Don’t do drugs! They’ll lead you down the path to perdition! That’s the message beaten into our heads from our earliest years. But not everybody listens, of course. Some who didn’t listen have gone on to do great things, even after using the most mind-warping drugs of all: psychedelics.
Magic mushrooms, peyote and ayahuasca all have their aficionados, but LSD is the biggie. Since Timothy Leary turned on a generation in the 1960s, acid has been the Cadillac of psychedelics, and millions of people have used the mighty molecule to blow out the carburetors of their minds. They report not only weird hallucinations, but profound spiritual awakenings and psychic epiphanies.
Among those millions of psychedelic users are some of the most creative minds of our time, who partly credit their use of mind-melters for their successes. Whether it’s science, the arts or industry, the voyage through inner space has proven useful—or at least these seven people at the pinnacle of their fields thought so.
1. Cary Grant
The classic Hollywood leading man used repeatedly LSD with his therapist and credited it with bringing him much happiness. In Look Magazine’s 1959 “The Curious Story Behind the New Cary Grant,” he positively bubbled about his acid therapy, saying, “at last, I am close to happiness.” He later elaborated: “I wanted to rid myself of all my hypocrisies. I wanted to work through the events of my childhood, my relationship with my parents and my former wives. I did not want to spend years in analysis.”
2. Steve Jobs
One of the great entrepreneurial minds of contemporary times, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was a serious acid head, at least for a time. He was deeply moved by his psychedelic experiences: “Throughout that period of time [1972-1974] I used the LSD approximately ten to fifteen times,” Jobs said. “I would ingest the LSD on a sugar cube or in a hard form of gelatin. I would usually take the LSD when I was by myself. I have no words to explain the effect the LSD had on me, although, I can say it was a positive life-changing experience for me and I am glad I went through that experience.” On another occasion, he found some more words to describe the impact: “Taking LSD was a profound experience, one of the most important things in my life. LSD shows you that there’s another side to the coin, and you can’t remember it when it wears off, but you know it. It reinforced my sense of what was important—creating great things instead of making money, putting things back into the stream of history and of human consciousness as much as I could.”
3. Frances McDormand
The award-winning Fargo actress has had experiences both pleasant and profound with psychedelics both natural and synthetic, and only wishes acid was properly appreciated. “I really, really enjoyed LSD,” she told the Daily Beast in an interview last year. “And I really enjoyed mushrooms very much. It’s unfortunate, I think, that drugs were not handled properly. Politically, they’ve been used to separate the economic classes. Thankfully, it’s all getting fixed now with the marijuana laws. But with LSD, because it was counter cultural, and because it was used as an experimental drug, it was not marketed properly. It if had been marketed properly, we would have it…. We needed a PR person for that LSD! It was very profound. Very profound.”
4. Kary Mullis
You may not have heard of Kary Mullis unless you’ve worked in a biomedical lab at any point since the 1980s. Mullis revolutionized the field by refining the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique that can make millions of identical copies of a single strand of DNA. This won him a Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1993, and he credits LSD. He told California Monthly in September 1994 that, he “took plenty of acid” in his youth and called his experimentation “mind-opening.” In a later BBC interview, he made the startling claim that his acid binges in the 1960s and ’70s contributed more to his accomplishments than anything he’d learned in school: “What if I had not taken LSD ever; would I have still invented PCR? I don’t know. I doubt it. I seriously doubt it.”
5. Jack Nicholson
In Easy Rider, Nicholson played a square, hard-drinking lawyer reluctant to try marijuana because “it could lead to the harder stuff,” but in real life, Nicholson was already far beyond weed. He was tripping brains throughout the 1960s; he said “the first time he saw God” was on his first acid trip; and he called his experiences with LSD “life-changing.” He claimed to have tripped frequently while writing scripts for movies such as The Trip (1967) and Head (1968). “I don’t advocate anything for anybody,” he once told reporters. “But I choose always to be candid because I don’t like the closet atmosphere of drugging… In other words, it ain’t no big thing. You can wreck yourself with it, but Christ, you can wreck yourself with anything.” By 1980, Nicholson had slowed down a bit, but he was still indulging his taste for consciousness-altering drugs. “I still love to get high, I’d say, about four days a week. I think that’s about average for an American,” he said. “Last year on a raft trip I had a little flavor of the season—peach mescaline—but it was not like the hallucinatory state of the ’60s. This was just kind of sunny.”
6. Susan Sarandon
The Rocky Horror Picture Show lead actress, whose career has since spanned decades, admits to using the Amazonian sacramental psychedelic ayahuasca, as well as magic mushrooms, and suggests they moved her deeply. “I’ve done ayahuasca and I’ve done mushrooms and things like that,” she told the Daily Beast. “But I like those drugs in the outdoors—I’m not a city-tripper… I like doing it in the Grand Canyon, or in the woods. You want to be prepared and not have responsibilities. It does remind you of your space in the universe—your place in the universe—and reframe things for you. I think you can have some very profound experiences.”
7. Francis Crick
The co-discoverer of the DNA structure (along with Watson and Franklin), for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1962, told numerous friends and colleagues he was experimenting with LSD while working to unravel the molecular structure of our genetic information. Crick told his close friend Dick Kemp that he had actually “perceived the double-helix shape while on LSD” and that LSD use was common among Cambridge academics of the time. Many of them used it in small amounts as a “thinking tool,” according to Kemp.