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How the CIA's LSD Mind-Control Experiments Destroyed My Healthy, High-Functioning Father's Brilliant Mind

Excerpt from Wall's new book "Healing to Hell": A Cold War scheme to find a mind-control drug for use on hostile leaders destroyed many lives.

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As he shuddered through these weird visual and auditory sensations, Daddy would often have felt nauseated, perspired profusely, and had “goose-bump” skin and a racing heart. His blood sugar would shoot up—bad news for a diabetic—and at times he would feel himself grow huge, then imagine he had shrunk to the size of his own thumb. No wonder he phoned Mother in a panic to report they were giving him something to make him lose his mind.

As the long days and nights dragged on, his fears and depression surely mounted. He told us little about it, but relatively normal periods probably alternated with acute panic reactions and repeated psychotic episodes—what we know today as “flashbacks.” Daddy had never heard of LSD and knew nothing about such experiences, let alone sought them.

Expecting to be paroled after four and a half months at most, he was kept in Lexington for eight, incarcerated a total of nine if you include his month in Georgia jails, with the final five of those months made nightmarish by LSD.

Further imagine, if you will, the insanity of making a man in the throes of such derangements responsible for another, more gravely ill person’s care. Surely the poor old black addict from Chicago with advanced TB deserved better. I don’t doubt for a minute that Daddy looked after him as best he could, but who could remain a balanced, thoroughly vigilant nurse in the grip of such mental torment?

It is a testament to the basically sound fabric of my father’s mind and constitution that he survived without taking his own life or that of any other.

The CIA’s ill-conceived covert Cold War scheme to find a mind-control drug for use on hostile leaders had caught my patriot father in its hateful web, as much a prisoner of war as if he were locked in a Communist prison. For 13 years afterward he would strive manfully to break free, but for all practical purposes his life was ruined. Once I grasped that much, I believed I understood why Daddy had been kept on in Lexington beyond the usual “cure” period referred to in his letters. The additional time was to allow Isbell to observe and record his behavior following the drug assault. Even when he was finally sent home, having received no treatment of any sort for his drug dependence, Isbell made no provision whatever for psychiatric or medical follow-up. I found it heinous beyond belief that this violated man, still prey to paranoid flashbacks, was simply turned loose to his bewildered family and whatever fate might overtake him.

On the one occasion when Isbell did invite Daddy to volunteer for his drug tests, Daddy refused outright. He never knew what persuaded his fellow inmates to sign up, but from Marks I learned the answer. Those who volunteered either got time off from their sentences or else were rewarded with the purest doses of their preferred drug—generally heroin or morphine. They were addicts, after all, and most chose their reward of choice. How much easier it was to get high in the safety of a clean hospital room where three meals a day were provided, as opposed to the dangerous daily struggle to cop a fix on the street. it’s not surprising that as word got out via the addicts’ grapevine, recidivism at Lexington approached 90 percent.

Once I learned of the reward system, it also seemed obvious that the politically astute Isbell would never have risked offering Daddy, a prominent narcotic-addicted physician sent there to break free of his drug, a reward in the form of that same narcotic. Had he presented Daddy with such an outrageous offer, Daddy would have done all in his power to blow the whistle on the man—fruitlessly, of course, in view of the CIA’s shield of secrecy. Isbell probably used that single offer to test the waters with Daddy, then backed off from further attempts at persuasion.