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The Trip 

Wednesday, Jul 1 1998
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Page 2 of 7

—André Previn

W hen acid guru Timothy Leary first met Oscar Janiger in 1962, he described his far less flamboyant colleague as a "powerhouse" of "solid athletic build, gray hair, strong tanned face, merry eyes." That description more or less holds true today, although age has inevitably softened the formerly athletic build and given the dean of Los Angeles LSD research a certain gnomish aspect. This afternoon he and his wife, Kathleen Delaney, are lunching in their comfortable book-lined home in Santa Monica Canyon with a clutch of Hollywood screenwriters who hope to parlay the social history of LSD into a feature film. (In fact, the annals of acid contain all the dramatic convolutions of a major Oliver Stone production, from hallucinatory visions to throbbing acid rock to a surfeit of government conspiracy, including the CIA’s infamous and highly illegal attempts to use LSD as a mind-control drug on unsuspecting U.S. citizens.) After dessert — alas, no electric Kool-Aid, but rather a Trader Joe’s lemon torte — the Hollywood hopefuls take their leave, and Janiger retires to his study, where he sketches the broad outlines of his famous research.

To ensure the comfort of his subjects during their LSD excursions, Janiger had rented a small house in the mid-Wilshire district. In one room he set up his regular psychiatric practice. In an adjacent room, furnished with a couch, a bed and a swanky hi-fi system, he conducted his LSD study. In the enclosed back yard, he installed a garden, to give his experimental trippers a safe outdoor haven to explore.

"So many of the studies prior to mine were done in hospital rooms, restricted environments," Janiger recalls, "and I thought that my study might be benefited by a naturalistic environment."

Though Janiger held an associate professorship in the Psychology Department at the California College of Medicine (later to become the University of California at Irvine), he funded the study himself by charging a $20 fee for the experience. Sandoz Laboratories, the Swiss pharmaceutical company that "discovered" LSD, supplied the drug free of charge. In return, Janiger agreed to keep Sandoz informed about the results of his experiments. Unlike many other researchers and major universities, he never accepted funding — covert or overt — from the CIA or the military.

Janiger’s research would represent a significant departure from the orthodox thinking about LSD. Up until then, most academics had classified the drug as a "psychotomimetic" agent — a substance that produces a state of temporary insanity; if LSD could create dissociative states that mirrored schizophrenia, the thinking went, the drug was ideally suited to the study of the chemical and biological causes of mental illness. The CIA and the military had their own ideas about LSD: They hoped to exploit the drug’s disorienting effects for the purpose of nonlethal warfare.

"My goal was simply to find out what LSD does to people under uniform conditions," Janiger says, especially how it changes perception and personality. Over the course of a decade, he would also study a number of related issues, including the drug’s effect on artistic creativity — incidentally, a subject explored by Janiger’s cousin, the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg.

Janiger’s approach to LSD research was influenced by his own experience with the drug. It was in early 1954 that he had first tried acid, procured legally from Sandoz Laboratories by a friend. "That first experience shook me up completely," Janiger recalls. "It was extraordinary — so powerful and so interesting. I was of course struck by how LSD works to change your reality around. From a psychiatric point of view, it was a marvelous instrument to learn more about the mind."

Each of Janiger’s volunteers was pre-screened for obvious mental or physical disturbances. If they passed that initial test, they were given LSD in the morning and allowed to do whatever they wanted for the rest of the day — listen to music, walk in the garden, draw or paint, et cetera. A designated "babysitter" was a constant but unobtrusive presence, there to see to a subject’s physical comfort. (It was sometimes necessary to remind a subject to use the bathroom. Even urbane Cary Grant once defecated in his pants during an LSD session.) Typically, the babysitter was also an acid veteran who knew how to talk a disturbed subject down from a bad trip, which was rarely necessary, according to Janiger.

At the end of the experience — and sometimes during — Janiger’s subjects were provided with a tape recorder or stenographer so that they could record their impressions while the images were still fresh in their minds. Later, they were asked to fill out a questionnaire that contained queries such as "What single event or insight, if any, during the LSD experience would you consider to have been of the greatest meaning to you?" and "What changes, if any, have taken place in your sense of values . . . "

Janiger broke these reports down into a series of descriptive statements about the experience. Those "descriptors" common to all of the subjects’ experiences, then, could be seen as defining the LSD state. "Processing this data was laborious work," he says. "We had no computers." Nevertheless, by the end of the study, Janiger was able to distill the quintessential LSD experience: The drug altered the user’s perception of time; it came in waves; it made colors seem more intense; it induced the sensation that all elements of the world were organically connected in some way.

"That, to me, was a very nice piece of business," says Janiger, "because it clarified a great many things in my own mind. I began to see what I think is the core of the LSD experience — the state of the experience as opposed to the content of the experience. Up until then, that distinction had never been made with LSD. Some people said LSD was a religious experience, or a birth experience. But that was the content of their experience. For others it might not be either of those things."

I was opened up to the beauty in people who had never seemed beautiful before. The next morning at the Pancake House, I walked up and bowed to four nuns. I had never spoken to nuns before — I couldn’t penetrate their cloak of reverence. I walked up to them, and loved them, and they were sure I owned the place, and gave me their orders for breakfast. When the waiter came and I sat down at my table, it shook them. But I spoke to them again and told them I saw them as Sisters of Beauty. They tittered and giggled and blushed, well-pleased.

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