LSD is more “mainstream” than you think. Many influential figures have either experimented with or habitually used LSD. Scientists, inventors, writers, business figures, and musicians.
What follows is a comprehensive list of well-known figures who have used LSD.
I created this list for two reasons:
1. I want to show you that great public figures have been inspired by LSD. Many of the people below have changed the course of human history. They attribute such success to the sporadic use of LSD.
2. To dispel one of the greatest myths about LSD: taking any amount of LSD will leave one as an incoherent and bubbling mess. On the contrary, LSD inspires innovation and creativity.
Jobs experimented with LSD in his late-teens. He called it one of the two or three most important things he ever did.
Jobs credits his outside-the-box perspective to LSD. It made him think of the world in a different way.
One of the ‘perks’ of LSD is its proclivity for making users break away from group-like thinking. When Jobs founded Apple, it was an enormous step away from the corporate-based model of computer use. One could argue that Jobs use of LSD gave him the confidence to break away from mainstream thought and create a totally revolutionary product.
“Taking LSD was a profound experience, one of the most important things in my life. LSD shows you that there’s another side to the coin, and you can’t remember it when it wears off, but you know it. It reinforced my sense of what was important—creating great things instead of making money, putting things back into the stream of history and of human consciousness as much as I could.”
Aldous Huxley was a British-born author, best known for writing Brave New World. He was one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. In addition to Brave New World, he also wrote “Doors of Perception” and “Heaven and Hell”, two short works detailing the effects of psychedelics on consciousness.
He first experimented with mescaline in 1953, later taking LSD in 1955. His experiments with psychedelics inspired him to write a novel entitled “Island,” in which a tribal population ingests moksha, a psychedelic medicine made from mushrooms, during critical periods of life. His creation of this ‘society’ expressed Huxley’s desires for a new culture in which rationalism and mysticism unite.
On his deathbed, Huxley asked his wife to inject him with 100 micrograms of LSD (equal to about 1 tab). Much like the characters in his final novel, Island, Huxley used psychedelic medicine to transition into death.
(And, as a little-known fact, Aldous Huxley died the same day as President John F. Kennedy and author C.S. Lewis).
“It’s a very salutary thing to realize that the rather dull universe in which most of us spend most of our time is not the only universe there is. I think it’s healthy that people should have this experience.”
Peter Matthiesen is an American travel writer, best known for his book “Snow Leopard.” “Snow Leopard” is a narrative of exploration in the high Himalayas in hopes of catching a glimpse of the near-mystical snow leopard. The book focuses on spiritual exploration, and thus, Matthiesen sporadically digresses into his past experiences with LSD.
Matthiessen claimed to be an early pioneer of LSD, experimenting with it in the early 60s. He worked with a shrink who claimed, “he could treat 40 people more effectively [with LSD] than he could work with one person in conventional analysis.”
When asked if LSD is still of value, Matthiessen said, “Virtually anyone who was not seriously disturbed, and even then if under medical supervision, could benefit from LSD. It could clear away neurosis so much better than conventional therapy.”
DR ANDREW WEIL
Dr. Andrew Weil is an American author and physician, best known for establishing and popularizing the field of integrative medicine.
Weil first used psychedelics in the mid-1950s with Leary, Alpert, and Huston Smith. Although only a freshman at Harvard (psychedelic research was restricted to graduate students), he forged documents to procure his own supply of mescaline.
Due to intra-group conflict and jealousy, Weil wrote a scathing rebuke of Leary’s research in psychedelics in the Harvard Crimson in 1960. Weil’s letter led to the firing of Leary and Alpert. Although Weil has tried to apologize for his letter, he remains partly responsible for catalyzing the downfall of psychedelic research.
First experimented with LSD between March and July 1965. Took it without a choice, as George and John’s dentist slipped it to them after a private dinner party. George was quoted as saying, “In fact, he had obtained some lysergic acid diethylamide 25. It was, at the time, an unrestricted medication – I seem to recall that I’d heard vaguely about it, but I didn’t really know what it was, and we didn’t know we were taking it. The bloke had put it in our coffee: mine, John’s, Cynthia’s and Pattie’s.”
Once the LSD finally hit, George felt something unbelievable, “We’d just sat down and ordered our drinks when suddenly I feel the most incredible feeling come over me. It was something like a very concentrated version of the best feeling I’d ever had in my whole life. It was fantastic. I felt in love, not with anything or anybody in particular, but with everything. Everything was perfect, in a perfect light, and I had an overwhelming desire to go round the club telling everybody how much I loved them – people I’d never seen before.”
George Harrison later claimed that the shared experience of LSD brought him and Lennon closer together.
LSD had a profound effect on The Beatles’ songwriting and recording. The first-released song to mention it was Day Tripper, but over time its influence resulted in less explicit and more abstract references to acid. The Beatles increasingly tapped into the burgeoning counterculture of 1966, and the first song recorded for Revolver was the psychedelic Tomorrow Never Knows, featured lyrics adapted from Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert’s 1964 book The Psychedelic Experience, itself a modern reworking of the ancient Tibetan Book of the Dead.
On 17 June 1967 Life magazine published an interview with Paul McCartney in which he admitted having taken LSD. Two days later, following intense press attention, he gave an interview to Independent Television News in which he discussed his use of the drug and the media reaction.
The Beatles’ use of LSD decreased after the 1967 Summer of Love. On 26 August that year they publicly renounced the use of drugs, pledging their belief in Maharishi Mahesh Yogi‘s system of Transcendental Meditation instead.
“After taking acid together, John and I had a very interesting relationship. That I was younger or I was smaller was no longer any kind of embarrassment with John. Paul still says, ‘I suppose we looked down on George because he was younger.’ That is an illusion people are under. It’s nothing to do with how many years old you are, or how big your body is. It’s down to what your greater consciousness is and if you can live in harmony with what’s going on in creation. John and I spent a lot of time together from then on and I felt closer to him than all the others, right through until his death.”
Ken Kesey published “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” in 1962. His novel instantly catapulted Kesey to fame. Once he had the attention of mainstream America, he leveraged his position as a thought leader to popularize LSD use.
His antics involving LSD reached its pinnacle in 1964, when he led a group of friends in a cross-country bus trip from San Francisco to New York. Labeling themselves the “Merry Pranksters,” this group of cohorts consumed considerable amounts of LSD to experience roadway America while high. The exploits of the “Merry Prankers” have been documented in Tom Wolfe’s, “The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test.”
“I believe that with the advent of acid, we discovered a new way to think, and it has to do with piecing together new thoughts in your mind. Why is it that people think it’s so evil? What is it about it that scares people so deeply, even the guy that invented it, what is it? Because they’re afraid that there’s more to reality than they have confronted. That there are doors that they’re afraid to go in, and they don’t want us to go in there either, because if we go in we might learn something that they don’t know. And that makes us a little out of their control.”
Yes, the famous actor. Nicholson used LSD in the 1960s, and claimed to have life-changing experiences with it. In fact, while writing the screenplay for the movie “The Trip,” he regularly dropped LSD.
Nicholson told reporters: “I don’t advocate anything for anybody. But I choose always to be candid because I don’t like the closet atmosphere of drugging… In other words, it ain’t no big thing. You can wreck yourself with it, but Christ, you can wreck yourself with anything.” (Goes back to one of James Fadiman’s points from the Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide: If you take enough aspirin, it too can be harmful).
His autobiography explained battling his curiosity about hallucinations with his reluctance towards mind-alteration, but when Feynman eventually met influential neuroscientist John C. Lilly — an avid LSD user — he overcame his fears and had himself a great time (or several). (Pick up autobiography)
In a 2004 interview, the brainiac recounted plenty of Cambridge researchers taking LSD in small amounts to aid their thinking, and Crick’s frequent experimentation with it underlined most of his work determining the fundamental geometry of all life’s programming. And believe it or not, he wasn’t the only one…
Refined the polymerase chain reaction technique (PCR). His biochemical breakthroughs ultimately netted him the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1993. The baffling thing is, a year after winning, the scientist admitted his LSD binges in the 60s and 70s were far more important to his accomplishments than any courses he ever took in school. Not only that, BUT his entire legacy probably depended on them.
“What if I had not taken LSD ever; would I have still invented PCR? I don’t know. I doubt it. I seriously doubt it.”
Yes, the wealthiest man alive today has dropped LSD. Probably more correlation than causation, it speaks to the relative harmlessness of LSD. In a 1994 interview with Playboy, he briefly touched on his use:
Playboy: Ever take LSD?
Gates: My errant youth ended a long time ago.
Playboy: What does that mean?
Gates: That means there were things I did under the age of 25 that I ended up not doing subsequently.
Playboy: One LSD story involved you staring at a table and thinking the corner was going to plunge into your eye.
Playboy: Ah, a glimmer of recognition.
Gates: That was on the other side of that boundary. The young mind can deal with certain kinds of goofing around that I don’t think at this age I could.
Imagine: You’re a professional baseball pitcher. You have the day off. So, instead of living like Sober Sally and merely kicking it in the dugout, you decide to take some LSD. Five minutes after administering your own dose, you get a call. It’s from your manager. You’re pitching today. In front of 50,000 people.
Legendary. Absolutely legendary. Doc Ellis, a pitcher for the Pirates in the 1970s, allegedly threw a no-hitter while tripping on LSD. I’m going to repeat this for effect: Doc Ellis threw a no-hitter in front of 50,000 people while tripping face on LSD.
The inventor and father of LSD. Albert Hofmann invented LSD in 1938, and used it for the first time in 1943. He experimented with it throughout his life, even microdosing until a late age.
I won’t include much about Hofmann in this article because I go into length about him in other pieces.
Stand-up comedian and social critic. George Carlin was best known for his skit, “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television.” Clever, cynical, and hilarious, Carlin had a gift for incisive commentary on topics like religion, materialism, and the mindlessness of mainstream society.
“I did LSD and peyote in the late Sixties, before I got into cocaine. That was concurrent with my change from a straight comic to the album and counterculture period, and those drugs served their purpose. They helped open me up. You know, if a drug has anything going for it at all, it should be self-limiting. It should tell you when you’ve had enough. Acid and peyote were that way for me.”
Coltrane was an American jazz saxophonist and composer. He pioneered the use of modes in jazz, and later was at the forefront of free jazz. Basically, Coltrane was a boss of a musician, and used LSD in his late 30s to incorporate serious spiritual aspects into his music.
Considered the 15th greatest guitarist of all time by Rolling Stone, Santana is best known for his pioneering efforts in combining traditional Latin American music with rock ‘n’ roll.
He performed at Woodstock while under the influence of mescaline. You can see a video of the performance here.
“I always tell people there’s a big difference between drugs, which man makes, and medicine, which Mother Earth makes. There’s a big distinction there. I think they should legalize medicine and they should outlaw drugs. Anheuser-Busch is a drug; cigarettes are a drug. Anything that imprisons you is a drug; anything that liberates you is medicine. But we’re just too advanced for a lot of people still! I can tell that when I open my mouth people are afraid, because their sense of right and wrong is still in a little box. But I’m comfortable with my existence, and the things that I did learn from mescaline and LSD, I don’t regret one trip. I learned so much from each one–as far as all is one, to feel someone else’s pain, to feel connectedness. There is something about the terminology ‘visit yourself.’ ”
Watts is best known for a short film that has made the interwebz rounds in recent years: “What if Money Was No Object?” He was a British-born philosopher, writer, and speaker, best known for popularizing Eastern philosophies for a Western audience.
Watts wrote an essay entitled, “Psychedelics and Religious Experience,” in which he describes the state of oneness induced by LSD. You can check it out here.
“The effects of what are now called psychedelic (mind-manifesting) chemicals differ from those of alcohol as laughter differs from rage, or delight from depression. There is really no analogy between being “high” on LSD and “drunk” on bourbon. True, no one in either state should drive a car, but neither should one drive while reading a book, playing a violin, or making love.”
Anthony Bourdain is an American author, chef, and TV personality, best known for his hit TV show, “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations.”
“We used to soak hallucinogenic psilocybin mushrooms in honey overnight and then mix them into hot tea before work. You’ve never seen such over-garnished plates in your life. I’d have to tell my sous-chef, ‘You’ve been working on that plate for 22 minutes!’ ”
Harris is an American author, neuroscientist, and philosopher. He is also a vocal atheist and proponent of expanding consciousness. In his most recent book, “Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion,” he writes the following:
“I have two daughters who will one day take drugs. Of course, I will do everything in my power to see that they choose their drugs wisely, but a life lived entirely without drugs is neither foreseeable nor, I think, desirable. I hope they someday enjoy a morning cup of tea or coffee as much as I do. If they drink alcohol as adults, as they probably will, I will encourage them to do it safely. If they choose to smoke marijuana, I will urge moderation. Tobacco should be shunned, and I will do everything within the bounds of decent parenting to steer them away from it. Needless to say, if I knew that either of my daughters would eventually develop a fondness for methamphetamine or crack cocaine, I might never sleep again. But if they don’t try a psychedelic like psilocybin or LSD at least once in their adult lives, I will wonder whether they had missed one of the most important rites of passage a human being can experience.”
“However, there was a period in my early twenties when I found psilocybin and LSD to be indispensable tools, and some of the most important hours of my life were spent under their influence. Without them, I might never have discovered that there was an inner landscape of mind worth exploring.”
“The positive experiences were more sublime than I could ever have imagined or than I can now faithfully recall. These chemicals disclose layers of beauty that art is powerless to capture and for which the beauty of nature itself is a mere simulacrum. It is one thing to be awestruck by the sight of a giant redwood and amazed at the details of its history and underlying biology. It is quite another to spend an apparent eternity in egoless communion with it. Positive psychedelic experiences often reveal how wondrously at ease in the universe a human being can be—and for most of us, normal waking consciousness does not offer so much as a glimmer of those deeper possibilities.”
“However, as the peaks are high, the valleys are deep. My “bad trips” were, without question, the most harrowing hours I have ever endured, and they make the notion of hell—as a metaphor if not an actual destination—seem perfectly apt. If nothing else, these excruciating experiences can become a source of compassion. I think it may be impossible to imagine what it is like to suffer from mental illness without having briefly touched its shores.”
In his 1975 book “Maverick: More Than a Game,” Jackson claimed that some LSD he gobbled for breakfast in Malibu in May 1973 lent his game a boost. The shaggy-haired Knicks forward said the “spiritual flash” he experienced that day on the beach gave him a new love for the sport and a deeper appreciation of team play.
Known for producing deeply emotional and sometimes confusing revelations, the LSD brought Jackson face-to-face with issues about his body. He had learned over the years to trust his mind, but his relationship with his body was entirely different. The back pain and difficulties had pushed him to the conclusion that his body had somehow let him down.
However, under the influence of the drug, Jackson began to see the fallacy of his contempt. He felt a oneness between mind and body and with it a surge of power and strength like he hadn’t felt in years.
Besides this physical rejuvenation, the day brought a host of other revelations – that he had to learn to love himself before he could love others; that he had to confront and subjugate his substantial ego, which in turn would lead to greater understanding about team basketball and his role in it. He saw that he had to rid himself of indecisiveness, that he had to begin taking responsibility for his actions.
From the book, “Mindgames: Phil Jackson’s Long Strange Journey.”
Jean-Paul Sartre was a French existentialist philosopher, playwright, novelist, screenwriter, political activist, biographer, and literary critic. He was one of the leading figures in 20th century French philosophy and Existentialism, and his work continues to influence further fields such as sociology and literary studies.
Although he did not take LSD, he experimented with mescaline, a substance causing many of the same effects as LSD.
Author Simone de Beauvoir reports in “The Prime of Life”, pp. 169-170, that Jean-Paul Sartre had a medically supervised mescaline injection in 1935 along with an intern. Sartre reported seeing lobsters, orangutans, and houses gnashing their jaws – and the intern reported virtually romping through a meadow full of nymphs.