James Ketchum’s obituary in the New York Times June 3 led us to revisit Ketchum’s presentation in 2007 to the Society of Cannabis Clinicians. Why did Tod Mikuriya (and Alexander Shulgin) befriend Ketchum, given the unethical nature of his research at Edgewood Arsenal in the 1960s?
In Tod’s case, two reasons come to mind. One, Ketchum was the primary source on an important aspect of cannabis history, and Tod was determined not to let that history go unwritten. Two, Tod had been marginalized back in the ’60s by Van Sim and other scientists with CIA and military connections. A relationship with Ketchum may have represented to Tod a breaking of the blacklist. (From Ketchum’s POV it was a good way to scrub his reputation.)
Here are the comments elicited by Ketchum’s obit on the Times’ website. Read ’em and weep:
I was one of the Edgewood Arsenal “volunteers”, in the summer of 1967. Why do I put that word in quotation marks? Because when we were recruited for the program we were told we would be given LSD or a similar hallucinogenic drug, but what I actually received included deadly VX nerve agent and an atropine-like drug – both potentially fatal. I didn’t learn this until the 1980s, through a FOIA request initiated by a New Yorker Magazine writer for an article on the subject. Ketchum was a liar and a charlatan. He may have started out as an idealist, but he turned into our very own Dr. Strangelove.
Wordsworth from Wadsworth
“With Bela Bartok’s “The Miraculous Mandarin” as mood music, a white cloud engulfs soldiers as a narrator intones, “And on this desert this cloud was unleashed so men could measure the dimensions of its stupefying power.”” Did James Ketchum invent that scenario? Or was Stanley Kubrick there? Truth as strange as cinematic fiction. “psychedelic “cloud of confusion” could stupefy whole battlefield regiments ” If the Army executed that they would have to pay copyright royalties to the Temptations for “Ball of Confusion.” “I struggle with these things,” he said. But, he added, “I have always had the feeling that I am doing more the right thing than the wrong thing here.” A person could use that statement to rationalize a lot of bad behavior.
N.A. continental landmass
For a broader perspective on the crazy times this obit hints at, I’d recommend an ever-relevant 35-year-old book by Jay Stevens: “Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream”. It’s an engrossing read. “Acid Dreams” might also seem pertinent at first blush–bad actors testing LSD on unknowing/unwilling subjects–but I think “Storming Heaven” gets to the gist of the cultural zeitgeist of the mid-20th century in the U.S., showing why LSD was THE drug to abuse others by those in power.
V x 828pm Experimentation on US citizens was not limited to Dr. Ketchum’s use of LSD on soldiers or even the CIA’s parallel efforts with LSD and other psychotropic drugs. For example, the US tested atomic bombs prior to their use on Japan in 1945, exposing many US soldiers (and probably some civilians) to the radiation and other effects of nuclear blasts that may have caused some of them to come down with cancer, glaucoma and other negative outcomes. Coming closer in time, in the early 1960’s some Peace Corps Volunteers were given experimental inoculations against rabies without disclosure of possible negative effects and without use of consent forms. Most of these inoculations were given by US-trained MDs who were Peace Corps employees, many recruited from top-tier institutions. A seemingly disproportionate number of Volunteers who received these injections married but did not have children; it would be worth a Freedom of Information Request by some enterprising reporter to dig up Peace Corps records on this program and any follow-up data (surely they exist somewhere) on the individual Volunteers who may have been adversely affected by treatment under this program and possibly other clandestine medical research. By the way, any Volunteers bitten by or exposed to rabid animals still had to have rabies shots because it was not known if the experimental inoculations would be effective. So much for the benefits of being experimented on.
A cousin of mine participated as a guinea pig in these experiments. No doubt, his thinking probably was that it kept him out of Vietnam. An intelligent, charismatic, athletically skilled person, my cousin died quite young, living as a hermit in the Arizona desert. My extended family and I will always wonder what he might have become had he not been a part of Dr. Ketchum’s experiments.
One of my parent’s friends, call him Sunshine, was a young man just out of Boot, and though it was war with Nam, he had been drafted, had no family at all, grown up in orphanage, and the folks befriended him, gave him a place to be off duty that was not out drinking himself silly with the rest of the troops Once he was done with that phase of training, they expected him to go to the Front, well, he did disappear for most of a year, and then when he came back he was a mere shadow of himself, nervous and jittery. He was afraid to be around us kids. The man’s Obit, the one who spearheaded this program, is a bitter reminder of people that were torn up and thrown away by our own government. I am a Veteran, I know I was ‘Government Property’, but at least I was generally treated as a person. Him, they stuck in a hole and watched how long it took for him to go nuts in solitary. Then dosed him with acid and tried again, then with another drug, and another, so that he was never quite sure who or where he was. This is the Obit of some 5000 heroes at the hands of this person named.
I would believe his subjects were fully advised of the risks after I would believe in the Easter Bunny. He should live in infamy.
“First, do no harm” is not actually part of the Hippocratic Oath taken by doctors, though the phrase is often held out as a guide for physicians especially when experimentation on human beings is involved. As a research psychologist I can assure readers that they would not want themselves or their families to participate in the LSD experiments Dr. Ketchum carried out on possibly unwitting or at best ill-informed volunteer soldiers. And I am absolutely sure Dr. Ketchum would not have permitted any of his 5 wives, or any other family members to be the subjects of such experiments.
As macabre as this research sounds, it was done with an aim toward lowering fatalities. A movie that takes something from Dr. Ketchum’s work is the hilarious 2009 “The Men Who Stare at Goats.” For conspiracy buffs: Among other congregants of Norman Vincent Peale’s Marble Collegiate Church was one Donald J. Trump.
Good grief. Lover of war, believer of the use of psychedelics as “non-lethal chemical weapons,” here is a person that sought out the worst of what being human is about. This is why I eagerly read The NY Times obituaries- to learn more about history, and about the amazing and shocking lives people lead. I wish the regular news could be so insightful, linking individuals to philosophy and current and past events.
new york, ny
Overall, an exemplary obituary. However, the author implies that MK-ULTRA, the CIA mind-control program that employed psychedelic drugs, ended in the 1950s. According to the literature (“Acid Dreams” and “The Search for the Real Manchurian Candidate”) LSD and other drugs were administered by the CIA to unwary US citizens in so-called “national security whorehouses” well into the 1960s. While those practices violated a host of laws, no one was ever prosecuted.
I grew up in the small Minnesota town that most likely supplied the raw material from which Mr. Ketchum’s LSD was made. At that time the drug company Eli Lilly, the only U.S. producer of LSD, made the drug exclusively from ergot obtained from Universal Laboratories of Dassel, Minnesota. Ergot is a fungus that grows on rye grain. Today a small museum is operated in the original Universal Laboratory building. Inside that museum there is an exhibit that explains how ergot was known to be used for military purposes in Europe during the middle ages. According to that exhibit, if ergot was poured down the well of an adversary, then the opposing army would become disoriented, and less able to defend themselves. Evidently, the raw ergot fungus, if eaten, produces a lower level of the same psychedelic effect. According to today’s article the U.S. Army was investigating if “a psychedelic ‘cloud of confusion'” could be exploited on the battlefield. This reminded me that, when I was growing up in Dassel in the 1960’s, there were also many people who opposed the fluoridation of drinking water on the basis that it was a communist conspiracy to destroy the minds of Americans. Today I wonder if Mr. Ketchum’s LSD experiments were the source of that rumor. Cite: MnOpedia. Universal Laboratories, Dassel http://www.mnopedia.org/structure/universal-laboratories-dassel Debating Water Fluoridation Before Dr. Strangelove https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4504307/
I enjoyed this article. Good to learn that his research was distinct from the CIA’s work. A noble thought to consider a battlefield with less maming and killing.
The very best minds like Aldous Huxley pondered how to use these substances to better the human condition and improve our consciousness. This so called Hippocratic oath taking Doctor spent his time attempting to help the military find better ways to kill and subjugate imaginary enemies.