This story is part of When the Drugs Hit, a Motherboard journey into the science, politics, and culture of today’s psychedelic renaissance. Follow along here.
In 1968, Thomas Ungerleider and Duke Fisher, two psychiatrists from UCLA, traveled to the suburbs of Los Angeles to witness the rituals of an LSD cult.
Two years earlier, Ungerleider and Fisher had authored “The Dangers of LSD,” a paper that documented the rising incidence of admissions to the UCLA psychiatric ward by people reporting adverse effects while tripping on lysergic acid diethylamide. The doctors had recently given a lecture on the subject of what’s come to be known as the “bad trip,” a catchall term for the difficult experiences some psychedelic users report, from mild anxiety to full blown psychosis and persistent delusions.
At that lecture, a particularly riled-up audience member had attempted to read a manifesto advocating for unlimited LSD use during the post-lecture Q&A. After the lecture, the same audience member approached the psychiatrists and insisted that plenty of people took LSD and were just fine. In fact, he was part of a religious group that called themselves the “Disciples” and claimed they ate acid every weekend without issue.
The researchers were intrigued. After some of the Disciples screened them to make sure they weren’t cops, Ungerleider and Fisher were cleared to visit the group’s compound to observe their ritualistic use of LSD. As the researchers detailed in their paper, at the compound they found:
…about a dozen of the group living in a large house on spacious grounds. They were literally tilling the soil and had decorated the house in psychedelic fashion. There were pictures of Buddha and Jesus on the walls. Every Wednesday night the group gathered to have a non-LSD religious experience consisting of prayer and meditation. The drug-taking