University doctor gives LSD to mental patient in experiment

Harry Engel

William, a patient in the psychiatric ward of University Hospital, participated in a project Friday morning using LSD.
William is one of many patients who have voluntarily taken part in an experiment conducted by Dr. Amedeo S. Marrazzi, professor of pharmacology.
The aim of the experiment is to find out how the nervous system handles impulses in mentally ill patients. It promises to be a “clinical yardstick” in diagnosing ill patients and assessing present psychiatric treatment, according to Marrazzi’s preliminary studies.
This is because it involves diagnosing the “underlying process of psychotic or certain kinds of psychotic illnesses,” he said.
LSD was responsible for the dismissal of two Harvard psychologists, Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert, whose non-medically supervised experiments with the drug sent two student volunteers to mental hospitals.
Even small doses of LSD can disrupt the brain function if improperly used. It is being administered here in medically supervised experiments with screened volunteers to guard against the potential of even a small dose causing a latent disturbance of the brain function.
The psychiatric staff chooses patients from whom it has been difficult to get a history for the experiments. Such patients withhold their background from doctors for various reasons, Marrazzi said.
William spent most of Friday in the project. The peak of the drug’s effect on him came late Friday afternoon.
In the experiment, LSD impedes the flow of impulses to a critical part of the brain, thus allowing Marrazzi to imitate the condition in the mentally ill person’s brain. Eventually, he said, doctors will be able to determine a person’s potential for having a breakdown.
If taken in large doses, LSD produces weird effects, and vision and perception are drastically altered. Time magazine described it as “wide-screen 3-D vision,” sometimes in Technicolor.
Marrazzi explained that old information stored in the brain is compared to the new information received through the five senses.
When a person first sees a pencil, he records it; he will use his memory to recall what a pencil looks like the next time he is confronted with it, Marrazzi said.
LSD “closes the door” of transmission between the memory and new information. A pencil may look like a dangerous weapon rather than what the memory would say it is, he said.
Psychotic people are “partially disconnected” — they have trouble coordinating memory with new information. LSD given to psychotics makes it harder for them to perceive reality.
“Normal” people or neurotics won’t go over the threshold. Charts show how the drug has little effect in blocking their memory from new information.
Marrazzi conducted his experiment with William in an 8-foot high, windowless “room” with three walls.
William sat in front of the room, put on some goggles and was instructed to rotate a bar on the far wall, by means of a dial, until it was parallel with the floor. He did so.
But after a minute, the floor was no longer parallel to the bar; it now inclined downward to the right and again the bar was adjusted in order to remain parallel with the floor.
The special lenses in the goggles actually distorted the shape of the room, allowing William to see the floor inclined downward and to the right. But not until the brain tired of perceiving all rooms with floors perpendicular with walls was William able to see what the goggles actually portrayed.
When William was given a small, safe dose of LSD, the intensity of the distortion (how well a person can integrate his memory with the new information) was low.
Because psychotic people are “partially disconnected” — they have trouble coordinating memory with new information. LSD makes it harder for them to perceive reality.
One Harvard student, after an alleged session with Leary and Alpert, was almost killed as he walked in front of Boston rush hour traffic. He said he thought he was God and that nothing could touch him.
Student volunteers are used by Marrazzi after being subjected to a variety of checks to weed out those with “potentially alarming disturbances of mental performance,” Marrazzi said.