Dr. Oscar Janiger's Pioneering LSD Research:
Personal Statement by Oscar Janiger
This article accompanies a forty year follow-up to Dr. Janiger's research, pictures of four of the participants, and personal statements by the analytical transcriber and the interviewer for that study.
It was in 1954 that I had my first experience with LSD. Soon afterwards, I began my inquiries into its effects. My initial contact with the drug was so remarkable that it moved me to spend the next 45 years of my life in studying it.
While it is gratifying that there is continued interest in my studies, I am saddened to say that little progress has been made in clarifying and extending some of the initial findings. This is not entirely surprising. As I conducted my investigations in the face of growing controversy, I realized that a shutdown was inevitable. As a result, I decided to winnow as much information as presented itself over a wide range of topics. My objective was to gather preliminary data and impressions that would highlight promising areas of research, hoping that any fruitful leads might be explored in the future by other workers when the foreseeable reaction against psychedelic research would have run its course. My approach was like the fabled fox rather than the hedgehog in that I chose to examine a wide terrain rather than burrow down deep just into one area. Little did I realize that the political reaction against LSD research would persist up to the turn of the century.
My primary area of investigation was a large naturalistic study of the phenomenological effects of LSD in a representative sample of human volunteers. I took pains to minimize the amount of interference from outside sources that would tend to influence the subjects. My interest was focused more on an attempt to define the nature of the LSD experience as a special state of consciousness than on any specific content. For example, specific characteristics can be assigned to different conscious states such as sleep, wakefulness, hypnotic trances, coma, etc.
Our research was conducted in the following manner. The subjects were requested to take notes and compose a detailed report of their LSD experience as soon as they were able to do so. These reports were analyzed for content and significant elements were extracted and placed on index cards. New reports resulted in the creation of additional cards only for experiences not previously reported. Each subject was asked to sort the cards created at that time by placing them in one of three categories; the experience is identical to my own, has some features of my own, has no similarities to my own. The process was repeated with each respective subject until the data had become so voluminous that we were only capable of processing it for about the first 100 subjects. Unfortunately, I began this research before computers were in widespread use.
All data emerged naturally from the reports. In this way, I began to derive the nature of the essential LSD state as opposed to the widely varying and individualistic content of that state which reflected the subject's personal life experiences. There were a relatively small number of cards in the first group representing the commonality of experience. Some examples of these common, intrinsic elements were that everything seemed connected; time was not perceived normally; the experience came in waves; there was an intensification of color; and music had a special significance. The world according to LSD is an idiosyncratic one. The nature of the individual drug experience reflects the basic psychophysiological action of the substance interacting with the total life experience that one brings to it. Understanding the relative contributions that are made by the drug or by the individual is a fascinating and formidable challenge, like attempting to distinguish a dream from the dreamer. My evolving understanding of the core nature of the LSD experience is that it does not necessarily favor any particular psychotherapeutic, mystical or spiritual notions, nor does it necessarily involve any specific group of systematized ideas. LSD seems to produce a marked a shift in our fundamental perceptual frame of reference, upon which rests our ongoing concept of reality. This change in our habitual way of being in the world may lead to a profound psychic shake-up and may provide startling insights into the nature of reality and into how our personal existence is fashioned.
The second largest study I conducted involved an examination in artists of the contribution that LSD could play in the creative process. The artists reported that in their LSD experiences they had gained the ability to generate original insights, fresh perspectives and novel, creative ways to express themselves through their art. One artist reported that he "broke the tyranny of form." To my surprise, I found that there was a substantial learning curve and that artists gradually become more adept working under the influence of LSD. The artists somehow found a way to draw inspiration from the LSD state for the creation of art and were able to increasingly control the physical expression of their subjective vision. The artists who were most able to represent in their art their subjective LSD experiences were those who had most developed their technical abilities, so that they had the rigor to bring back to consensual reality their artistic vision which one artist stated, "was more creative than a dream, more original than a madman."
I am reminded of conversations that took place around 1958-59 among a small group including Aldous Huxley, Gerald Heard, Alan Watts, Anais Nin, Sidney Cohen, Keith Ditman, Betty Eisner, and others who had early exposure to LSD. Our discussion led to the question of how psychedelics might find a place in our culture that could be socially accepted and institutionalized. We thought that the ritual created by the Greeks at Eleusis could serve as an instructive model. For the ancient Greeks, participation in the ritual was voluntary, open to men, women and slaves, and said to be for many the most profound experience of their lives. The psychedelic experience at Eleusis was administered by guides for two thousand years in a socially sanctioned, supervised context. Perhaps such a context can be recreated in the new millennium in a manner suitable for our culture.
Even 45 years after I started my studies, no scientific consensus has emerged clearly defining the core elements of the LSD state. Nor has research illuminated the specific mechanisms by which LSD can be used to stimulate creativity. It is my hope that this follow-up study to my research will help in some small way to encourage and make possible further research with LSD so that my initial explorations are a beginning and not an end.
Oscar Janiger, M.D.