Doctors Harry Williams and Carl Pfeiffer Conducting LSD Experiment

Squares on Drugs: The Early Days of LSD

If you dropped acid in the 1940s or '50s, you might have been wearing a labcoat.

Before the Beatles sang about "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" and Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters tripped across America in their magic school bus, LSD belonged to a more buttoned-up set — scientists, doctors, and government officials, among others. To the hippies who later made LSD their drug of choice, some of these "early adopters" might have seemed hopelessly square. But the squares were there first. Meet them below. (Pictured above: Dr. Harry Williams administers an experimental dose of LSD to Dr. Carl Pfeiffer, chair of the Department of Pharmacology at Emory University, in 1955).

ALBERT HOFMANN: HE TOOK THE FIRST TRIP Hulton Deutsch/Corbis via Getty Images ALBERT HOFMANN: HE TOOK THE FIRST TRIP The German scientist Albert Hofmann synthesized LSD — lysergic acid diethylamide — in 1938, and took the very first acid trip in 1943. Hofmann had no idea what he was in for, and he grappled with LSD, which he called his “problem child,“ for the rest of his life: He appreciated its therapeutic and even spiritual potentials, but regretted its popularity as a recreational drug. HUMPHRY OSMOND: HE TREATED ALCOHOLICS WITH LSD Bettmann/Bettmann Archive HUMPHRY OSMOND: HE TREATED ALCOHOLICS WITH LSD An English psychiatrist, Humphry Osmond coined the term "psychedelic" and was an early proponent of using LSD to study and treat mental health issues. In one experiment, conducted in the late 1950s, Osmond claimed a 50 percent success rate in treating alcoholics with LSD. Bill Wilson, one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, was initially skeptical of Osmond's claims, but came to agree with the doctor about the drug's potential benefits for alcoholics after trying it himself. ALDOUS HUXLEY: HE OPENED THE DOORS OF PERCEPTION Bettmann/Bettmann Archive ALDOUS HUXLEY: HE OPENED THE DOORS OF PERCEPTION The celebrated British author of "Brave New World" had moved to Los Angeles and written a few screenplays for the Hollywood studios by the time he struck up a correspondence with fellow Brit Humphry Osmond in 1952. Huxley asked Osmond for a dose of mescaline, which Osmond administered, and the experience prompted the author to write "The Doors of Perception" in 1954. (Some years later, Huxley's book gave local youths Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek a name for their band.) Having broken through with mescaline, Huxley went on to experiment with LSD, taking it for years with his wife Laura. CLARE BOOTHE LUCE AND HENRY LUCE: THEY SPREAD THE NEWS Margaret Norton/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images CLARE BOOTHE LUCE AND HENRY LUCE: THEY SPREAD THE NEWS She was an esteemed author and politician, and he was a media mogul, the founding editor of TIME and LIFE magazines. Neither of these wealthy, well-connected Republicans, who made regular visits to the Eisenhower White House, was particularly hip, but both tried LSD in its early days. Clare was particularly fond of it — supposedly, she once turned down a phone call with Vice President Richard Nixon because she was tripping — and she encouraged Henry to run favorable articles on the drug in his massively popular publications. SIDNEY COHEN: HE STUDIED HALLUCINOGENS Ted Russell/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images SIDNEY COHEN: HE STUDIED HALLUCINOGENS Dr. Sidney Cohen studied at Columbia University, the City College of New York, and Bonn University before serving, from 1959 to 1968, as the Chief of Psychosomatic Medicine at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Los Angeles, where he conducted numerous studies of LSD. (The Luces, when they vacationed in Phoenix, Arizona, were among his patients.) He believed that, used properly, hallucinogens had therapeutic value, but was critical of those who consumed them mindlessly. "'Man has the capacity to be more than a flower-picking primate," he told an audience at the University of Maryland in 1967, when he spoke alongside LSD guru Timothy Leary. "We need more thinking, not less, and a society that does not value trained intelligence is doomed.'' CARY GRANT: HE TRIED PSYCHEDELIC THERAPY Herbert Dorfman/Corbis via Getty Images CARY GRANT: HE TRIED PSYCHEDELIC THERAPY This debonair Hollywood star may not have been a square, but his dapper dress and pomaded pate were a far cry from bell-bottoms and long hair, and he started taking LSD in therapy sessions in the 1950s. He spoke openly about the drug's positive effect on his life, telling Look magazine that it had brought him "at last, close to happiness." Grant's example convinced some of his friends and colleagues to try LSD, too. ESTHER WILLIAMS: SHE TRIED IT, TOO Bettmann/Bettmann Archive ESTHER WILLIAMS: SHE TRIED IT, TOO A gifted swimmer turned actress and the star of a string of successful "aqua musicals," including "Bathing Beauty" (1944), "Neptune's Daughter" (1949), and "Million-Dollar Mermaid" (1952), Williams was one of the many Hollywood types that Cary Grant turned on to acid. In the late 1950s, struggling with a number of personal issues — divorce, debts accrued by her ex-husband, and a flagging film career — she started taking LSD in therapy, and found it useful. "I went right to the place where the pain lay in my psyche," she said. FRANCIS CRICK: HE DISCOVERED DNA AND EXPERIMENTED WITH LSD Photo Gaby/Getty Images FRANCIS CRICK: HE DISCOVERED DNA AND EXPERIMENTED WITH LSD The English molecular biologist is best known for discovering, with James Watson, the double-helical structure of DNA, and for cracking the genetic code. (He and Watson won a Nobel Prize for their work in 1962.) But he also experimented with cannabis and LSD, and was one of 65 signatories of a full-page ad, placed in The Times by the Society of Mental Awareness (SOMA) in 1967, demanding UK cannabis-law reform.