Psychedelic Experiments and Experiences
After his trip to Mexico, Leary returned to Harvard in 1960. Along with psychologist Richard Alpert (later known as Ram Dass), he created the Harvard Psilocybin Project and began administering psilocybin to graduate students. The goal of this project was to evaluate the effects of psilocybin, a synthesized form of the hallucinogenic agent found in certain mushrooms, on human subjects. The compound used was produced by a process developed by Albert Hofmann of Sandoz Pharmaceuticals, who was famous for synthesizing LSD. In Leary’s research, he concluded that psychedelic drugs could be effective in transforming personality and expanding human consciousness.
Allen Ginsberg, a well-known Beat poet, heard about the Harvard Psilocybin project and asked to join. Leary was given great ideas by Ginsberg's enthusiasm, and they shared feelings of hope in the positive effects of psychedelic substances to help people "turn on" (meaning: to discover a higher level of consciousness). Together they began a campaign of introducing artists and intellectuals to these psychedelics to explore the cultural and philosophical implications of psychedelic drugs.
Leary’s experiments were very controversial. This likely influenced his dismissal from Harvard in 1963. After he was fired, he began to intensively explore LSD, a psychedelic drug that was first derived from ergot of rye in 1938 by chemist Albert Hofmann. He traveled frequently giving many public lectures, mostly on college campuses. He became a main focus of the controversial public debate over LSD. His phrase “turn on, tune in, drop out” became a popular counterculture slogan. Cultural conservatives thought Leary was a damaging influence on our society. U.S. Pres. Richard Nixon called him “the most dangerous man in America”.
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