When the C.I.A. Was Into Mind Control

Sharon Weinberger in the New York Times:

In 1955, R. Gordon Wasson set off for southern Mexico to experience a sacred Indian ceremony rumored to provide a “pathway to the divine.” Wasson later extolled the mystical effects of what he called the “magic mushroom,” the Mexican plant used in the ceremony, in a 1957 photo-essay for Life magazine.

Wasson’s article, read by millions, helped set the stage for an eventual cultural revolution that peaked with Timothy Leary, the former Harvard professor who proselytized for LSD and called on Americans to “turn on, tune in, drop out.” The seminal role Wasson’s trip played in promoting mind-bending drugs and the accompanying cultural revolution has been described before, including in Michael Pollan’s recent book, “How to Change Your Mind,” but a new biography by Stephen Kinzer, a former foreign correspondent for The New York Times, adds a key detail to this fascinating history.

“Poisoner in Chief: Sidney Gottlieb and the CIA Search for Mind Control” describes how, unbeknown to Wasson, the spy agency was funding his travel. In fact, Wasson’s trip “would electrify mind control experimenters in Washington whose ambitions were vastly different from his own.”

More here.