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It’s often said that in the 1960s psychedelics “escaped from the laboratory,” but it would probably be more accurate to say they were thrown over the laboratory wall, and never with as much loft or velocity as by Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert at the end of 1962. “We’re through playing the science game,” Leary told McClelland when he returned to Cambridge that fall. Now, Leary and Alpert were playing the game of cultural revolution.

• • • THE LARGER COMMUNITY of psychedelic researchers across North America reacted to Leary’s provocations with dismay and then alarm. Leary had been in regular contact with the West Coast and Canadian groups, exchanging letters and visits with his far-flung colleagues on a fairly regular basis. (He and Alpert had paid a visit to Stolaroff’s foundation in 1960 or 1961; “I think they thought we were too straitlaced,” Don Allen told me.) Soon after arriving at Harvard, Leary had gotten to know Huxley, who was teaching for a semester at MIT. Huxley had become extremely fond of the roguish professor, and shared his aspirations for psychedelics as an agent of cultural transformation, but worried that Leary was moving too fast and too flagrantly.* During his last visit to Cambridge (Huxley would die in Los Angeles in November 1963, on the same day as John F. Kennedy), Huxley felt that Leary “had talked such nonsense . . . that I became quite concerned. Not about his sanity—because he is perfectly sane—but about his prospects in the world.”

Soon after Leary announced the formation of the International Federation for Internal Freedom, Humphry Osmond traveled to Cambridge to try to talk some sense into him. He and Abram Hoffer were worried that Leary’s promotion of the drugs outside the context of clinical research threatened to provoke the government and upend their own research. Osmond also faulted Leary for working without a psychopharmacologist and for treating these “powerful chemicals [as] harmless toys.” Hoping to distance serious research from irresponsible use, and troubled that the counterculture was contaminating his formerly neutral term “psychedelic,” Osmond tried once again to coin a new one: “psychodelytic.” I don’t need to tell you it failed to catch on.

“You must face these objections rather than dissipate them with a smile, however cosmic,” Osmond told him. There it was again: the indestructible Leary smile! But Osmond got nothing more than that for his troubles.

Myron Stolaroff weighed in with a blunt letter to Leary describing the IFIF as “insane” and accurately prophesying the crack-up to come: It will “wreak havoc on all of us doing LSD work all over the nation . . .

“Tim, I am convinced you are heading for very serious trouble if your plan goes ahead as you have described it to me, and it would not only make a great deal of trouble for you, but for all of us, and may do irreparable harm to the psychedelic field in general.”

But what exactly was the plan of the IFIF? Leary was happy to state it openly: to introduce as many Americans to “the strong psychedelics” as it possibly could in order to change the country one brain at a time. He had done the math and concluded that “the critical figure for blowing the mind of the American society would be four million LSD users and this would happen by 1969.”

As it would turn out, Leary’s math was not far off. Though closer to two million Americans had tried LSD by 1969, this cadre had indeed blown the mind of America, leaving the country in a substantially different place.

But perhaps the most violent response to Leary’s plans for worldwide mental revolution came from Al Hubbard, who had always had an uneasy relationship with the professor. The two had met soon after Leary got to Harvard, when Hubbard made the drive to Cambridge in his Rolls-Royce, bringing a supply of LSD he hoped to trade for some of Leary’s psilocybin.

“He blew in with that uniform,” Leary recalled, “laying down the most incredible atmosphere of mystery and flamboyance, and really impressive bullshit!”—a subject on which Leary was certainly qualified to judge. Hubbard “started name-dropping like you wouldn’t believe . . . claimed he was friends with the Pope.

“The thing that impressed me is, on one hand he looked like a carpetbagger con man, and on the other he had these most impressive people in the world in his lap, basically backing him.”

But Leary’s legendary charm never had much traction with Hubbard, a deeply conservative and devout man who disdained both the glare of publicity and the nascent counterculture. “I liked Tim when we first met,” he said years later, “but I warned him a dozen times” about staying out of trouble and the press. “He seemed like a well-intentioned person, but then he went overboard . . . he turned out to be completely no good.” Like many of his colleagues, Hubbard strongly objected to Leary’s do-it-yourself approach to psychedelics, especially his willingness to dispense with the all-important trained guide. His attitude toward Leary might also have been influenced by his extensive contacts in law enforcement and intelligence, which by now had the professor on their radar.

According to Osmond, the Captain’s antipathy toward Leary surfaced alarmingly during a psychedelic session the two shared during this period of mounting controversy. “Al got greatly preoccupied with the idea he ought to shoot Timothy, and when I began to reason with him that this would be a very bad idea . . . I became much concerned he might shoot me.”

Hubbard was probably right to think that nothing short of a bullet was going to stop Timothy Leary now. As Stolaroff put the matter in closing his letter to Leary, “I suppose there is little hope that with the bit so firmly in your mouth you can be deterred.”

• • • BY THE SPRING OF 1963, Leary had one foot out of Harvard, skipping classes and voicing his intention to leave at the end of the school year, when his contract would be up. But Alpert had a new appointment in the School of Education and planned to stay on—until another explosive article in the Crimson got them both fired. This one was written by an undergraduate named Andrew Weil.

Weil had arrived at Harvard with a keen interest in psychedelic drugs—he had devoured Huxley’s Doors of Perception in high school—and when he learned about the Psilocybin Project, he beat a path to Professor Leary’s office door to ask if he could participate.

Leary explained the university rule restricting the drugs to graduate students. Yet, trying to be helpful, he told Weil about a company in Texas where he might order some mescaline by mail (it was still legal at the time), which Weil promptly did (using university stationery). Weil became fascinated with the potential of psychedelics and helped form an undergraduate mescaline group. But he wanted badly to be part of Leary and Alpert’s more exclusive club, so when in the fall of 1962 Weil began to hear about other undergraduates who had received drugs from Richard Alpert, he was indignant. He went to his editor at the Crimson and proposed an investigation.

Weil developed leads on a handful of fellow students whom Alpert had turned on in violation of university rules. (Weil would later write that “students and others were using hallucinogens for seductions both heterosexual and homosexual.”) But there were two problems with his scoop: none of the students to whom Alpert supposedly gave drugs were willing to say so on the record, and the Crimson’s lawyers were worried about printing defamatory charges against professors. The lawyers advised Weil to turn over his information to the administration. He could then write a story reporting on whatever actions the university took in response to the charges, thereby reducing the newspaper’s legal exposure. But Weil still needed a student to come forward.

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