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Drugs: The Dangers of LSD

4 minute read

Blonde Donna Wingenroth was no beatnik “acid head” looking for a trip into the fantastic with LSD. Still, she ate a sugar cube laced with the hallucinogenic drug and had to be taken to the hospital, alternately laughing and screaming hysterically. After a stomach pumping and a few days on intravenous feedings, she recovered. Last week she went home, and her doctors are confident that she has suffered no permanent brain damage. Only five years old, Donna was an innocent victim of the dangerous LSD craze (TIME, March 11); she had found the “candy” cube in the refrigerator of her family’s Brooklyn apartment, where her 18-year-old uncle said he had stashed it after buying it for $5 from a Greenwich Village peddler.

As if the little girl’s near-tragedy were not enough, last week Brooklyn produced another LSD case with still more ominous implications. Mrs. Florence Cooper, 57, was found slashed to death in her apartment, and police called on her son-in-law, Stephen Henry Kessler, 30, for routine questioning. Kessler, the cops said, asked excitedly: “Did I kill my wife? Did I rape anyone? What have I done?” Then he added: “Man, I’ve been flying for three days on LSD.”

Navel Glories. Charged with homicide, Kessler was sent for psychiatric investigation to Kings County Hospital. But even before the medical reports were in, his background became known. He was a Harvard undergraduate in 1952-57, too early to hear Psychologist Timothy Leary expounding the beauties of LSD and winning converts to his cult. Unsure what to do for a while after graduation, Kessler considered the law and did well in qualifying exams, but eventually turned to medicine and became a student at New York’s Downstate Medical Center. Because of personality difficulties, he withdrew last November. Kessler experimented with LSD, and last month landed in the psychiatric division of Manhattan’s Bellevue Hospital for treatment. He was there only a few days, and had been out three weeks when he was arrested.

To Dr. Donald B. Louria, chairman of the New York County Medical Society’s committee on narcotics, the Kessler case fitted a pattern. In the last year, he said, 75 patients were admitted to Bellevue because of LSD reactions, nine of them reported “uncontrollable impulses toward violence,” and two of these had attempted murder.

To such recognized LSD experts as Los Angeles’ Dr. Sidney Cohen, author of The Beyond Within (TIME, Dec. 18, 1964), the “acid head” who is “taking a trip” is more likely to become passively fascinated by the glories or horrors of contemplating his own navel than to react violently against others. Suicide is a more probable result than murder. But Dr. Cohen concedes that any man who stays on LSD for three days would require repeated, increasing doses, and might have reactions not previously seen by psychiatrists. Equally important is the basic personality of the LSD user: on college campuses and in beatnik dives in California, most users are young, directionless and more confused than hostile; New York City may well have a greater proportion of hard-core misfits, with different problems.

No Legal Supply. Inevitably, police and prosecutors got together with medical experts in a secret but carefully publicized conference to figure out ways of cutting down the illicit LSD traffic and the abuses to which the drug is put. They were likely to be even less successful than they have been with narcotics because bootleg LSD is relatively easy to manufacture. The stuff is made from lysergic acid, which is extracted from a fungus that grows on rye. By itself, it is neither dangerous nor expensive. It is usually imported from Europe. Processing it to LSD (dextro-lysergic acid diethylamide) is delicate and complex, and requires technical laboratory equipment, but demands no greater skills than those of a college chemistry major.

Ironically, the one source of LSD that could be shut off instantly was the strictly controlled and limited supply that the only legal manufacturer, Sandoz Pharmaceuticals, has been doling out to a small number of carefully investigated medical researchers. There have been no recent reports that any Sandoz LSD was getting into a black market, but fearing public reaction to the very fact that it was manufacturing the drug, Sandoz stopped all deliveries.

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