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High History: How LSD Ended Up in A French Town’s Food Supply

In 1951, LSD ended up in a French town’s food supply. How? Was it a biological abnormality? Or was something more sinister at play?

Maureen Meehan

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High History: How LSD Ended Up in A French Town's Food Supply

Have you heard about that time LSD ended up in a French town’s food supply? As you can imagine, this type of tomfoolery ended in pandemonium, hysteria and a lot of upset people. Here’s what went down in this French town.

Qu’est-ce qui s’est passé?

Don’t you hate it when someone sprinkles LSD in the local food supply? A small French village was not too happy about it either. In fact, they had no idea what the hell was going on. They just knew that hundreds of people woke up one day to frightening hallucinations and mass insanity.

The collective bad trip occurred in August of 1951 in the village of Pont-Saint-Esprit, located in Southeast France.

Villagers literally tripped out of their minds with horrific hallucinations of snakes, dragons and fire. Several died, dozens ended up in mental hospitals and hundreds experienced psychotic symptoms for years later.

Time Magazine wrote at the time: “Among the stricken, delirium rose: patients thrashed wildly on their beds, screaming that red flowers were blossoming from their bodies, that their heads had turned to molten lead.”

The dominant accepted explanation for this incident is that the local bread had been accidentally poisoned with psychedelic mold, ergot fungi, which grows on rye. Fun fact: a popular theory says that the same mold may have played a role in the Salem Witch Trials. 

Une Théorie du Complot

Because this event was so bizarre, a conspiracy theory was bound to pop up eventually.

Many years after the incident, one researcher posited that the CIA had contaminated the village’s food with LSD. The allegation was made five decades later by Hank Albarelli, who published a book in which he claimed that the incident was part of the CIA’s secret mind-control experiments.

Does this theory hold water?

As scientists learned about LSD in the early 1950s, the CIA began to use it as an interrogation aid. But did the CIA also test LSD on unsuspecting French villagers? Experts and historians say non. 

But, of course, that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. 

Fascinating film footage recently emerged from 1958. It showed U.S. Army volunteers tripping on LSD as part of a government experiment. The goal? To see whether or not they could use hallucinogens as weapons of war.

And then, of course, there was Project MK ULTRA, a huge domestic surveillance program in which the CIA dosed a bunch of people in San Francisco with LSD.

And the government has continued experimenting with people’s health and minds

Vietnam Veterans of America filed a suit in San Francisco federal court in 2009. They claimed that at least 7,800 soldiers were, without their knowledge, given as many as 400 types of drugs and chemicals, including sarin, amphetamines, barbiturates, mustard gas and LSD by the Army and CIA. As of 2015, the case was still going on, according to the Military Times.

Final Hit: How LSD Ended Up in A French Town’s Food Supply

In 1951, LSD ended up in a French town’s food supply with disastrous results. Decades later, details of Project MKUltra were made public. Human rights activists have since condemned it, and artists have explored it through various media. But even after years of macabre stories, psychedelics are still around and, thanks to intelligent scientists, are now being properly tested and put to good use. 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved the design of two Phase 3 clinical trials of MDMA for treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is significant in view of the epidemic levels of PTSD among our veterans, which have resulted in up to 22 PTSD-related veteran suicides per day.

So, if the U.S. government is going to mess around with hallucinogens, it would be great if they had something positive in mind like people’s health and wellbeing and not weapons of war.

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