Medicine: Artificial Psychoses

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Amid a clutter of flasks and tubes, beakers and retorts in the Sandoz Laboratories in Basel, Researcher Dr. Albert Hoffman was doing a routine experiment when he had a common laboratory accident: somehow, he absorbed some of the fluid he was working with. He became muddled and confused. Four days later, satisfied that the offending substance was lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD-25), he weighed out a minute dose and took it deliberately. It struck him "like a bolt of lightning." Hoffman had to go home, but he had lost his perception of time and space, and the short bicycle ride seemed like 5,000 miles. "I had multicolored visions and hallucinations," he says, "but worst of all it seemed that I was floating outside my own body. I therefore concluded that I was dead." The effect lasted twelve hours.

Thus, Cincinnati's Dr. Howard Fabing told a Manhattan meeting of drugmakers this week, was born a favorite tool of psychiatric research. Psychiatrists may still puzzle over the nature and cause of schizophrenia, but at last they can turn on and off, at will, psychotic episodes which have most of the earmarks of natural mental illness. (For the turning off, psychiatrists use peace-of-mind drugs, e.g., chlorpromazine and Frenquel, and can snap a patient out of an artificial psychosis within minutes.) On a Revolving Cloud. Among a dozen U.S. medical teams researching LSD, one is headed by Dr. Fabing at Cincinnati's Christ Hospital. It takes, he found, only about one seven-hundred-millionth of a healthy young man's weight in LSD to produce a model psychosis lasting five to ten hours. In experiments recorded by a movie camera (see cut}, a psychology student volunteer, age 23, took 100 micro-grams and wrote afterward: "I had very little by way of visual hallucination, but what I consider the important thing was that ... I was dissociated, plagued, pounded, weighted—all these are inadequate to describe the horrible state I was in, all of them put together. Perhaps the central thing was suspicion and fear that you would find out about me, or perhaps think things that were not true . . .

On and on this went, and as was no doubt obvious, I decided to do as little as possible so I wouldn't make a mistake." Six weeks later, the same student tried it again. Once more, he quickly became withdrawn and paranoid. His description: "Complete and insoluble confusion and anxiety reigned . . . One hallucination was that of lying flat on a slowly revolving, cloudlike object, and there were other similar objects all around, touching gently and revolving 'in gear.' I just slowly rolled down into the depths of the arrangement. Another was of a flowerbed type of pattern, or perhaps a purposeless pinball machine, with lights arranged in rows and columns. The lights—or flowers—were growing, then bursting in irregular fashion, one at the left, then the center, and so on . . .

"Next . . . things seemed to clear up.

and I felt sane, yet knew I wasn't. I seemed to wake up to a new world—my life, my mental state had been altered.

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