Award-winning investigative journalist (and dad) Peter Gorman has spent more than 20 years tracking down stories from the streets of Manhattan to the slums of Bombay. Specializing in Drug War issues, he is credited as a primary journalist in the medical marijuana and hemp movements, as well as in property forfeiture reform. His work has appeared in over 100 national and international magazines and newspapers.
Peter Gorman's love affair with the Amazon jungle is well-known to people in the field. Since 1984 Mr. Gorman has spent a minimum of three months annually there generally using Iquitos
Peru as his base. During that time he has studied ayahuasca the visionary healing vine of the jungle with his friend the curandero Julio Jerena. He has collected artifacts for the American Museum of Natural History botanical specimens for Shaman Pharmaceuticals and herpetological specimens for the FIDIA Research Institute of the University of Rome. His description of the indiginous Matses Indians’ use of the secretions of the phyllomedusa bicolor frog has opened an entire field devoted to the use of amphibian peptides as potential medicines in Western medicine.
Thumbnail Bios of 10 of the Leaders of the Psychedelic Revolution
by Peter Gorman
The man who might have been voted “Least Likely To Start A Psychedelic Revolution” in high school, turned out to the man who invented LSD. In 1938, Albert Hofmann was a young chemist working for the Sandoz Pharmaceutical in Basel, Switzerland. Hoping to develop a stimulant for blood circulation, he was working with lysergic acid. On his 25th experiment he hit on lysergic acid diethlamide. The medical department told him to go back to the drawing board. Five years later when he went back to the LSD-25, a minute amount entered his bloodstream and voila!, the first acid trip was underway and the world was about to be psychedelicized. Hofmann saw the value it possessed for assisting people to reach their inner depths and through Sandoz produced “magic grams” of LSD-25 that were shipped to scientists, psychiatrists and therapists all over the world until it was made illegal in 1966. By that time the revolution couldn’t be stopped.
Botanist Richard Schultes was working in Colombia in 1941 when the US government asked him to find new sources of rubber for the war effort, as Japan had cut off our supply from Malaysia. Schultes wound up not only finding rubber but using a host of indigenous psychedelics, including virola snuffs and ayahuasca. His writings about the use of ayahuasca inspired a generation of seekers, including William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, to travel to the Amazon in search of the magic and visionary medicine. Schultes also turned on banker Gordon Wasson to the whereabouts of magic mushrooms in Mexico and worked with Weston LeBarre on Peyotism among Plains Indians.
R. Gordon Wasson
The third member of the Holy Trinity of Psychedelics—along with Hofmann and Schultes—was investment banker R. Gordon Wasson. An amatuer mycologist, Wasson sought out Schultes in 1952 after reading a paper he’d written about a mushroom cult in Mexico. Following Schultes’ leads, Wasson and a small team wound up doing an all-night velada—ceremony—with magic mushrooms with the curandera Maria Sabina in 1955. Life Magazine published Wasson’s story in 1957, alerting the world for the first time that there were magic mushrooms in the Western Hemisphere. That single article burned into the consciousness of later psychedelic heroes, from Leary to Osley to Tom Wolfe. And the western world has been looking in cow pies ever since.
Psychiatrist and research scientist Humphrey Osmond is best known as the man who turned on Aldous Huxley and later coined the word ‘psychedelic’. Osmond’s initial interest in psychedelics involved mescaline and its possible relation to schitzophrenia. In 1952 he and partners theorized that schizophrenia might be the result of the brain releasing natural hallucinogens. In 1953 author Aldous Huxley volunteered to be a guinea pig for Osmond’s mescaline, an experience Huxley later wrote up as The Doors of Perception. Osmond later worked with LSD as a treatment for alcoholism. In corresponsence with Huxley in 1956, Huxley wrote: "To make this trivial world sublime, Take half a Gramme of phanerothyme." To which Osmond responded: "To fathom hell or soar angelic, Just take a pinch of psychedelic." The word, meaning ‘mind-manifesting’, stuck.
Aldous and Laura Huxley
When author Aldous Huxley published the little text The Doors of Perception in 1954 about his first experience with mescaline, he had no idea he was loading the gun for the psychedelic revolution. The book, which walks the reader through the psychedelic experience, whet the appetite of the Beat generation, who flocked to the southwest to eat peyote, the source of mescaline. By 1955 he’d turned his wife Laura—also an author—on to LSD, a transformational experience for her. The two psychedelic pioneers later became spiritual figureheads for a generation of hippies, and the little book became a seeker’s bible. Laura once noted to HIGH TIMES that “Aldous used to say LSD was a gratuitous grace. It’s neither necessary nor sufficient for salvation. It’s what you do with it that counts.”
Once called “the most dangerous man alive” by Richard Nixon, Timothy Leary was a psychologist and mad philosopher who was booted from Harvard for doling out magic mushrooms and LSD in unsanctioned experiments. Leary took the ammunition given him by Hofman, Schultes, Wasson and Osmond and fired into a generation of anti-war longhairs. Where the others had experimented with psychedelics for medical and spiritual reasons, Leary just told everyone to Tune in, Turn On, Drop Out, with a reminder that for peak experience, Set and Setting were vital. A one-man circus, the clown prince of psychedelics terrified the powers-that-be with his charismatic personality and revolutionary talk.
Prior to his emergence as the long-bearded, crome-domed and white-robed Ram Dass, he was Richard Alpert, a psychologist who worked with Timothy Leary at Harvard. His experiences with psychedelics—magic mushrooms initially, and then LSD—began in 1961, and more than 30-years later he told HT, “I still feel at this moment I am growing into it, that more happened at that time than I have yet been able to integrate into my life fully.” While Alpert hung around with Leary for the first couple of years after their expulsion from Harvard, he eventually made his way to India, where he realized himself as Ram Dass. His little book, Be Here Now, on living in the moment, remains the perfect companion for tripping, and his spiritual view of psychedelic use sent thousands, including Terence McKenna, to India seeking spiritual enlightenment.
Augustus Owsley Stanley III
When the feds outlawed LSD in 1966 and there were no more ‘magic grams’ being sent from Sandoz to the US, someone had to fill the slack. That someone was Augustus Owsley Stanley lll. Working out of Los Angeles, by 1966 Owsley became the first chemist to mass-produce high-quality LSD. His acid is legendary for its being the closest in purity to Sandoz’ LSD-25. The Purple Haze, White Lightning and later the Orange Sunshine (though that had many imitators) he produced supplied Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters’ acid tests—where he met and began working with the Grateful Dead. It’s estimated that he made 10 million hits of acid (at 270 microgram strength) before his lab was raided in 1967 and he was sent to prison for three years.
Author, Merry Prankster, Intrepid Tripper and the character who jumped the bridge between the Beats and the Hippies, Ken Kesey was initially turned on by the Feds. In the late 1950s he volunteered for a government research program at a VA Hospital in Menlo Park, California where he worked as a psychiatric attendant. Like Allen Ginsberg, another Menlo Park guinea pig, Kesey was given the very best psilocybin, mescaline and LSD the government had to offer. He loved it, and following the success of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest—his book about his time as an attendant—in 1962, he bought land in La Honda, CA and he and his friends, the Merry Pranksters, began throwing outlandish parties there fueled by LSD. The Acid Tests, as they were known—featuring music by the Grateful Dead and acid by Owsley—caught the spirit of the times and fueled the imagination of the hippie movement. In 1964 the Merry Pranksters took off on a cross-country odyssey in a day-glo painted school bus called FURTHER to spread the word about the benefits of LSD.
While the ‘60s had Leary, Kesey, Ram Dass and Ginsberg for their psychedelic spokesmen, the ‘80s and ‘90s had Terence McKenna. Author, thinker and psychonaut, McKenna was also a great entertainer who spoke at venues across the US on the meaning of life, the origin of speech and a host of esoteric topics. With his brother Dennis he developed a method of indoor magic mushroom cultivation and published a guide to their methods under the names Oss and Oeric which remains an influential work. McKenna prostylitized the use of psychedelics, particularly DMT, mushrooms and the visionary vine of South America, ayahuasca, sparking interest in shamanism and psychedelic substances in a generation.