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The Secret History of the LSD Trade

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The Secret History of the LSD Trade

A new film about the underground chemists and other outlaws who made LSD available to the first generation of psychedelic pioneers will be screened in San Francisco during Bicycle Day celebrations next week. The world premiere of “Psychedelic Revolution: The Secret History of the LSD Trade” will take place on April 18 at Discovery Con, a two-day event that will host discussions about psychedelic science, culture and policy. 

This year’s Bicycle Day commemorates the 80th anniversary of the first intentional LSD trip experienced by Albert Hofmann who first synthesized LSD at the Sandoz pharmaceutical laboratories in Switzerland. 

Part one of a planned three-part documentary series, the first twenty minutes of “Psychedelic Revolution,” was screened at the 2022 Discovery Con event. The full 60-minute film features some of the notable revolutionaries of the acid underground and their children, including Carolyn (Mountain Girl) Garcia, Sunshine Kesey, Mariavittoria Mangini, Amy Cando, Ken Babbs, Michael and Carol Randall, Mark McCloud, Tim Tyler, Seth Ferranti, Dr. John Beresford, William Leonard Pickard, and Rhoney Stanley. 

Rhoney Stanley, who is one of the film’s executive producers, was a laboratory assistant and former partner of Owsley Stanley, the clandestine chemist and Grateful Dead audio engineer.

Owsley Stanley produced more than five million doses of LSD between 1965 and 1967 which helped ignite psychedelic culture in the San Francisco Bay Area and worldwide. 

While backstage at a 2018 Dead & Company show in Mexico, Rhoney met Tyler who had just been released from prison for selling LSD. According to Rhoney, Tyler explained that he and Ferranti, who was also imprisoned for selling psychedelics and cannabis, had decided that if they ever got out of prison, they would make a movie about the LSD trade to tell the real story. Rhoney agreed that the story must be told and introduced them to the community of people featured in the film. 

“Psychedelic Revolution” is directed by Ferranti who will be appearing at Discovery Con together with most of the people who appear in the film. Rhoney Stanley talked with Lucid News about the genesis of the film and what she wants people to know about LSD and those who took great risks to manufacture and sell it in the 1960’s and beyond. 

Executive producer Rhoney Stanley. ©Jay Blakesberg

Why did Owsley Stanley ask you to become his lab assistant and what impact did that have on your life?
I was born to a Jewish family in New York and grew up in the Bronx and Westchester. I started college at Mt. Holyoke. But I just couldn’t take it, so I transferred to UC Berkeley, as I was involved in political action and the folk music scene. After taking White Lightning LSD made by Owsley, and having a transformative experience where I felt the divine connection between us all, I wanted to meet Owsley. Lucky for me, my friend, the musician Perry Lederman, was his dealer and introduced us. I believe there must be magnetic fields that bring like-minded people together. 

Owsley said to me, “Enroll in organic chemistry at Berkeley and learn lab set ups.” And I listened. Then he said, “drop out and let’s make acid.” He also had me helping him tabulate the acid. Melissa Jeffress (formerly Cargill) was also a lab assistant for him.

Owsley studied chemistry books, and learned how to make psychedelics. He found glass blowers to design custom glassware and trained Tim Scully. After visiting Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert and Ralph Metzner at Millbrook in 1967, we were arrested but the charges were dropped. Then we got busted again in December of that year in our LSD lab in California. The feds came in with guns. Five of us were arrested including Owsley, Melissa and me.

Owsley took the rap and said that we were just girls at the scene, so we were not indicted. Melissa and I both got pregnant by Owsley and had babies within three weeks of each other while Owsley was in prison. 

Owsley Stanley, center, wearing a paisley shirt.

So you were pregnant and Owsley was in prison, what did you do next? 
Melissa lived with Jack Casady, the bass player in the Jefferson Airplane. I went on the road with my baby and visited Owsley in prison where he served about three years. I got a false ID from a friend in New York City and Melissa and I alternated visits with him under the same ID. When Owsley got out of prison, we lived together for a while. 

I was close to Richard Alpert. Though he is mainly known as Ram Dass and as one of the authors of The Psychedelic Experience, he was also a psychotherapist and advised me that I would have to support my child. He suggested I go to school and study science. I wanted to be a doctor, but I was afraid they would find out about my LSD background and would not let me practice. 

My father was a dentist, so I went back to school and studied to be a dentist. I moved to New York, attended Columbia University College of Dental Medicine, and practiced holistic orthodontics for 40 years, mostly in the Bronx, but also in the Woodstock, New York area. I just got licensed in California and I’m reopening my practice. 

Why did you decide to help create “Psychedelic Revolution: The Secret History of the LSD Trade”?
I had suffered. Other people who were arrested suffered. Owsley went to prison and he suffered. He was so discouraged by the government. His grandfather was a U.S. senator. Owsley just couldn’t believe that there was legislation to make illegal an action that hurt nobody and had to do with free choice. What happened to him and others who went to prison is a complete violation of the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. 

After Owsley got out of prison he was so discouraged by the legal system and the treatment of prisoners and the lack of prison reform, that he left the country and went to Australia which was settled by former convicts and outlaws. He lived there the rest of his life and died in a car accident. Melissa also moved there. Redbird, his daughter with Melissa, settled there. Starfinder, our son who is a veterinarian, planned to move to Australia. I have a Masters in Public Health with a dual degree. I also had an offer to work in Australia. 

I am so grateful that now psychedelics are becoming legal. However, too many people who took the risk to make and distribute LSD were punished by draconian prison terms for non-crimes. With the coming legalization, these outlaws need to be acknowledged for the risks they took and the time they lost. Life in prison is suffering. 

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Were the risks that people took to make LSD available worth all the suffering? 
I don’t think it’s fair for me personally to answer that because I didn’t go to prison. I asked Tim Tyler, who was sentenced to life in prison, if his time in prison was worth the risk and he said yes, definitely. Tim said, “I served 26 years of a life sentence for LSD. It is a medicine and a sacrament.” 

Raising consciousness is a universal goal. It leads to self-knowledge and self-knowledge is the objective of every religion. 

What will people learn from this film? 
I think they will get an understanding of the compassionate nature of the people involved with LSD and realize that the whole cops and robbers and money thing is only a small part of it. But the major focus is brotherhood and love. 

Do you think that LSD has played a role in cultural evolution? 
Absolutely. In art, music, writing. Look at the effect of the Grateful Dead on culture and how many universities now teach counterculture. LSD is a source of freedom, of healing, of spirituality and awakening. How long have people gone on antidepressants and pharmaceuticals, taking a prescription pill instead of a guided psychedelic experience that could change their consciousness, end their depression and addiction, their anxiety, post traumatic stress, and fear of death? 

With LSD, you take microdoses, not even one milligram. I don’t think people get that you need to only take so little LSD to get a psychedelic effect. It’s tiny, and therefore it doesn’t have a negative effect like MDMA and ketamine. It doesn’t raise the blood pressure like MDMA and doesn’t cause cardiac arrhythmias. MDMA is not a psychedelic, it’s an amphetamine. The “A” in MDMA stands for “amphetamine.” 

What’s next for you and the other filmmakers? 
This film that we are showing is just part one. We are creating a trilogy. The first part is the genesis; Part 2 is the war on drugs; and Part 3 is the renaissance. We want to see how the kids of the outlaws are faring, like my son and Sunshine Kesey and Trixie Garcia and Justin Kreutzmann. The kids who went through it. It’s not easy being those kids. As Wavy (Gravy) pointed out, it’s not easy to be the child of a media figure who was mythical in their time. We want to tell their story. 

This film we are showing at Discovery Con is the first time the 60-minute version has been seen. It is a work in progress. We want to take this on the road and have premieres in different cities in small theaters for Dead Heads and anyone who has been locked up for psychedelics. 

Featured image: Michael and Carol Randall during filming of “Psychedelic Revolution.”

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