Acid Again

As LSD does a slow fade, a Fort Lauderdale researcher keeps the science trip going

In 1994, High Times called upon Lyttle's expertise to debunk the Top Ten LSD Myths. "The media is partly responsible for perpetuating those," he says. "The popular mainstream press likes to write about the seedy side of the psychedelic world, but not too many people know the truth."

Lyttle dispelled some of the bogus propaganda that was used to demonize the drug. Among the doozies:

Chromosome damage caused by acid (long since debunked by researchers).

Sheet of blotter art.
Thomas Lyttle
Sheet of blotter art.
H.R. Giger's Illuminatus
Thomas Lyttle
H.R. Giger's Illuminatus

LSD killed Art Linkletter's daughter (nice scare tactic, but false).

The strychnine myth (LSD never contained rat poison).

Users who got so high they stared into the sun until their retinas fried (a ludicrous fairy tale).

The enduring but false rumors about "acid flashbacks."

Briefly emerging to interrupt, Wollman snickers and says, "I've never had a flashback. I wish." Lyttle shoots him a look, and he disappears again.

When Lyttle began publishing, it wasn't easy to write about illegal drugs without attracting suspicion. "People felt that if you published articles about these things, you had to be using these things. And if you were using them, then of course you were breaking the law."

Rick Doblin, president and founder of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies -- a Sarasota-based think-tank that tries to encourage the government to study these chemicals for medical research -- finds Lyttle's work especially brave.

"To Thom's credit, he got into this field when it was held in very low repute, at the height of social disapproval." he says.

At the forefront of medical marijuana research, MAPS tries to locate neutral ground between reintroducing psychedelics into society and the zero-tolerance attitudes of the war on drugs. Doblin, who began MAPS in 1986, received a Ph.D. in public policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. For his master's thesis, he investigated the benefits of marijuana as it relates to oncology. His dissertation focused on the beneficial uses of psychedelics.

MAPS scored a major achievement late last year when one of its pet projects -- the use of Ecstasy to help terminally ill cancer patients -- was approved by the FDA. Doblin reveals that MAPS is now trying to reinvigorate a Harvard program that would study LSD as a possible remedy for cluster headaches. He's optimistic that the use of psychedelics as medically beneficial agents, which Lyttle has long supported, is close at hand.

Despite Lyttle's lack of formal academic credentials, Doblin considers him an equal. "If you're doing the work," he says, "you don't need the credentials. Thom has a high school diploma and I have a Harvard Ph.D., but we can talk as equals on a lot of things. He has the most important prerequisites of all, which are curiosity and the self-correcting mechanism that is the basis of science."

As Lyttle's publishing career attracted the attention of professional scholars, he started garnering invitations to attend conferences on psychedelic research all over the world. "The conferences allowed me to meet people I would otherwise never have a chance to get to talk to," he says.

While working as a chef at high-end restaurants on Florida's southwest coast a quarter-century ago, Lyttle spent his free time searching for rare books. That quest led him to Naples resident Robert Demarest, then the director of the Collier County library system. They traded books and information about consciousness research and mind expansion. In the early 1980s, the pair was invited to a symposium in Turin, Italy, called Plantas Maestros -- "Plants of the Gods" -- devoted to the discussion of psychoactive plants from South America.

"We'd been in contact with Albert Hoffman," recalls Demarest, referring to the venerable pharmacologist who first isolated LSD and who turned 99 on January 11. "He suggested that we come visit him when we were at this conference."

The hotel and conference center in Turin was a castle in the Italian Alps, and Lyttle and Demarest took a sleeper train to the Swiss city of Basel. Hoffman lived a few minutes away in the village of Rittematte, with the border of France and Switzerland right in his backyard.

"It was a very interesting time to be there," adds Demarest. "Sandoz [the drug firm that employed Hoffman] was giving him a big celebration that week -- they'd just sold $800 million worth of the latest wonder drug he'd created."

With their children-of-the-'60s background -- as well as their academic fascinations -- Lyttle and Demarest found themselves in the intimate company of the man who had introduced humanity to one of the most infamous drugs in history.

Hoffman, they say, was a charming, elderly man whose modest office was tucked into the back of a chalet, in what appeared to be his wife's sewing room. Instead of a computer, he still used an old manual typewriter. Demarest had collected many of Hoffman's books on organic chemistry and brought them to be autographed. "His wife made us a beautiful cherry torte from his orchard," Demarest says. "He took us through Basel, fed us dinner, and we had a marvelous stay."

Adds Lyttle: "He's very unassuming. If you met him, you'd just think he was somebody's grandfather tinkering around in the garden. He appears to be nothing more than a sweet Swiss gentleman. He doesn't come off as a great intellectual, but he's one of the world's great minds." Hoffman is a member of the Nobel Prize Committee.

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