July 13 2011: LSD in Action by P.G.Stafford and B.H. Golightly (Scientific Book Club, 1970)

A recent session at Free Word Centre to launch the memoir of Leaf Fielding – one of the architects of the Mid-Wales based LSD manufacturing operation finally shut down by Operation Julie in the late 1970s – reminded me of the long aftermath of that event, at the time the biggest drug bust in British police history.

For while the operation seized vast quantities of LSD (by some estimates, Operation Julie removed, at a stroke, 90% of LSD from the British market: “enough LSD crystal to make 6.5 million tabs, and 1.1 million finished tabs, were discovered and destroyed”) a vast amount was left in transit or hidden at the time the busts went down. Which made the teenage years of those moving in certain circles in Mid Wales during the 1980s almost uniquely well-placed to encounter at least some of the high grade product of these busted laboratories.

Maybe that’s another story (a long one, for another day, perhaps) but something of the context in which the laboratories were founded can be understood by reading a study like LSD in Action, written by P.G. Stafford and B.H. Golightly as a round-up of the available medical, psychiatric and cultural research and testimony into the drug, its effects and its potential benefits. First published in the US in 1967 (under the title LSD: The Problem-Solving Psychedelic) and picked up by Sidgwick & Jackson for the UK, it was included in the highly respectable Scientific Book Club series in 1970.

Given both the mainstream respectability of the study itself, and its largely positive view of the drug’s possible applications, drawn from the available evidence, it’s rather strange to note that within five years of its publication new acts and laws had been introduced to make the activities and experiments being described by Stafford and Golightly for a scientific readership in 1970, subject by 1975 to one of the largest police operations ever seen in the UK, an operation whose successful conclusion resulted in long prison sentences for all involved.

Yet for the same reason, it’s clear that the evidence collected here – even when the more utopian and extravagant claims are taken with a certain scepticism – has never really been properly scientifically challenged, or tested, given the way that all manufacture and use of the compound synthesised by Albert Hofmann in 1938 has been illegal since the passage of the Misuse of Drugs Act (1971), an act which in hindsight appears to mark – with almost inconvenient precision – the Ground Zero of an escalation in drug use and related crime whose potential resolutions look liable to remain in a state of political and media deadlock for the foreseeable future.

In the following gallery, pages 246 – 255 of the book are reproduced, giving a flavour of the conclusions reached by Golightly and Stafford after their evaluation of the available evidence, circa 1967. It makes for interesting reading, despite the many of-their-moment flourishes of hyperbole and utopian speculation, and seems worth re-reading in the present day’s very different context. The questions posed are still largely unanswered and any further exploration of the possibilities suggested as worthy of investigation by scientists and researchers four decades ago continues to be prohibited by the full weight of British law. (Click on the thumbnails below to enlarge the pages).


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