Timothy Leary: The Man Who Turned On America

Timothy Leary: The Man Who Turned On America

2001, Biography  -   53 Comments
Ratings: 7.62/10 from 65 users.

Timothy Leary - The Man Who Turned On AmericaTimothy Leary was early advocate of LSD experimentation. Leary taught psychology at Harvard and by 1960 was doing experiments with LSD and other hallucinogens, first on prison inmates and then on himself and his friends. LSD was not illegal at the time.

In 1960, Allen Ginsberg, supervised by Leary, ingested psilocybin mushrooms, (under the influence of the drug, he phoned Jack Kerouac, identifying himself as God to the telephone operator), and began to spread the word about the new powerful psychedelic drugs.

In August 1960, Leary traveled to the Mexican city of Cuernavaca with Russo and tried psilocybin mushrooms for the first time, an experience that drastically altered the course of his life. In 1965, Leary commented that he "learned more about... (his) brain and its possibilities... (and) more about psychology in the five hours after taking these mushrooms than... (he) had in the preceding fifteen years of studying doing research in psychology."

Upon his return to Harvard that fall, Leary and his associates, notably Richard Alpert (later known as Ram Dass), began a research program known as the Harvard Psilocybin Project. The goal was to analyze the effects of psilocybin on human subjects (in this case, prisoners and later students of the Andover Newton Theological Seminary) using a synthesized version of the then-legal drug - one of two active compounds found in a wide variety of hallucinogenic mushrooms including Psilocybe mexicana.

The compound was produced according to a synthesis developed by research chemist Albert Hofmann of Sandoz Pharmaceuticals.

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Mike Stewart
5 years ago

I crossed paths with Tim several times in my life prior to 1990. I was friends with Terence and am still friends with his brother Dennis. I've read and listened to so much of Alan Watts it surely is well integrated into my brain's cellular structures. HST wrote about the funniest book I've ever read at least fifteen times in my life. All these folks are treasures and to be listened to with an open mind. The psychedelics are simply de-conditioning agents. They break up the encrustation our parents, teachers, religionists, politicians, societal institutions install into our biocomputers. Meditation and yogic practices (Ram Dass) can accomplish the same thing over time but Nature's consciousness expanding gifts are faster and more reliable if used in context. They can be misused - look at Manson, although I can't even begin to understand how he and his minions were able to take LSD and still be capable of what they did.

I wish you folks who are on Tim's side in this discussion would take more care with your spelling.

I haven't watched this documentary yet, but will. I got carried away reading the comments, trying to take a fix on where people are at on this subject all these years later.

I'm reminded in reading through the comments that Tim didn't get "turned on" by LSD . . . he had his mind expanding experiences with psilocybe cubensis. As someone pointed out, 5 grams of dried mushrooms in a dark room with nothing to interfere with your sensations. That's what it's all about. It's Nature's Way.

6 years ago

"Say," certainly "natural" doesn't always mean good, but maybe you need to look it up the the dictionary. A snake bite certainly is natural, as is marijuana and poppies. Perhaps not safe, but perfectly natural. They fit the dictionary definition. I'm also not clear what your conclusion is. Do you mean drugs are not a path to enlightenment? You should say that in a straightforward way. No offense meant, but considering the chain of thought you display in your comment, maybe it is certainly for the best that you don't indulge in psychedelic substances. OTOH, many may be of benefit for PTSD, end-of-life depression, perhaps refractory depression in general, and addictions. Bill W. of AA was enthusiastic about LSD when he saw results of studies. Perhaps it would have been much better to make it a Schedule II drug in the US, and continue to research it's medical uses. I think Leary can be blamed for making it a target for Nixon and the DEA, I will defer to others for judging him on other matters. Religionisntallbad- you should compare LSD to other drugs of medical use, like oxycontin. Perhaps we should be most afraid of drug dealers with stethoscopes.

7 years ago

LSD is for spiritually dead adults what alcohol is for virgin teenagers. One can remain a pure hearted kid, or attempt to return to that as an adult, different paths, same end goal.
Now that one can smoke as much pot as humanely possible, one should realise that Terrence mc kenna ( whom I have listened to more than most people) and all these hippies just were the product of this spiritually sterile capitalistic society. They were the product of their time, not the absolute and unique truth. As a matter of fact, I now believe that they were simply dreamy fools.
Clarity of mind is the ultimate recipe for truth, there are many paths to this realisation.
A little flaw still is a flaw. A little drug induced thought of vision is drug induced.
There is nothing natural about marijuana or poppy, just like there is nothing natural about having diarrhoea or fever. A deadly snake bite is natural, does that make it good for you ?
Experiment if you will, but honesty will lead you to the same conclusion.
Take care folks. Life is a sacred dream, no need to dream about it.

7 years ago

Larry - you sate "May Leary rot in hell".

I assume you mean the traditional hell for eternity.

Even allowing for all the "evil" that he may have generated, does not an eternity of punishment seem rather over the top and unjust?

12 years ago

Nixon began the 'War on Drugs' in 1972 to derail the power of 'drug' use as a means of directly challenging the state. As this doco shows, people taking acid "ain't gonna fight your wars or run your corporations!"

12 years ago

If you REALLY want to know what Timothy really ment... listen to Terence Mckenna about this subject. He was much more pragmatic and tactful.

Gary V
12 years ago

Great doc, well worth watching.

12 years ago

This documentary didn't do him Justice.

just a thought
12 years ago

Leary’s treatment of LSD was completely reckless – not unlike his private life, where disappointment and mental breakdown were the fate of many who knew him. It’s one thing to be an educator, and quite another to push a potentially dangerous substance on an entire generation of gullible youth with a canned one-liner.

Whatever benefits LSD had for psychiatry and for reaching the mainstream were never realized because of him. And that will be his legacy.

12 years ago

Tim was a homo? WTF

12 years ago

as adults we should all have the right to put whatever substances we wish into our bodies without judgement.
all drugs should be legal,to be put in prison for the use of drugs is criminal in itself when alcohol/tobacco is sold everywhere.
most drugs are relatively harmless to the majority of people when used in moderation.
i know over a hundred people who have used lsd and mushrooms without ill effect.
legalisation for all drugs is what we need.
no one's forced to use anything but it should be up to personal choice.

12 years ago

Yeah I would have to agree with Jim, Leary was a tool for the MKULTRA crowd if anything at all. he was a waste of the educational system. A spoiled crying dope smoker, that lost his soul, just to be provacative.
A sad indictment of the 60's hippie culture, burn books, drop acid and wave the north vietnamese flag, may leary rot in hell.

12 years ago

@ Riley
Well said(written?). And anyway, who wants to take God knows what dose of something that God knows who made God knows where just because some idiot, who wants your money, says its good acid? Get out in the world and find some mushrooms. Just do your homework and make sure you pick the right ones and dot take too many first time out.

12 years ago


Interesting how you are enthralled by the idea of reason and also love the idea of centralized reasoning apparatus (i.e. authority that determines what is good for me and you) for the unreasoning mass.

How do you reason the idea that everyday people be absolved of their ability to make informed and reasoned decisions when it comes to what they would like to ingest, drink, as well as how they want to live and die? Or is such reasoning limited to a few amongst us, such as you, who know better?

12 years ago

Psychadelics are not something I would ever recommend to anyone. I would merely relate my experiences - if asked - and allow people to make up their own mind.

RE: LSD as a poison ... it is not really a poison. Although, it was developed from ergotamine, which was developed from ergot, which is a fungus commonly found to grow on rye. Eating too much of it makes you nutters (and is one of the explanations of bewitchment in medieval times), so I suppose from that perspective it is a poison. Penecillin then could also could be considered a poisonus fungus, and yet we know how useful it can be. Perhaps LSD is useful to us - or could be - although you may feel negatively about LSD or its effects when used as a form of recreation.

An example of a really poorly thought out recommendation: Duuuuude you totally have to eat mushrooms and go to an AMUSEMENT PARK (or mini-golf, or bowling, or a high school dance, the list of foolish recommendations goes on)

These are the kinds of ideas that could steer certain personalities towards disasterous and harmful experience. For some personalities perhaps the so-called bad trip is unavoidable, and so blanket recommendations are clearly dangerous.

Having said that ... laying responsibility for the deaths of people who chose to experiment with psychadelics solely at the feet of Leary is almost as intelligent as recommending shrooms + amusement park. Compare the amount of deaths from psychadelic drug use or possible related depression or psychosis against ... oh ... for instance ... the war in Viet Nam ... or ... driving an automobile.

12 years ago

Leary was a genuine fruit cake. He is responsible for the deaths of an uncountable number of overdoses and deaths. Anyone that would see this man as anything but a jackass and a fool, is the end first.
This is why millions of young americans suffered drug addiction, early suicides, during the period of free love, no accountablity, (like the Bill Clintons).
Leary's brain may be cryogenically frozen in a box, but his soul is in Hell. Sweet dreams Timothy.

12 years ago

"...middle class middle age whiskey drinking corporation presidents"

I get the impression he means big corporations when he says this.
But what big corporation president is going to be middle class?

Have fun, play around with drugs, but don't turn them into a habit or lifestyle, or you might end up saying senseless s@#$ like this.

12 years ago


its Moors, not Moores.

if you are called a fool by a fool, what does that make you? ;)

answer: one still won't know. you could be yet a fool, or neither a fool, since the judgements of a fool are not to be relied upon.

if any particular judgment is right or wrong, there's no discerning the reason for them. he certainly gives none.

consider this: i counsel against poison. the man who calls me a fool must, therefore, advocate for poison.

so: who is the fool? at least you know my reasons.

12 years ago

@ riley

What a f00l you are friend. Your culture induced operating system needs un update.

12 years ago

LSD is something that a person of mellow temperament should try at least once in his life. It will open up the mind and make a person understand that there are more to life than the daily rat race we are forced into. I beleive that the so-called unclean food that Jesus and his followers ate was in reference to psychedelics. Just like all of the people who do illegal drugs are partaking a food that is considered unclean by our society. Like all things, there are good and bad; I consider psychedics as good drugs because it benefits peoples mind and other drugs that only make one look for more bad...... the sacrement of bread and wine was also a psychedelic. Hence the bible warns that it should not be partaken by a person of un-clean spirit.

12 years ago

Nah, Timothy Leary was a rat! snitching to the feds about his knowledge of the Weather Underground and almost anyone else Leary thought the feds might be interested in, including his former wife Rosemary, his attorneys and the wife of one of his attorneys.

Abbie Hoffman
"I'm digesting news of Herr Doktor Leary, the swine. It's obvious to me he talked his f--king, demented head off to the Gestapo... God, Leary is disgusting. It's not just a question of being a squealer, but a question of squealing on people who helped you. The curses crowd my mouth. Timothy Leary is a name worse than Benedict Arnold."

12 years ago


thanks for offering your perspective. obviously, we differ.


12 years ago

Having it legalised would make it less harmful in several ways, actually. Another powerful hallucinogenic is salvia... and that one is legal. It's not causing any particular damage. I have no reason to think LSD would. I've tried my share of hallucinogenics, thanks, I've read extensively on the subject because I ALWAYS do my homework before trying any new substance, and that includes prescriptions. I simply don't understand why some harmful inebriating substances are legal, and others aren't.
Also, those who would place safety above freedom deserve neither.

Well I think he was a trailblazer but I also think he sought too much publicity and pushed his views on people, wrongly (like those psychology students). But to say that HE has caused psychoses and addled is wrong. Those drugs shouldn't be pushed on anyone, but I do think people need to be aware of their effects and... opportunities. I don't consider him a hero, but I think that this event needed to take place, historically and that this story isn't over until it's more seriously considered. I find that it infringes my rights that they are banned, since it does affect how a person thinks and perceives... It's not a social drug, it doesn't cause addiction nor intense pleasure like say heroin. It pretty much only affects perception... so why would someone tell me I can't challenge my perceptions? It's downright wrong. -I- am getting mucnhed in the process of keeping a so called irresponsible population safe.

12 years ago

you've never taken acid and know no one whose been harmed by it, yet have a rather elaborate position defending it.

you believe having this particular poison legalized would somehow render it less harmful.

i've taken it, seen it harm others -more than one-, and am not inclined to ignore the observations of scientists and doctors who report harm.

so -there, as in i suspect many, many ways - our thinking, experience, reasoning process and inclinations move us to differing viewpoints.

mine is that drug use is, as a general proposition, a bad thing. yours is that it is not, and if people get munched in the process, so sorry - I'M having fun.

i prefer to place harmful substances and places off-limits.

you don't.

so for you, tim leary is a hero, a trailblazer, a substance-besotted visionary. for me, he was just a pompous, addled, psycotic twit who was in a particular place at a particular time to cause damage. which he did, enthusiastically.

12 years ago

Hppd is actually quite rare. Yes it's directly associated with LSD, but you have to abuse it to get to that point. Again, education would prevent this instead of just banning it and hope people are not going to seek it. Hallucinogenics have been used religiously for thousands of years... same as other stimulans such as alcohol, tobacco, coca ect...

I just thought it inaccurate to say that this one man caused more psychoses than others, when there's other figureheads who cause real, intentional damage. This continued societal worship of alcohol is far more problematic on far more levels. At least LSD offers real medical benefits if only it could be studied properly. I think that used in a safe setting in controlled dosages, it offers much potential in psychological therapy. Magic mushrooms actually offer relief to cluster and migraine sufferers. That on it's own doesn't validate it's legalisation, but it's there.

For the record, I have never been on LSD as it's current illegal state makes it quite unsafe in terms of how it's made, dosages, ect... The fact that it's illegal and that the quality... varies... can cause a lot of bad trips, traumas and maybe even more risk of HPPD since you never really know what you're getting into. All that because laws tell me what I can and cannot put in my body, they are causing more danger. And they are giving drug lords their jobs this way.

12 years ago

riley you are wrong. I dare say the bush oil war has addled more people and indeed caused psychoses. Have you forgotten about post traumatic stress syndrome for one? Or even thought about the abuses they lead in their prisons and occupied nations? Think before you say brash things like that. No one is forcing you to take any and if people were PROPERLY EDUCATED on the subject, there would be even less risk. I for one think that alcohol is FAR worse; addicts, health troubles and the sheer damage it causes to society.
And yet people keep using it for celebrations despite the VAST ENORMOUS DAMAGE IT CAUSES EVERYDAY.
Yes it's a funny world.

12 years ago

this guy has addled more people, induced more psychosis than just about anyone in history.

and people sing his praises.

its a funny world.

12 years ago

Great ride Timothy. Miss you loads.

12 years ago

The man lived and died on his belief. Peace

12 years ago

i don't know which i enjoyed more, the doc. or the viewers comments.
-love, peace to all!

13 years ago

Leary lived a thought-provoking life, he was obviously an educated man, who chose to lead a unconventional path. I think one of the greatest things he did was to help free ones Mind. In todays world, theres little acknowledgement for Tim, im not a hippy enthusiast but this guy deserves recognition. Afterall, he did roll with the black panthers @ one point & continues to orbit our Earth as we speak. - truely High.

13 years ago

@Raoul Duke
Fear and Loathing was an awesome movie :D

jimi long
13 years ago

tripped many a time... lsd, mushies... any thing that warps perception. I think lsd allows you to take a primitive look at the intricacies of life in one hand, in the other lets you see how simplicities can be so very complex. It allows an external examination, then an intrinsic. look at the world, then yourself.... bottom line, It gets you thinking! It stimulates a world of possibilities. open the doors of perception, maybe? but perception ( or the ability to change it, which lsd has a funny way of doing) definitely opens doors! possibilities', options, knowledge...

not sure if lsd equals enlightenment???but lsd most certainly allows you to see the worlds and your own problems, workings ect in many different ways, if you find a nicer way to view things & that brings you happiness & harmony,than yes, maybe your enlightened. if your taking it more frequently, to forget about yesterdays worries or tomorrows problems (perhaps leary's later years) then that's escapism my friend, which i also found very therapeutic. either way, different courses for different horses. you need to know what's good for YOU! & how much..... & only YOU will know that! I think Timothy shook societies tree at just the right moment in time to see what would fall out and for that BRAVO Timothy.

13 years ago

Richard Alpert, his colleague, was given short shrift; it was said he became a "mystic" after leaving Harvard. There is much more to it than that. Alpert became Ram Dass, and said that LSD is of limited value to true awakening.

amira e.
13 years ago

Interesting IrishKev... I've heard that for a long time but never thought anyone would look beyond the Leary mystique.. and for Raoul Duke, I couldn't have said it better myself.. amen to the grim meathook.. now I'm gonna watch this film!

13 years ago

Leary was a Dorkus Mallorcus.He sold acid for the F.B.I.,went to jail and then ratted on the people who broke him out. Stick to the mushrooms kids!!

Damn Yankee
13 years ago

@Raoul Duke: HST's the man!

13 years ago

We need more Timothy learys.
Oh no wait a second i forgot your not aloud to do what you want to your own body anymore. Too bad he never became president of America. Party at the white house......
R.I.P Timothy Leary. Your friends miss ya...

13 years ago

All i can say is i am better since i started mushrooms. Im happier, i like work more, im healthier etc. after one trip its like years of therapy, your mind figures out whats wrong and what to do on its own. amazing

Dr. Dunkleosteus
13 years ago

I have had multiple experiences with LSD and one experience with Psilocybin mushrooms. From my experiences, I'd say the two are very similar in terms of their effects, but differ in intensity and duration.

It has been several years since my first experience and I have NEVER had a so-called "flashback". I have seen things while sober that have reminded me of things I saw/felt while under the influence of the drugs (patterns in certain every day objects for example), but never anything like the claims of others.

I don't doubt that it may be possible to experience such phenomena, but neither I nor my 6 or so friends who have also experimented have ever reported any "flashbacks".

That being said, psychedelics are very misunderstood and haven't received the scientific attention they deserve. Perhaps, if cannabis actually becomes legal in the near future (crosses fingers, but doesn't hold breath) we may see a rekindling of research by the scientific community.

Time will tell I suppose. *Watches doc*

James Jackson
13 years ago

Leary created the 1960s. A Harvard clinical psychologist, he wanted people to see reality and their own lives with new eyes. Without LSD, there would have been no 1960s, none of that burst of creativity the world sees only once a millennium. All the documentaries and words about those wonderful times fail to transmit the enthusiasm and excitement of being in a real revolution--a revolution in one's own mind. He receives little acknowledgment today that he made the world a better place.

13 years ago

Judging from some of the above radical vernacular? I suggest that flashback syndrome is a reality.... Keep in mind? People...that little squiggly red underlining
actually suggests something...? If in doubt? There is always the Oxford Dictionary (Whatever that is...? )

PS: Hope for a Rock 'n Roll heaven Jimi Hendrix is still tripping with Janis....

13 years ago

@ Joe_nyc
Actually the standard prescribed dose is 5 grams of dried cubensis mushrooms in quiet darkness. Please use an experienced trip sitter.

13 years ago

Thank you Dr. Hoffman and Dr. Leary...Praise LSD! It is not for retards or inbreed rednecks but for the insightful and intelligent it is spiritual substance...should not be used by general population and that is where Leary screwed up.

Raoul Duke
13 years ago

That was the fatal flaw in Tim Leary's trip. He crashed around America selling "consciousness expansion" without ever giving a thought to the grim meat-hook realities that were lying in wait for all the people who took him seriously... All those pathetically eager acid freaks who thought they could buy Peace and Understanding for three bucks a hit. But their loss and failure is ours too. What Leary took down with him was the central illusion of a whole life-style that he helped create... a generation of permanent cripples, failed seekers, who never understood the essential old-mystic fallacy of the Acid Culture: the desperate assumption that somebody... or at least some force - is tending the light at the end of the tunnel.

13 years ago

I gotta try me a magic mushroom!

13 years ago

What a personality. You have got to love this man!

Thank you for everything, Mr. Leary.

13 years ago

Need to watch this, I've held an extensive report on LSD and it's influence on the art from 1960-70, this should complete my knowledge on the topic!

13 years ago

What a TRIP! Leary pissed off the establishment in such a wonderful way proffering food for thought? Perhaps someday he will DROP OUT... Of SPACE and return to Earth... and board a MAGIC BUS To TURN ON And TUNE IN. The next generation...

(PS: I have a sudden craving for mushroom soup and stopped having FLASHBACKS 29-years ago after receiving a passing grade on my ACID TEST)