LSD & the War on Drugs

The war on drugs began as a reaction to the heroin crisis among veterans but largely became a political strategy to get the votes of parents whose children had begun experimenting with marijuana and LSD.[1]  The Nixon campaign associated LSD with the counterculture and then criminalized it as a Schedule 1 drug making even research illegal.[2]

Photo from the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Tensions over U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War led to violence and destruction.

In 1970 Timothy Leary avoided a ten-year prison sentence for marijuana possession by escaping prison to flee to Europe for three years before being caught.[3]  Having the academic guru of the counterculture become a fugitive solidified a negative connotation of crime with LSD.  In 1970 Leary’s Harvard partner, Richard Alpert, was led to India by his psychedelic experience and there began to explore the origin of consciousness and was renamed Ram Dass.[4]  Sidney Cohen would go on to say that LSD made him feel “uncomfortably unscientific” which was largely why he did not continue research.[5] 

It is in these three figures that LSD’s legacy remains as an illegal, spiritual, medical mystery.             

[1] “Perspective | The War on Drugs Turns 50 Today. It’s Time to Make Peace.,” Washington Post, accessed November 3, 2021,

[2] “A Brief History of the Drug War,” Drug Policy Alliance, accessed November 3, 2021,

[3] Laura Mansnerus, “Timothy Leary, Pied Piper Of Psychedelic 60’s, Dies at 75,” The New York Times, June 1, 1996, sec. U.S.,

[4] “About Ram Dass,” Ram Dass, accessed November 3, 2021,

[5] Steven J. Novak, “LSD before Leary: Sidney Cohen’s Critique of 1950s Psychedelic Drug Research,” Isis 88, no. 1 (1997): 110.

On June 17, 1971 President Nixon declares drug abuse as public enemy number one.