In the early 1950s, the CIA started a program called MK-ULTRA. Fearing that the Soviet Union was getting ahead in espionage, they investigated whether LSD could be used for mind control.
The existence of MK-ULTRA is fairly well-known, but most people don’t know just how crazy the details were. CIA agents did some absolutely insane things with LSD. It’s not entirely clear that the government actually learned anything, but they definitely got some incredible stories out of it.
10 – Agents Slipped Each Other LSD
In the early days of MK-ULTRA, LSD was mostly tested on willing agents. CIA agents would very carefully take small doses of LSD and take notes on the effects.
As time passed, though, it escalated. Any agent who took LSD also agreed to be dosed unexpectedly at any time. Agents would secretly spike each others’ drinks so often that finding out your morning coffee had acid in it was just considered an “occupational hazard.”
It got so bad that when the CIA held an office party in 1954, they had to send a memo out to their staff specifically instructing them not to put LSD in the punch. Even then, the agents didn’t trust each other. One agent allegedly still brought his own wine bottle—and refused to put it down for even a second.
9 – A Magician Taught The CIA Sleight Of Hand
Drugging people with LSD didn’t remain an in-house activity for long. In short time, the CIA decided to expand its program onto unsuspecting citizens, so they called in the experts—magicians.
John Mulholland, a professional illusionist, wrote a manual on sleight of hand, specifically so agents could add a little zest to your drink with a splash of LSD. He taught agents how to distract an audience with a dramatic action, such as lighting a match, to hide what their other hand was doing. He even suggested tricks that the CIA could use, such as gluing a pill to a matchbook and making it fall into a cup.
The manual features a little deception of its own: In the foreword, an attached message says that Mullholland’s methods “were never actually used,” but other documents reveal that Mulholland’s deceptions were a key part of the MK-ULTRA program.
8 – The CIA Hired Prostitutes To Drug Their Clients
One way the CIA tested out LSD was through Operation Midnight Climax—an operation that truly lived up to its name.
The CIA set up a brothel and paid prostitutes $100 to lure unsuspecting men inside. Once there, the men were given LSD-laced liquor and brought to a bed next to a one-way mirror, with agents on the other side, watching.
Officially, the CIA was testing the prostitutes to see if they could become secret agents. They wanted to know if they could get information from a target using sex and drugs.
Unofficially, however, this may have just been an excuse for CIA agents to watch people have sex. The head of the project, George White, later wrote that it was “fun, fun, fun” and mused, “Where else could a red-blooded American boy lie, kill, cheat, steal, rape and pillage with the sanction and blessing of the all-highest?”
7 – Mental Patients Were Drugged Into Comas
Canada got involved in MK-ULTRA, too. A McGill professor named Dr. Hebb successfully brainwashed students into accepting that God created the world in seven days. He put atheist students in a sensory deprivation tank and played them recordings supporting creationism. When they came out, the students were “very supportive” of the idea that the universe was created by an all-powerful god.
Another McGill scientist, Dr. Cameron, took Dr. Hebb’s ideas a step further. He believed he could use them to completely rewrite a person’s brain. He used a cocktail of drugs to put mental patients into a ten-day coma. When they came out of it, he started giving them electroshock therapy twice a day, nearly five times more often than normal treatment.
Dr. Cameron hoped he could “depattern” a person’s brain and then rewrite their entire worldview—and it just may have worked. A few years later, Dr. Cameron’s method showed up in the CIA’s interrogation training manual.
6 – A Man Was Kept High For 174 Days
Some experiments simply tested how long agents could keep somebody high. As it turned out, the answer was for a very, very long time.
In one experiment, a group of African Americans with preexisting drug habits were brought in and given LSD. One group of seven men received LSD every day for 77 days straight. Every time they built up a tolerance to the drug, the researchers would double or quadruple their dosage to see if they could break through.
That was their record for a group, but it was a far cry from the top score. A mental patient in Kentucky was pulled out and drugged up so often that he was allegedly continuously high for 174 days. After the experiment ended, the mental patient supposedly appeared to be in a permanent acid trip for the rest of his life.