemist seeking a pain killer for migraine headaches. A hundred times stronger than psilocybin, LSD sent its hallucinated users on multihued, multileveled roller coaster rides so spectacular that it soon became Leary's primary tool for research. And as word began to circulate about the fantastic, phantasmagorical "trips" taken by his students, it soon became a clandestine campus kick, and by 1962 had become an underground cult among the young avant-garde from London to Los Angeles.
In 3000 people that I have personally observed taking LSD, we've had only four cases of prolonged psychoses -- two or three weeks after the session. All of these had been in a mental hospital before."
"An enormous amount of energy from every fiber of your body is released under LSD -- especially sexual energy. There is no question that LSD is the most powerful aphrodisiac ever discovered by man."
"I think that anyone who wants to have a psychedelic experience and is willing to prepare for it and to examine his own hang-ups and neurotic tendencies should be allowed to have a crack at it."
By 1963, it had also become something of an embarrassment to Harvard, however, which "regretfully" dismissed Leary, and his colleague Dr. Richard Alpert, in order to stem the rising tide of avid undergraduate interest in the drug. Undaunted, they organized a privately financed research group called the International Foundation for Internal Freedom (IFIF), and set up a psychedelic study center in Zihuatanejo, Mexico; but before they could resume full-scale LSD sessions, the Mexican government stepped in, anticipating adverse popular reaction, and demanded that they leave the country.
Leary had now become not only the messiah but the martyr of the psychedelic movement. But soon afterward came a dramatic 11th-hour reprieve from a young New York millionaire named William Hitchcock, a veteran LSD voyager who believed in the importance of Leary's work -- by now a mission -- and toward that end turned over to him a rambling mansion on his 4000-acre estate in Millbrook, New York, which has since become not only Leary's home and headquarters but also a kind of shrine and sanctuary for psychedelic pilgrims from all over the world.
On April 16 of this year, it also became a target for further harassment by what Leary calls "the forces of middle aged, middle-class authority." Late that night, a squad of Duchess County police descended on the place, searched it from top to bottom, found a minute quantity of marijuana, and arrested four people including Leary. If convicted, he could be fined heavily and sent to prison for 16 years. Already appealing another conviction, Leary had been arrested in Laredo the previous December as he was about to enter Mexico for a vacation, when Customs officials searched his car and found a half ounce of marijuana in the possession of his 18-year-old daughter. Despite his claim that the drug was for scientific and sacramental use in the furtherance of his work and his spiritual beliefs (as a practicing Hindu), he was fined $30,000 and sentenced to 30 years in prison for transporting marijuana and failing to pay the Federal marijuana tax.
In the months since then, the LSD controversy has continued to escalate along with Leary's notoriety spurred by a spate of headline stories about psychedelic psychoses, dire warnings of "instant insanity" from police and public health officials, and pious editorials inveighing against the evils of the drug. In May and June, two Senate subcommittees conducted widely publicized public hearings on LSD; and three states -- California, Nevada and New Jersey -- enacted laws prohibiting its illicit use, possession, distribution or manufacture. With a ringing appeal for still more stringent legislation on a Federal level, Ronald Reagan even dragged the issue into his successful campaign for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in California.
It was amid this mounting outcry against the drug that Playboy asked Dr. Leary to present his side of the psychedelic story and to answer a few pertinent questions about its putative promise and its alleged perils. Consenting readily, he invited us to visit him in Millbrook, where we found him a few days later reciting Hindu morning prayers with a group of guests in the kitchen of the 64-room mansion. He greeted us warmly and led the way to a third-floor library. Instead of sitting down in one of the room's well-worn easy chairs, he crossed the room, stepped out of an open window onto a tin roof over a second floor bay window, and proceeded to stretch out on a double-width mattress a few feet from the edge. While we made ourselves comfortable at the other end of the mattress, he opened his shirt to the warm summer sun, propped his bare feet against the shingles, looked down at the mansion's vast rolling meadow of a lawn, listened for a moment to the song of a chickadee in the branches of a tree nearby, and then turned, ready for our first question.
PLAYBOY: How many times have you used LSD, Dr. Leary?
LEARY: Up to this moment, I've had 311 psychedelic sessions.
PLAYBOY: What do you think it's done for you and to you?
LEARY: That's difficult to answer easily. Let me say this: I was 39 when I had my first psychedelic experience. At that time, I was a middle-aged man involved in the middle-aged process of dying. My joy in life, my sensual openness, my creativity were all sliding downhill. Since that time, six years ago, my life has been renewed in almost every dimension. Most of my colleagues at the University of California and at Harvard, of course, feel that I've become an eccentric and a kook. I would estimate that fewer than 15 percent of my professional colleagues understand and support what I'm doing. The ones who do, as you might expect, tend to be among the younger psychologists. If you know a person's age, you know what he's going to think and feel about LSD. Psychedelic drugs are the medium of the young. As you move up the age scale into the 30s, 40s and 50s fewer and fewer people are open to the possibilities that these chemicals offer.
PLAYBOY: Why is that?
LEARY: To the person over 35 or 40, the word "drug" means one of two things: doctor- disease or dope fiend-crime. Nothing you can say to a person who has this neurological fix on the word "drug" is going to change his mind. He's frozen like a Pavlovian dog to this conditioned reflex. To people under 25, on the other hand, the word "drug" refers to a wide range of mind benders running from alcohol, energizers and stupefiers to marijuana and the other psychedelic drugs. To middle-aged America, it may be synonymous with instant insanity, but to most Americans under 25, the psychedelic drug means ecstasy, sensual unfolding, religious experience, revelation, illumination, contact with nature. There's not a teenager or young person in the United States today who doesn't know at least one person who has had a good experience with marijuana or LSD. The horizons of the current younger generation, in terms of expanded consciousness, are light-years beyond those of their parents. The breakthrough has occurred; there's no going back. The psychedelic battle is won.
PLAYBOY: Why, then, have you called for a one-year "cease-fire" on the use of LSD and marijuana?
LEARY: Because there have never been two generations of human beings so far apart living essentially in two different worlds, speaking two different languages as the people under 25 and the older generation. Evolutionary misunderstanding causes bloodshed and imprisonment. To relieve this situation, I've asked the younger generation to cool it for a year and to use this moratorium period to explain to their parents and to their jailers what LSD and marijuana are, and why we want and intend to use them. I have made clear that this is a voluntary waiving of the constitutional right to change your own consciousness. But I suggested this as a conciliatory gesture to mollify and educate the older generation and to allow time for the younger people to learn more about how to turn on. I'm demanding that this period also be a moratorium on hysterical legislation and on punitive arrests of young people for the possession of LSD and marijuana. If, at the end of one year, the older generation has not taken advantage of this cease-fire, I predict and indeed urge a firm statement on the part of everyone involved that they intend to resume the use of psychedelics, to exercise their constitutional right to expand their own consciousness whatever the cost.
PLAYBOY: What do you say to the standard charge that LSD is too powerful and dangerous to entrust to the young?
LEARY: Well, none of us yet knows exactly how LSD can be used for the growth and benefit of the human being. It is a powerful releaser of energy as yet not fully understood. But if I'm confronted with the possibility that a 15-year-old or a 50-year-old is going to use a new form of energy that he doesn't understand, I'll back the 15-year-old every time. Why? Because a 15-year-old is going to use a new form of energy to have fun, to intensify sensation, to make love, for curiosity, for personal growth. Many 50 year-olds have lost their curiosity,* have lost their ability to make love, have dulled their openness to new sensations, and would use any form of new energy for power, control and warfare. So it doesn't concern me at all that young people are taking time out from the educational and occupational assembly lines to experiment with consciousness, to dabble with new forms of experience and artistic expression. The present generation under the age of 25 is the wisest and holiest generation that the human race has ever seen. And, by God, instead of lamenting, derogating and imprisoning them, we should support them, listen to them and turn on with them.
PLAYBOY: If we wanted to take you up on that last suggestion, how would we go about it?
LEARY: Find a beloved friend who knows where to get LSD and how to run a session; or find a trusted and experienced LSD voyager to guide you on a trip.
PLAYBOY: Is it necessary to have a guide?
LEARY: Yes. Unless you have an experienced guide at least for your first 10 or 15 sessions it would be extremely reckless.
PLAYBOY: What if a person can't find either a guide or a source of LSD among his friends? Where does he go?
LEARY: LSD is against the law, and I certainly would not advise anyone to violate the law. I will say this, however: Throughout human history, men who have wanted to expand their consciousness, to find deeper meaning inside themselves, have been able to do it if they were willing to commit the time and energy to do so. In other times and countries, men would walk barefooted 2000 miles to find spiritual teachers who would turn them on to Buddha, Mohammed or Ramakrishna.
PLAYBOY: If you can't say where one could buy LSD, can you tell us the formula for making it? We understand it can be synthesized in any well-equipped chemical laboratory.
LEARY: That's true. But it would be irresponsible of me to reveal it. The unauthorized manufacture of LSD is now against the law.
PLAYBOY: Assuming you can get it, how do you take it? Can it be injected, or is it mostly just swallowed in a sugar cube?
LEARY: It can be injected or it can come in the form of powder or pills or in a solution, which is odorless, tasteless and colorless. In any case, you're dealing with a very minute quantity. One hundred micrograms is a moderate dose.
PLAYBOY: For a session lasting how long?
LEARY: Eight to twelve hours.
PLAYBOY: What's it like? What happens to you?
LEARY: If we're speaking in a general way, what happens to everyone is the experience of incredible acceleration and intensification of all senses and of all mental processes which can be very confusing if you're not prepared for it. Around a thousand million signals fire off in your brain every second; during any second in an LSD session, you find yourself tuned in on thousands of these messages that ordinarily you don't register consciously. And you may be getting an incredible number of simultaneous messages from different parts of your body. Since you're not used to this, it can lead to incredible ecstasy or it can lead to confusion. Some people are freaked by this niagara of sensory input. Instead of having just one or two or three things happening in tidy sequence, you're suddenly flooded by hundreds of lights and colors and sensations and images, and you can get quite lost.
You sense a strange, powerful force beginning to unloose and radiate through your body. In normal perception, we are aware of static symbols. But as the LSD effect takes hold, everything begins to move, and this relentless, impersonal, slowly swelling movement will continue through the several hours of the session. It's as though for all of your normal waking life you have been caught in a still photograph, in an awkward, stereotyped posture; suddenly the show comes alive, balloons out to several dimensions and becomes irradiated with color and energy.
The first thing you notice is an incredible enhancement of sensory awareness. Take the sense of sight. LSD vision is to normal vision as normal vision is to the picture on a badly tuned television set. Under LSD, it's as though you have microscopes up to your eyes, in which you see jewel-like, radiant details of anything your eye falls upon. You are really seeing for the first time not static, symbolic perception of learned things, but patterns of light bouncing off the objects around you and hurtling at the speed of light into the mosaic of rods and cones in the retina of your eye. Everything seems alive. Everything is alive, beaming diamond-bright light waves into your retina.
PLAYBOY: Is the sense of hearing similarly intensified?
LEARY: Tremendously. Ordinarily we hear just isolated sounds: the rings of a telephone, the sound of somebody's words. But when you turn on with LSD, the organ of Corti in your inner ear becomes a trembling membrane seething with tattoos of sound waves. The vibrations seem to penetrate deep inside you, swell and burst there. You hear one note of a Bach sonata, and it hangs there, glittering, pulsating, for an endless length of time, while you slowly orbit around it. Then, hundreds of years later, comes the second note of the sonata, and again, for hundreds of years, you slowly drift around the two notes, observing the harmony and the discords, and reflecting on the history of music.
But when your nervous system is turned on with LSD, and all the wires are flashing, the senses begin to overlap and merge. You not only hear but see the music emerging from the speaker system like dancing particles, like squirming curls of toothpaste. You actually see the sound, in multicolored patterns, while you're hearing it. At the same time, you are the sound, you are the note, you are the string of the violin or the piano. And every one of your organs is pulsating and having orgasms in rhythm with it.
PLAYBOY: What happens to the sense of taste?
LEARY: Taste is intensified, too, although normally you won't feel like eating during an LSD session, any more than you feel like eating when you take your first solo at the controls of a supersonic jet. Although if you eat after a session, there is an appreciation of all the particular qualities of food its texture and resiliency and viscosity such as we are not conscious of in a normal state of awareness.
PLAYBOY: How about the sense of smell?
LEARY: This is one of the most overwhelming aspects of an LSD experience. It seems as though for the first time you are breathing life, and you remember with amusement and distaste that plastic, odorless, artificial gas that you used to consider air. During the LSD experience, you discover that you're actually inhaling an atmosphere composed of millions of microscopic strands of olfactory ticker tape, exploding in your nostrils with ecstatic meaning. When you sit across the room from a woman during an LSD session, you're aware of thousands of penetrating chemical messages floating from her through the air into your sensory center: a symphony of a thousand odors that all of us exude at every moment -- the shampoo she uses, her cologne, her sweat, the exhaust and discharge from her digestive system, her sexual perfume, the fragrance of her clothing -- grenades of eroticism exploding in the olfactory cell.
PLAYBOY: Does the sense of touch become equally erotic?
LEARY: Touch becomes electric as well as erotic. I remember a moment during one session in which my wife leaned over and lightly touched the palm of my hand with her finger. Immediately a hundred thousand end cells in my hand exploded in soft orgasm. Ecstatic energies pulsated up my arms and rocketed into my brain, where another hundred thousand cells softly exploded in pure, delicate pleasure. The distance between my wife's finger and the palm of my hand was about 50 miles of space, filled with cotton candy, infiltrated with thousands of silver wires hurtling energy back and forth. Wave after wave of exquisite energy pulsed from her finger. Wave upon wave of ethereal tissue rapture delicate, shuddering coursed back and forth from her finger to my palm.
PLAYBOY: And this rapture was erotic?
LEARY: Transcendentally. An enormous amount of energy from every fiber of your body is released under LSD -- most especially including sexual energy. There is no question that LSD is the most powerful aphrodisiac ever discovered by man.
PLAYBOY: Would you elaborate?
LEARY: I'm saying simply that sex under LSD becomes miraculously enhanced and intensified. I don't mean that it simply generates genital energy. It doesn't automatically produce a longer erection. Rather, it increases your sensitivity a thousand percent. Let me put it this way: Compared with sex under LSD, the way you've been making love no matter how ecstatic the pleasure you think you get from it is like making love to a department-store window dummy. In sensory and cellular communion on LSD, you may spend a half hour making love with eyeballs, another half hour making love with breath. As you spin through a thousand sensory and cellular organic changes, she does, too. Ordinarily, sexual communication involves one's own chemicals, pressure and interactions of a very localized nature in what the psychologists call the erogenous zones. A vulgar, dirty concept, I think. When you're making love under LSD, it's as though every cell in your body -- and you have trillions -- is making love with every cell in her body. Your hand doesn't caress her skin but sinks down into and merges with ancient dynamos of ecstasy within her.
PLAYBOY: How often have you made love under the influence of LSD?
LEARY: Every time I've taken it. In fact, that is what the LSD experience is all about. Merging, yielding, flowing, union, communion. It's all lovemaking. You make love with candlelight, with sound waves from a record player, with a bowl of fruit on the table, with the trees. You're in pulsating harmony with all the energy around you.
PLAYBOY: Including that of a woman?
LEARY: The three inevitable goals of the LSD session are to discover and make love with God, to discover and make love with yourself, and to discover and make love with a woman. You can't make it with yourself unless you've made it with the timeless energy process around you, and you can't make it with a woman until you've made it with your self. The natural and obvious way to take LSD is with a member of the opposite sex, and an LSD session that does not involve an ultimate merging with a person of the opposite sex isn't really complete. One of the great purposes of an LSD session is sexual union. The more expanded your consciousness -- the farther out you can move beyond your mind -- the deeper, the richer, the longer and more meaningful your sexual communion.
PLAYBOY: We've heard about sessions in which couples make love for hours on end, to the point of exhaustion, but never seem to reach exhaustion. Is this true?
PLAYBOY: Can you describe the sensation of an orgasm under LSD?
LEARY: Only the most reckless poet would attempt that. I have to say to you, "What does one say to a little child?" The child says, "Daddy, what is sex like?" and you try to describe it, and then the little child says, "Well, is it fun like the circus?" and you say, "Well, not exactly like that." And the child says, "Is it fun like chocolate ice cream?" and you say, "Well, it's like that but much, much more than that." And the child says, "Is it fun like the roller coaster, then?" and you say, "Well, that's part of it, but it's even more than that." In short, I can't tell you what it's like, because it's not like anything that's ever happened to you and there aren't words adequate to describe it, anyway. You won't know what it's like until you try it yourself and then I won't need to tell you.
PLAYBOY: We've heard that some women who ordinarily have difficulty achieving orgasm find themselves capable of multiple orgasms under LSD. Is that true?
LEARY: In a carefully prepared, loving LSD session, a woman will inevitably have several hundred orgasms.
PLAYBOY: Several hundred?
LEARY: Yes. Several hundred.
PLAYBOY: What about a man?
LEARY: This preoccupation with the number of orgasms is a hang-up for many men and women. It's as crude and vulgar a concept as wondering how much she paid for the negligee.
PLAYBOY: Still, there must be some sort of physiological comparison. If a woman can have several hundred orgasms, how many can a man have under optimum conditions?
LEARY: It would depend entirely on the amount of sexual and psychedelic experience the man has had. I can speak only for myself and about my own experience. I can only compare what I was with what I am now. In the last six years, my openness to, my responsiveness to, my participation in every form of sensory expression has multiplied a thousandfold.
PLAYBOY: This aspect of LSD has been hinted at privately but never spelled out in public until now. Why?
LEARY: The sexual impact is, of course, the open but private secret about LSD, which none of us has talked about in the last few years. It's socially dangerous enough to say that LSD helps you find divinity and helps you discover yourself. You're already in trouble when you say that. But then if you announce that the psychedelic experience is basically a sexual experience, you're asking to bring the whole middle-aged, middle-class monolith down on your head. At the present time, however, I'm under a 30 year sentence of imprisonment, which for a 45-year-old man is essentially a life term; and in addition, I am under indictment on a second marijuana offense involving a 16-year sentence. Since there is hardly anything more that middle aged, middle-class authority can do to me -- and since the secret is out anyway among the young -- I feel I'm free at this moment to say what we've never said before: that sexual ecstasy is the basic reason for the current LSD boom. When Dr. Goddard, the head of the Food and Drug Administration, announced in a Senate hearing that ten percent of our college students are taking LSD, did you ever wonder why? Sure, they're discovering God and meaning; sure, they're discovering themselves; but did you really think that sex wasn't the fundamental reason for this surging, youthful social boom? You can no more do research on LSD and leave out sexual ecstasy than you can do microscopic research on tissue and leave out cells.
LSD is not an automatic trigger to sexual awakening, however. The first ten times you take it, you might not be able to have a sexual experience at all, because you're so overwhelmed and delighted or frightened and confused by the novelty; the idea of having sex might be irrelevant or incomprehensible at the moment. But it depends upon the setting and the partner. It is almost inevitable, if a man and his mate take LSD together, that their sexual energies will be unimaginably intensified, and unless clumsiness or fright on the part of one or the other blocks it, it will lead to a deeper experience than they ever thought possible.
From the beginning of our research, I have been aware of this tremendous personal power in LSD. You must be very careful to take it only with someone you know really well, because it's almost inevitable that a woman will fall in love with the man who shares her LSD experience. Deep and lasting neurological imprints, profound emotional bonds, can develop as a result of an LSD session -- bonds that can last a lifetime. For this reason, I have always been extremely cautious about running sessions with men and women. We always try to have a subject's husband or wife present during his or her first session, so that as these powerful urges develop, they are directed in ways that can be lived out responsibly after the session.
PLAYBOY: Are you preaching psychedelic monogamy?
LEARY: Well, I can't generalize, but one of the great lessons I've learned from LSD is that every man contains the essence of all men and every woman has within her all women. I remember a session a few years ago in which, with horror and ecstasy, I opened my eyes and looked into the eyes of my wife and was pulled into the deep blue pools of her being floating softly in the center of her mind, experiencing everything that she was experiencing, knowing every thought that she had ever had. As my eyes were riveted to hers, her face began to melt and change. I saw her as a young girl, as a baby, as an old woman with gray hair and seamy, wrinkled face. I saw her as a witch, a Madonna, a nagging crone, a radiant queen, a Byzantine virgin, a tired, worldly-wise Oriental whore who had seen every sight of life repeated a thousand times. She was all women, all woman, the essence of female eyes smiling, quizzically, resignedly, devilishly, always inviting: "See me, hear me, join me, merge with me, keep the dance going." Now, the implications of this experience for sex and mating, I think, are obvious. It's because of this, not because of moral restrictions or restraints, that I've been extremely monogamous in my use of LSD over the last six years.
PLAYBOY: When you speak of monogamy, do you mean complete sexual fidelity to one woman?
LEARY: Well, the notion of running around trying to find different mates is a very low-level concept. We are living in a world of expanding population in which there are more and more beautiful young girls coming off the assembly line each month. It's obvious that the sexual criteria of the past are going to be changed, and that what's demanded of creatures with our sensory and cellular repertoire is not just one affair after another with one young body after an other, but the exploration of the incredible depths and varieties of your own identity with a single member of the opposite sex. This involves time and commitment to the voyage.
PLAYBOY: Do you mean to imply that you've had only one bed partner in the last six years?
LEAHY: I've had more than one long-term relationship during this period. But there is a certain kind of neurological and cellular fidelity that develops. I have said for many years now that in the future the grounds for divorce would not be that your wife went to bed with another man and bounced around on a mattress for an hour or two, but that your wife had an LSD session with somebody else, because the bonds and the connections that develop are so powerful.
PLAYBOY: It's been reported that when you are in the company of women, quite a lot of them turn on to you. As a matter of fact, a friend of yours told us that you could have two or three different women every night if you wanted to. Is he right?
LEARY: For the most part, during the last six years, I have lived very quietly in our research centers. But on lecture tours and in highly enthusiastic social gatherings, there is no question that a charismatic public figure does generate attraction and stimulate a sexual response.
PLAYBOY: How often do you return this response?
LEARY: Every woman has built into her cells and tissues the longing for a hero sage-mythic male to open up and share her own divinity. But casual sexual encounters do not satisfy this deep longing. Any charismatic person who is conscious of his own mythic potency awakens this basic hunger in women and pays reverence to it at the level that is harmonious and appropriate at the time. Compulsive body grabbing, however, is rarely the vehicle of such communication.
PLAYBOY: Do you disapprove of the idea of casual romance catalyzed by LSD?
LEARY: Well, I'm no one to tell anyone else what to do. But I would say, if you use LSD to make out sexually in the seductive sense, then you'll be a very humiliated and embarrassed person, because it's just not going to work. On LSD, her eyes would be microscopic, and she'd see very plainly what you were up to, coming on with some heavy-handed, mustache-twisting routine. You'd look like a consummate ass, and she'd laugh at you, or you'd look like a monster and she'd scream and go into a paranoid state. Nothing good can happen with LSD if it's used crudely or for power or manipulative purposes.
PLAYBOY: Suppose you met a girl at a party, developed an immediate rapport, and you both decided to share an LSD trip that same night. Could it work under those circumstances?
LEARY: You must remember that in taking LSD with someone else, you are voluntarily relinquishing all of your personality defenses and opening yourself up in a very vulnerable manner. If you and the girl are ready to do this, there would be an immediate and deep rapport if you took a trip together. People from the LSD cult would be able to do it upon a brief meeting, but an inexperienced person would probably find it extremely confusing, and the people might become quite isolated from each other. They might be whirled into the rapture or confusion of their own inner workings and forget entirely that the other person is there.
PLAYBOY: According to some reports, LSD can trigger the acting out of latent homosexual impulses in ostensibly heterosexual men and women. Is there any truth to that, in your opinion?
LEARY: On the contrary, the fact is that LSD is a specific cure for homosexuality. It's well known that most sexual perversions are the result not of biological binds but of freaky, dislocating childhood experiences of one kind or another. Consequently, it's not surprising that we've had many cases of long-term hom sexuals who, under LSD, discover that they are not only genitally but genetically male, that they are basically attracted to females. The most famous and public of such cases is that of Allen Ginsberg, who has openly stated that the first time he turned on to women was during an LSD session several years ago. Bui this is only one of many such cases.
PLAYBOY: Has this happened with Lesbians?
LEARY: I was just going to cite such a case. An extremely attractive girl came down to our training center in Mexico. She was a Lesbian and she was very active sexually, but all of her energy was devoted to making it with girls. She was at an LSD session at one of our cottages and went down to the beach and saw this young man in a bathing suit and flash! for the first time in her life the cellular electricity was flowing in her body and it bridged the gap. Her subsequent sexual choices were almost exclusively members of the opposite sex.
For the same reasons, LSD is also a powerful panacea for impotence and frigidity, both of which, like homosexuality, are symbolic screw-ups. The LSD experience puts you in touch with the wisdom of your body, of your nervous system, of your cells, of your organs. And the closer you get to the message of the body, the more obvious it becomes that it's constructed and designed to procreate and keep the life stream going. When you're confronted with this basic cellular fact under LSD, you realize that your impotency, or your frigidity, is caused by neuropsychological hang-ups of fear or shame that make no sense to your cells, that have nothing to do with the biochemical forces inside your body urging you to merge and mate with a member of the opposite sex.
PLAYBOY: Does LSD always work as a sexual cure-all?
LEARY: Certainly not. LSD is no guarantee of any specific social or sexual outcome. One man may take LSD and leave wife and family and go off to be a monk on the banks of the Ganges. Another may take LSD and go back to his wife. It's a highly individual situation. Highly unpredictable. During LSD sessions, you see, there can come a microscopic perception of your routine social and professional life. You may discover to your horror that you're living a robot existence, that your relationships with your boss, your wife and your family are stereotyped, empty and devoid of meaning. At this point, there might come a desire to renounce this hollow existence, to collect your thoughts, to go away and cloister yourself from the world like a monk while you figure out what kind of a life you want to go back to, if any.
Conversely, we've found that in giving LSD to members of monastic sects, there has been a definite tendency for them to leave the monastic life and to find a mating relationship. Several were men in their late 40s who had been monks for 15 or 20 years, but who even at this mature age returned to society, married and made the heterosexual adjustment. It's not coincidental that of all those I've given LSD to, the religious group -- more than 200 ministers, priests, divinity students and nuns -- has experienced the most intense sexual reaction. And in two religious groups that prize chastity and celibacy, there have been wholesale defections of monks and nuns who left their religious orders to get married after a series of LSD experiences. The LSD session, you see, is an overwhelming awakening of experience; it releases potent, primal energies, and one of these is the sexual impulse, which is the strongest impulse at any level of organic life. For the first time in their lives, perhaps, these people were meeting head-on the powerful life forces that they had walled off with ritualized defenses and self-delusions.
PLAYBOY: A great deal of what is said about LSD by its proponents, including you, has been couched in terms of religious mysticism. You spoke earlier, in fact, of discovering "divinity" through LSD. In what way is the LSD experience religious?
LEARY: It depends on what you mean by religion. For almost everyone, the LSD experience is a confrontation with new forms of wisdom and energy that dwarf and humiliate man's mind. This experience of awe and revelation is often described as religious. I consider my work basically religious, because it has as its goal the systematic expansion of consciousness and the discovery of energies within, which men call "divine." From the psychedelic point of view, almost all religions are attempts -- sometimes limited temporally or nationally -- to discover the inner potential. Well, LSD is Western yoga. The aim of all Eastern religion, like the aim of LSD, is basically to get high: that is, to expand your consciousness and find ecstasy and revelation within.
PLAYBOY: Dr. Gerald Klee of the National Institute of Mental Health, has written: "Those who say LSD expands consciousness would have the task of defining the terms. By any conventional definition, I don't think it does expand the consciousness." What do you think?
LEARY: Well, he's using the narrow, conventional definition of consciousness that psychiatrists have been taught: that there are two levels of consciousness -- sleep and symbolic normal awareness. Anything else is insanity. So by conventional definition, LSD does not expand symbolic consciousness; thus, it creates psychosis. In terms of his conventional symbol game, Dr. Klee is right. My contention is that his definition is too narrow, that it comes from a deplorable, primitive and superstitious system of consciousness. My system of consciousness attested to by the experience of hundreds of thousands of trained voyagers who've taken LSD defines many different levels of awareness.
PLAYBOY: What are they?
LEARY: The lowest level of consciousness is sleep -- or stupor, which is produced by narcotics, barbiturates and our national stuporfactant, alcohol. The second level of consciousness is the conventional wakeful state, in which awareness is hooked to conditioned symbols: flags, dollar signs, job titles, brand names, party affiliations and the like. This is the level that most people -- including psychiatrists -- regard as reality; they don't know the half of it. There is a third level of awareness, and this is the one that I think would be of particular interest to Playboy readers, because most of them are of the younger generation, which is much more sensual than the puritanical Americans of the older generation. This is the sensory level of awareness. In order to reach it, you have to have something that will turn off symbols and open up your billions of sensory cameras to the billions of impulses that are hitting them. The chemical that opens the door to this level has been well known for centuries to cultures that stress delicate, sensitive registration of sensory stimulation: the Arab cultures, the Indian cultures, the Mogul cultures. It is marijuana. There is no question that marijuana is a sensual stimulator -- and this explains not only why it's favored by young people but why it arouses fear and panic among the middle-aged, middle-class, whiskey-drinking, blue-nosed bureaucrats who run the narcotics agencies. If they only knew what they were missing.
But we must bid a sad farewell to the sensory level of consciousness and go on to the fourth level, which I call the cellular level. It's well known that the stronger psychedelics such as mescaline and LSD take you beyond the senses into a world of cellular awareness. Now, the neurological fact of the matter is that every one of your 13 billion brain cells is hooked up to some 25,000 other cells, and everything you know comes from a communication exchange at the nerve endings of your cells. During an LSD session, enormous clusters of these cells are turned on, and consciousness whirls into eerie panoramas for which we have no words or concepts. Here the metaphor that's most accurate is the metaphor of the microscope, which brings into awareness cellular patterns that are invisible to the naked eye. In the same way, LSD brings into awareness the cellular conversations that are inaudible to the normal consciousness and for which we have no adequate symbolic language. You become aware of processes you were never tuned in to before. You feel yourself sinking down into the soft tissue swamp of your own body, slowly drifting down dark red waterways and floating through capillary canals, softly propelled through endless cellular factories, ancient fibrous clockworks ticking, clicking, chugging, pumping relentlessly. Being swallowed up this way by the tissue industries and the bloody, sinewy carryings-on inside your body can be an appalling experience the first time it happens to you. But it can also be an awesome -- one fearful, but full of reverence and wonder.
PLAYBOY: Is there a fifth level of awareness?
LEARY: Yes, and this one is even more strange and terrifying. This is the pre-cellular level, which is experienced only under a heavy dosage of LSD. Your nerve cells are aware -- as Professor Einstein was aware -- that all matter, all structure, is pulsating energy; well, there is a shattering moment in the deep psychedelic session when your body, and the world around you, dissolves into shimmering latticeworks of pulsating white waves, into silent, subcellular worlds of shuttling energy. But this phenomenon is nothing new. It's been reported by mystics and visionaries throughout the last 4000 years of recorded history as "the white light" or the "dance of energy." Suddenly you realize that everything you thought of as reality or even as life itself -- including your body -- is just a dance of particles. You find yourself horribly alone in a dead, impersonal world of raw energy feeding on your sense organs. This, of course, is one of the oldest Oriental philosophic notions, that nothing exists except in the chemistry of your own consciousness. But when it first really happens to you, through the experience of LSD, it can come as a terrorizing, isolating discovery. At this point, the unprepared LSD subject often screams out: "I'm dead!" And he sits there transfigured with fear, afraid to move. For the experienced voyager, however, this revelation can be exalting: You've climbed inside Einstein's formula, penetrated to the ultimate nature of matter, and you're pulsing in harmony with its primal, cosmic beat.
PLAYBOY: Has this happened to you often during a session?
LEARY: It's happened to me about half of the 311 times I've taken LSD. And every time it begins to happen, no matter how much experience you've had, there is that moment of terror because nobody likes to see the comfortable world of objects and symbols and even cells disintegrate into the ultimate physical design.
PLAYBOY: Do you think there may be a deeper level of consciousness beyond the pre-cellular?
LEARY: I hope so. We know that there are many other levels of energy within and around us, and I hope that within our lifetimes we will have these opened up to us, because the fact is that there is no form of energy on this planet that isn't recorded somewhere in your body. Built within every cell are molecular strands of memory and awareness called the DNA code -- the genetic blueprint that has designed and executed the construction of your body. This is an ancient strand of molecules that possesses memories of every previous organism that has contributed to your present existence. In your DNA code, you have the genetic history of your father and mother. It goes back, back, back through the generations, through the eons. Your body carries a protein record of everything that's happened to you since the moment you were conceived as a one-cell organism. It's a living history of every form of energy transformation on this planet back to that thunderbolt in the Pre-Cambrian mud that spawned the life process over two billion years ago. When LSD subjects report retrogression and reincarnation visions, this is not mysterious or supernatural. It's simply modern biogenetics.