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News (Media Awareness Project) - CN BC: B.C.'s Acid Flashback
Title:CN BC: B.C.'s Acid Flashback
Published On:2001-12-08
Source:Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Fetched On:2008-08-31 11:03:43

Long before Timothy Leary and the Summer of Love, patients at Hollywood
Hospital in New Westminster were being treated with LSD.

To Rick Doblin, New Westminster's Hollywood Hospital was a far-off place of
myth and legend. It was 1972, and being a college student in Florida, he
was keen to expand his mind. So he wrote to the hospital to see whether he
could undergo its most famous treatment; a 12-hour trip into his
consciousness, under the influence of pure Sandoz LSD.

"It was the only place left where you could have a guided LSD experience in
a controlled setting," Doblin says. But the hospital told him it would
cost $600, more than an 18-year-old could afford, and the trip never happened.

He never forgot about that hospital, though. After doing a PhD in public
policy at Harvard, he became director of the Multidisciplinary Association
for Psychedelic Studies, a Florida-based research group that designs
experiments using mind-altering drugs in psychiatric therapy. Last month
Doblin was in the news because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had
approved a MAPS-designed study using MDMA (better known as Ecstasy) for
post-traumatic stress disorder. Now Doblin is helping create an experiment
using LSD - which, like MDMA, was successfully used by therapists for years
before it was outlawed. So he's set his sights once again on Hollywood
Hospital - or at least the files for the thousands of patients who were
treated there with LSD between 1957 and 1975.

"Mystery hung over it like a cloak," says Ben Metcalfe. Back in the 1950s,
Hollywood Hospital - located inside an enormous mansion obscured by holly
trees - was known mainly as an alcoholic treatment centre, the place Wacky
Bennett's ministers went to dry out after too many meetings around the
liquor cabinet. But in 1959 Metcalfe, a staff writer at The Province,
started hearing strange stories about a powerful drug being tessted at the
hospital, and he decided to check it out.

Lysergic acid diethylamide was perfectly legal back then. First
synthesized in 1938 by the Swiss pharmaceutical firm Sandoz AG, the drug
was first marketed to psychiatrists after the Second World War as a tool to
"elicit release of repressed material." By the 1950s, reports of miracle
cures started to circulate, especially from Saskatchewan, where
psychiatrists claimed that up to 60 per cent of their alcoholic patients
stopped boozing after one huge dose of LSD.

Hollywood Hospital's new medical director, Dr. J. Ross MacLean, started
using the same technique. But the B.C. College of Physicians and Surgeons
was skeptical, and it petitioned the government to revoke the hospital's
funding. MacLean needed some good press. That's why one morning Ben
Metcalfe found himself in Hollywood Hospital's therapy suite, downing 400
micrograms of liquid Sandoz LSD - 20 times the average hit of today's
illegal street acid - served up in a crystal chalice.

"For a long time I took it to be the great experience of my life," says
Metcalfe, who later became one of the founding members of Greenpeace, then
a Zen monk, and now is 82 and living on Vancouver Island. "Then I woke up
again to the fact that life itself is a great experience. And that
includes the LSD experience."

For 12 straight hours, Metcalfe was thrust into "the blastfurnace of
truth," as he described it in a series of articles for the The Province -
weeping at the beauty of his hands, replaying every memory of his life,
wading into the Milky Way and measuring his own insignificance against the
infinite majesty of the cosmos. "Then I became part of men again and
joined their quarrels, not as a so-called civilized man, but as a
frightened, primitive thing looking into the faces of all the gods," he
wrote. As he discovered, LSD therapy forced patients to realize that they
were utterly alone, and responsible for their fate. It packed years of
psychoanalysis into a single day.

But it worked best when the trip was directed by a good therapist, and in
that respect Metcalfe was lucky. His guide was Al Hubbard, "the Johnny
Appleseed of LSD," the guy who turned on Timothy Leary for the first time a
year later, in 1960, Hubbard, the gregarious owner of a Vancouver-based
uranium mining company and a devout Catholic, first experienced LSD in the
late 1940s, and had made it his life's mission to spread the gospel of
psychedelics around the world. Though he hailed from the backwoods of
Kentucky, Hubbard was a full-blown mystic. He'd discovered that a massive
dose of LSD opened up a profound and terrifying spiritual awareness, and
he'd started developing techniques to guide patients tothe Other World -
getting them to write out extensive autobiographies recounting their
hang-ups and traumas beforehand, and then, while they were on LSD, using
religious icons, the music of Bach, or artwork (Salvador Dali's
vertigo-inducing "Christ of St. John of the Cross" was a favourite) to
evoke spiritual associations. Hubbard had helped design the successful
therapies used in Saskatchewan (a story documented in this month's issue of
Western Living magazine) so when he turned up at Hollywood Hospital,
MacLean let him build an LSD suite, complete with a fireplace and a giant
womb-like sofa.

"He knew more about life than the average person," says Metcalfe of
Hubbard, who died in 1982. "He had an affectionate contempt for social
schemes or psychological designs. He was a believer, but a sophisticated
Catholic - what the French call les elus, the 'elect.' He knew that God
winks at the occasional sin."

Indeed, God seemed to be on Hubbard's side. In December of 1957, Hubbard
inspired a monsignor at Vancouver's Holy Rosary Cathedral to write a letter
of introduction for those taking the LSD journey. Just to be safe, the
letter asked "Our Heavenly Mother the Virgin Mary, [and] all who call upon
Her to aid us to know and understand the true qualities of these
psychedelics - and according to God's laws to use them for the benefit of
mankind here and in eternity."

With that kind of approval and Hubbard's business contacts, LSD became
legit. As Metcalfe later reported, Vancouver Sun publisher Don Cromie
enjoyed an LSD session at Hollywood, as did the Sun's fashion editor. The
courts and the Salvation Army started referring alcoholics to the hospital,
and a few church leaders even took the trip themselves. "LSD therapy
enabled patients to see themselves differently, and to 'happen' in another
way," says Ray Woollam, who was a 32-year-old United Church minister when
he visited Hollywood Hospital in 1958, and now is a self-help author in
Duncan. "That's what human change is about, not from the insights of an

In academic papers, Hubbard and MacLean claimed a success rate of 80 per
cent with their alcoholic patients. Whether that number could stand up to
scrutiny is debatable, but their techniques certainly brought about some
extraordinary conversions. Metcalfe did follow-up interviews with 15
patients - radio executives, lawyers, prostitutes - and they all told him
they'd been transformed by LSD therapy. "Drunken housewives, the
sherry-party ones up in the British Properties, they were the most
pathetic. I saw several of those women changed completely."

One of the patients, Barrie Leggatt remembers he was so riddled with
anxiety that he could barely hold his job as an inventory clerk. But
during his LSD session, Hubbard showed him a bouquet of roses. "He said,
'Now hate them.' They withered and the petals fell off, and I started to
cry. Then he said 'Love them,' and they came back brighter and even more
spectacular than before. That meant a lot to me," Leggatt says at his home
in Victoria. "I realized that you can make your relationships into
anything you want. The way I was having trouble with people was coming
from me."

"It's kind of like being reborn," he continues. "You're ready to see
things anew. But little by little you keep running up against the same
problems, because the outside world's the same. There was no follow-up,
and that's a shame, because the expeience was so good. I still think LSD's
got great potential."

Leggatt also spent some time with Hubbard tootling around town in Hubbard's
two-tone Rolls Royce, and flying over to his three-bedroom retreat on
Dayman Island, in the southern Gulf Islands, in one of his private planes.
Legend has it that Hubbard kept an LSD lab on the island, but Leggatt says
he didn't see anything of the kind - although Hubbard did keep ducking out
to take mind-bending hits of carbogen a mixture of carbon dioxide and
oxygen he kept in scuba tanks in the boathouse.

"The front was always benign, but you always felt there was a hell of a lot
going on behind him," says Leggatt. As Metcalfe fund out, Hubbard served
with the Office of Strategic Services (the predecessor to the U.S. Central
Intelligence Agency) during the war, and had been involved with shipping
uranium for the Manhattan Project - connections leading some to speculate
Hubbard was really working for the CIA, which experimented with LSD as a
mind-control drug in its notorious MKULTRA program. (In 1980 the B.C.
government actually investigated possible CIA involvement at Hollywood
Hospital, but was unable to find any conclusive evidence.)

Metcalfe says Hubbard always maintained that LSD should be used for the
enlightenment and betterment of mankind. But Hubbard did become a
government agent again: When "bathtub" acid started showing up on the
street, he was so enraged that the holy sacrament was being defiled by
criminals that he went to work for the FDA, and in 1963 he particapted in a
sting operation against two Vancouver LSD dealers who'd beaten Metcalfe
near to death.

Hubbard had left Vancouver by then, reportedly because he'd argued with
MacLean about the extravagant fees that hospital charged for an LSD session
- - anywhere from $500 to $1,000 - and he moved to California and started
dosing business executives. (For more of this story, check out "Storming
Heaven: LSD and the American Dream" by Jay Stevens.) MacLean continued the
paid sessions, and soon became so wealthy he was able to plunk down enough
cash to buy Casa Mia, the most extravagant property on Southwest Marine
Drive. But he needed more staff, and he hired Frank Ogden, a helicopter
pilot from Toronto who'd shown up on the hospital's doorstep after reading
about LSD in Maclean's magazine.

Ogden, who's now 81 and calls himself "Dr. Tomorrow," making
prognostications about the future from his wired Coal Harbour houseboat,
was Hollywood's resident therapist from 1961 to 1968. During that time, he
recalls, a New York clinic recruited Hollywood's doctors to speculate about
the possible ways LSD could be used as a terrorist weapon. "There was a
big fear that someone would throw a bucket of juice into a reservoir and a
whole city would go crazy," Ogden says, but they determined it wouldn't
work because LSD is neutralized by the iron in tap water. Clearly the U.S.
government was worried. Timothy Leary was campaigning for the widespread
public use of psychedelics, and alarming (though utterly false) stories
about chromosome damage and blindness caused by LSD were apearing in the
news. In 1966, the U.S. banned LSD completely. But it was still leagal in
Canada, and curious Yankees started showing up at Hollywood Hospital, cash
in hand.

"We had a big clientele from California," Ogden says. "Out of the 1,100 or
so we did, certainly a hundred were household names." He's coy about
revealing exactly who they were, though. Cary Grant? "Let's say he was in
the area," Ogden replies. But there are stories in print: the 1985 book
"Acid Dreams: The CIA LSD and th Sixties Rebellion", for example, mentions
that Robert Kennedy's wife Ethel underwent LSD therapy at Hollywood
Hopsital. And earlier this year, the easy-listening singer Andy Williams
told the British newspaper, The Guardian, that he dropped acid "three or
four times" in New Westminster to deal with his marital problems.

"It was interesting," the Moon River crooner said. "You go back and see
yourself being born, see yourself pooping in your diapers, you go through a
lot of stuff. It changed me - I came out realizing that the only things
important to me were family, friends and love. Maybe that's why I'm so cool."

Celebrities also worked at the hospital. Mimsy Farmer, a starlet whose
oeuvre mainly consisted of biker films, told Variety early in 1967 that she
was heading to Vancouver to become a "psychedelic therapeutic assistant."

Ogden recalls that Farmer was only at the hospital briefly, because she'd
had a bad trip during her "training." But the experience informed her
work: in her next picture, Riot on Sunset Strip, she performed one of the
most outrageous LSD-freakout scenes ever committed to celluloid.

Vancouver's establishment was not amused. In 1967, led by crusading Point
Grey MLA (and UBC neurologist) Pat McGeer, the provincial government passed
a law banning LSD, although a judge later struck it down because it was
unconstitutional. New Westminster politicians also started pressuring
MacLean, threatening to have the hospital shut down for violations of the
fire code. Ottawa started putting more and more restrictions on LSD, and
the province pulled all its funding from Hollywood Hospital in 1975. So
when developers made a lucrative offer to MacLean that year, he sold the
property, and six months later it was torn down and replaced by the the
Westminster Mall.

The hospital's files still exist, however-just before he died, MacLean gave
them to Frank Ogden, the patients' lengthy autobiographies included. As
you'd expect of a man with an eye on the future, Ogden's holding out for a
TV deal.

"There's more than a book," he says. "Any one of these stories is bigger
than an episode of the X-Files. And this is reality." Actually, a movie
featuring Hollywood Hospital is already in the works: Ogden was recently
interviewed by the National Film Board, which is completing a documentary
on the history of LSD due to be released in February.

Of course, Rick Doblin and MAPS are also interested in the Hollywood files;
Doblin says that could help confirm that, used in a controlled setting, LSD
therapy is safe and effective. But after all that's happened, would the
U.S. government ever let anyone experiment with LSD?

Doblin thinks so. The widespread use of anti-depressants has made people
more aware about the relationship between consciousness and chemistry. "But
Prozac you're supposed to take every day, forever, and MDMA and LSD you're
only supposed to take a few times under controlled therapy - they're really
designed to go beyond drugs, they're designed to deal with causes as
opposed to symptom relief," Doblin says.

And mainstream culture has changed a great deal since the 1960s. "Now
we've got football players doing yoga.

"All sorts of people are familiar with the idea of near-death experience -
we've adopted that into our culture. The high-dose mystical psychedelic
experience isn't so alien to us any more."

Like it or not, a long-repressed part of Vancouver's history may be due for
a flashback.
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