Skip to content

Operation Midnight Climax


I doubt this is what you think it is. Although, if what you’re thinking has anything to do with prostitutes, a sleazy room, and hard drugs; then you’re not too far off. This afternoon I stumbled upon some very interesting true stories about just those things. Turns out, CIA human-subject drug experiments like, “Operation Midnight Climax”, had quite a hand in the making of hippie culture, the spread of LSD, and of course, the Grateful Dead phenomenon.

Here’s how it works:

In 1959 Harvard University student Ken Kesey hears about a government study testing psychedelic drugs. He tries out a little mescaline, a little LSD, submits to being observed and studied, pockets $100, and hopes to wake up the next morning with all limbs attached. Kesey takes a particular liking to LSD and before you know it he and his Palo Alto friends are holding their own LSD experiments that would come to be known as the Acid Tests. Later, the Grateful Dead would become the house-band for Ken Kesey’s Acid Tests where they could feel free to experiment with their sound and loads of LSD. My, we have so much to thank the CIA for, right?

Depends on how you look at it. Thanks to the super sketchy, highly illegal experiments of the CIA in the 50’s and 60’s, (known as MK-ULTRA), we were exposed to some of the greatest art and music we’ll ever know. Because one thing is for sure, you cannot underestimate the influence LSD had on the Grateful Dead and the hippie culture. For them, it wasn’t a means to see how high you could get or what stupid shit you could do to piss off your parents. Acid was a way of opening your mind to a world that has more to offer than any unaltered mind could fathom. Let Kesey explain,

“With these drugs, your perception is altered enough that you find yourself looking out of completely strange eyeholes. All of us have a great deal of our minds locked shut. And these drugs seem to be the key to open these locked doors.”

Sounds like something you might want to sign up for, yes? (Yes). But what the hell does the CIA want with a bunch of confused Americans on an acid trip? The answer: to master mind control. I shit you not.

In 1953 the CIA launched a secret operation that would administer psychedelic drugs like LSD to unknowing victims – I mean, subjects – and conduct intense studies on their effects. How could they pull off such a thing? They wouldn’t actually drug uninformed civilians without consent, would they? Enter: Operation Midnight Climax. For 10 years, the CIA paid prostitutes to seduce men into rented rooms where they would be slipped doses of drugs like LSD and mescaline. Let there be no mistake; this was just one of many scenarios in which the CIA deceitfully collected data in ways not so ethical or humane. In turn, they studied the possibility of truth serums, brainwashing, and erasing memory. Nuremberg code, Schnuremberg code.

Okay, so what does all of this mean? Hell if I know, I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. What I do know is that the Grateful Dead is proving to cover a larger landscape than I ever imagined. When I started this journey I sure as hell didn’t expect to spend an afternoon reading about CIA conspiracies and picking my jaw up off of the floor. In fact, I wanted to avoid indulging my curiosities about 1960’s, 1970’s culture and history and instead focus solely on the Dead and their music. As I’m sure you could have told me, that’s not only impossible, that’s just dumb. But don’t worry, message received.

Tell me…

What do you think about the influence acid and other drugs had on the Grateful Dead? What would a sober Grateful Dead be like? And do we really have the CIA to thank for spawning acid culture and ultimately, the foundations of hippie life?

“Breakin’ rocks in the hot sun
I fought the law and the law won
I fought the law and the law won

I needed money ’cause I had none
I fought the law and the law won
I fought the law and the law won”

I Fought the Law

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 08/11/2010 6:04 pm

    There’s a book called “Growing up Dead: The hallucinated confessions of a teenage deadhead” by Peter Conners. I’m not sure if you’ve read it before, but it goes into detail on more than one occasion about how a dead show can take complete control of any acid trip, and open your mind through the music and truly make you become part of the show.

    Its a very interesting book, I’m about halfway through at the moment. I recommend it if you’ve never read it! :)

    • 08/11/2010 6:12 pm

      Oh I’ve definitely read it! I mention it a lot throughout this blog. Hope you enjoy reading the rest of it! I could definitely read it again (and will).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: