When I was a Resident Assistant at Berkeley in the early ’70s a local police officer I knew gave me a tour down Telegraph Avenue. He told me:
“All the major drug deals on the West Coast go down within a two block stretch of Telegraph Avenue. The dealers and streetpeople are what’s left of the flower children.”
All this was within blocks of the nearby University of California campus. To say that drugs were rampant at Berkeley is an understatement: as an RA, I was called upon to take students who were too high on marijuana or LSD down to the Student Health Center. My saddest duty was checking out the room of a student who had committed suicide. On his wall were comic-strip blotters of LSD.
Berkeley, the counterpart foci of Haight-Ashbury, on the ellipse of the San Francisco Bay, reflected the tone and mood of the Summer of Love. In this third article on this period from 50 years ago, I discuss the drugs topic of sex, drugs, and rock & roll. Berkeley was the West Coast hub of drugs, as Boston was the East Coast hub. Drugs were shipped into Vallejo, a port town 30 minutes north of Berkeley. Michael Crichton popularized the Berkeley drug trade in his 1970 novel — written under the pseudonym Michael Douglas along with his 19-year old brother Douglas — called Dealing: Or the Berkely-to-Boston Forty-Brick Lost-Bag Blues.
The two most popular drugs of the Summer of Love were cannabis and LSD.
Cannabis was known as marijuana, weed, pot, dope, blow, or reefer, and was typically smoked in a bong or hookah pipe, or as a “joint” cigarette, sometimes called a “doobie.” Weed was readily available in Northern California where it was and remains to this day, a major cash crop, even before recent legalization. Cannabis is a psychoactive drug, it’s main ingredient delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, is responsible for binding to receptors in the brain to affect the “high.”
LSD, by comparison, is a synthetic drug, originally formulated in a Swiss lab in 1938 from a fungus chemical. The German name is Lyserg-Säure-Diäthylamid, but in English, the full name is dextro-lysergic acid diethylamide tartrate 25.
LSD is a psychedelic drug known for its profound psychological effects including anxiety, paranoia, delusions, and hallucinations. In 1975 it was learned that the CIA had been experimenting with LSD in the ’50s, often without the knowledge of the subjects. One of those subjects, Ken Kesey, later became an advocate for the drug and wrote One Flew Over the Cookoo’s Nest in 1960, about a psychiatric hospital. Kesey spent time with Tom Wolfe who wrote The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.
LSD was popularized in books, movies, and music. The Haight-Ashbury based band Grateful Dead was often associated with LSD due to their popular song (Keep) Truckin,’ which was about their hotel room being raided for drugs while they were on tour in New Orleans… “Busted, down on Bourbon Street.” And when the Grateful Dead performed at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, their tie-dyed fans came out of the woodwork.
Ironically, it was in 1967 that LSD was made illegal to manufacture, buy, possess, process, or distribute without a license from the Drug Enforcement Administration. It remains a Schedule 1 drug to this day.
LSD guru and promoter Timothy Leary claimed that his motto”Turn on, tune in, drop out” was inspired by philosopher Marshall McLuhan who had urged him to invent a catchy slogan, and as an example, McLuhan offered a jingle: “Lysergic acid hits the spot / Forty billion neurons, that’s a lot.”
The Beatles’ Influence
In their younger years, The Beatles had not used much in the way of illicit drugs, except Benzadrine, Preludin, and amphetamines especially while doing long gigs in Hamburg. The Beatles claim that it was Bob Dylan who initially and fully “turned them on” to marijuana. They were using it non-medicinally when they made Help! in 1965 and it was featured in a number of their songs: “She’s A Woman,” “Got to Get You Into My Life,” (an ode to pot, claimed Paul McCartney) and “With A Little Help From My Friends.” At different times John Lennon, George Harrison, and Paul McCartney were arrested for drug possession.
Their dentist turned them on to LSD in his flat. This influenced the song “Day Tripper,” and “Tomorrow Never Knows” from the album Revolver. If Revolver was their LSD album, Rubber Soul, as Lennon said, was the band’s “pot album.” Their drug references were sometimes subtle, sometimes overt, sometimes difficult to deny, as I’ll discuss in my next article on rock & roll. Needless to say, The Beatles use of, and songs about drugs led a generation to follow.
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian