There are countless people throughout the US and throughout the world who have been steered away from a life of drug or alcohol addiction after a spiritual experience with a psychedelic drug. In fact, Bill Wilson, the co-founder of the alcoholics anonymous program, actually considered promoting LSD as a tool for alcoholics to shake their addiction. Wilson was a close associate with many early adopters of LSD and took numerous trips in controlled, scientific settings while he was involved with the AA program.
Wilson believed that LSD was not a cure-all for mental problems and diseases such as addiction, but he felt that it could be a catalyst towards understanding one’s own life and changing direction.
“I don’t believe [LSD] has any miraculous property of transforming spiritually and emotionally sick people into healthy ones overnight. It can set up a shining goal on the positive side, after all, it is only a temporary ego-reducer. The vision and insights given by LSD could create a large incentive – at least in a considerable number of people,” Wilson reportedly said after his first LSD trip in 1956.
In a later letter to Gerald Heard, one of his associates in the LSD scene, Wilson wrote, “I am certain that the LSD experiment has helped me very much. I find myself with a heightened color perception and an appreciation of beauty almost destroyed by my years of depression.”
Despite his confidence in the experience and the substance, Wilson was forced to stay relatively quiet about his experiments because he feared legal punishment and professional embarrassment. After rumors of his involvement in the LSD scene had begun to spread, Wilson asked the scientists that he was working with to omit his name in the records of their experiments.
Wilson feared becoming a pariah in the movement that he helped create because many people involved in AA were attached to the idea that all mind-altering chemicals are dangerous and should be avoided.
According to a paper called Pass It On, which was published by AA World Services in 1984, the movement was entirely opposed to his views on LSD.
“As word of Bill’s activities reached the fellowship there were inevitable repercussions. Most AAs were violently opposed to his experimenting with a mind-altering substance. LSD was then totally unfamiliar, poorly researched, and entirely experimental – and Bill was taking it,” the report read.
One of the ideas that permeates AA culture is that any mind altering substance whatsoever is dangerous and could trigger a relapse back into alcohol addiction. However, this view was obviously not shared by AA founder Bill Wilson, who understood that different substances have different effects on people and that it is possible to have a safe spiritual experience on a mind altering drug without slipping back into a life of addiction.
One of the most in-depth studies into Wilson’s LSD use and his connection with that realm is a book called Distilled Spirits by Don Lattin. The book features a number of thinkers, including Wilson, who both studied, and struggled with mind altering substances. The research collected many letters that were written between Wilson and his associates in the LSD scene, giving a glimpse into the thoughts that he was so apprehensive to make public.
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