Soldiers On Acid

Soldiers On Acid

Simone Preuss
Simone Preuss
Scribol Staff
Anthropology and History

Laughing soldierPhoto:
A still from the British LSD experiment video

What looks like a soldier having a bit of fun was actually a series of controlled experiments that lasted for decades. We’re talking about mind control or the use of hallucinogenics such as LSD as weapons used in warfare. Said to have been pioneered by the Nazis; Britain, the United States and others soon followed suit with their own experiments on unwitting soldiers and civilians, the Vietcong and now terrorists…

Images say more than a thousand words; this video taken in 1963 of British soldiers under the influence of LSD surely does:

As the narrator aptly describes,

“Fifty minutes after taking the drug, radio communication had become difficult, if not impossible. But the men are still capable of sustained physical effort; however, constructive action was still attempted by those retaining a sense of responsibility despite their physical symptoms. But one hour and ten minutes after taking the drug, with one man climbing a tree to feed the birds, the troop commander gave up, admitting that he could no longer control himself or his men. He himself then relapsed into laughter.”

The U.S. Army conducted experiments with soldier volunteers at their Edgewood, MD arsenal from 1955 until about 1972. They were given synthetic marijuana, LSD and two dozen other psychoactive drugs with the aim to develop chemical weapons that could incapacitate enemy soldiers.

A still from a drill with U.S. soldiers under the influence of LSD:
US LSD experimentPhoto:

The details of Project MK-Ultra are still classified information – or evidence has since been destroyed – but a 2007 book by army psychiatrist James Ketchum shed new light on a program that the army only acknowledged in 1975. After experimenting with about 2,000 soldiers, the army concluded that hallucinogenics such as acid and marijuana were too unpredictable or too mellow to be useful as weapons.

A short video of an American LSD experiment:

One chemical weapon was developed, however: artillery rounds filled with powdered quinuclidinyl benzilate (BZ), used at least five times on enemy soldiers in Vietnam between 1968 and 1970. BZ is a deliriant of the belladonnoid family that can place users in a sleep-like state and leave them impaired for days.

What chemical warfare looks like:
Chemical warfarePhoto:
Image: David Dees

Ketchum himself was part of the project in the ‘60s and early ‘70s and despite the devastating effects he surely must have seen, his self-published book titled Chemical Warfare: Secrets Almost Forgotten advocates the potential use of non-lethal chemicals to incapacitate terrorists who take hostages or use human shields – a proposition that is illegal under current international law.

Ketchum performing a neurological test on a soldier in 1972:
Ketchum in 1972Photo:
Image via USA Today

James B. Stanley was one of these human guinea pigs, then a master sergeant in the Army stationed at Fort Knox, KY. In February 1958, he volunteered to participate in a program designed to “test the effectiveness of protective clothing and equipment as defenses against chemical warfare.” He only found out the truth, namely that he was administered LSD at least four times, in December 1975 when he received a letter from the army, soliciting his help in a study of the long-term effects of LSD on “volunteers who participated” in the 1958 tests.

Stanley, for whom his personality change, hallucinations, periods of incoherence and memory loss suddenly made sense, filed a claim for compensation in 1977 that was denied by the army. In 1987, the Supreme Court rejected his claim again but in 1991, the Defense Department finally agreed to pay a sum of $625,000 as compensation.

A still from the British LSD experiment:
British soldiersPhoto:

Giving hallucinogenics to unsuspecting persons is no laughing matter, volunteers, criminals or not. Hopefully the newly opened debate will not forget to check into the fact that the program was officially closed and the remains of chemical weapons – about 50 tons of BZ in the US alone – should have been destroyed.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

We’ll even throw in a free album.

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