Pubdate: Sat, 19 Jul 2008
Source: AlterNet (US Web)
Copyright: 2008 Independent Media Institute
Author: Martin A. Lee, AlterNet
Note: Martin A. Lee is the author of Acid Dreams: The Complete Social 
History of LSD: The CIA, the Sixties, and Beyond. He is writing a 
social history of marijuana. A version of this article originally 
appeared in Cannabis Culture.


Meet the Man Who Ran the Secret Program

It was billed as a panel discussion on "the global shift in human 
consciousness." A half-dozen speakers had assembled inside the Heebie 
Jeebie Healers tent at Burning Man, the annual post-hippie 
celebration in Black Rock, Nev., where 50,000 stalwarts braved 
intense dust storms and flash floods last August. Among the notables 
who spoke at the early evening forum was Dr. Alexander "Sasha" 
Shulgin, the Bay Area-based psychochemical genius much beloved among 
the Burners, who synthesized Ecstasy and 200 other psychoactive drugs 
and tested each one on himself during his unique, offbeat career.

Sitting on the panel next to Shulgin was an unlikely expositor. Dr. 
James S. Ketchum, a retired U.S. Army colonel, told the audience, 
"When Sasha was trying to open minds with chemicals to achieve 
greater awareness, I was busy trying to subdue people."

Ketchum was referring to his work at Edgewood Arsenal, headquarters 
of the U.S. Army Chemical Corps, in the 1960s, when America's 
national security strategists were high on the prospect of developing 
a nonlethal incapacitating agent, a so-called humane weapon, that 
could knock people out without necessarily killing anyone. Top 
military officers hyped the notion of "war without death," conjuring 
visions of aircraft swooping over enemy territory releasing clouds of 
"madness gas" that would disorient the bad guys and dissolve their 
will to resist, while U.S. soldiers moved in and took over.

Ketchum was into weapons of mass elation, not weapons of mass 
destruction. He oversaw a secret research program that tested an 
array of mind-bending drugs on American GIs, including an 
exceptionally potent form of synthetic marijuana. (Most of these 
drugs had no medical names, just numbers supplied by the Army.) 
"Paradoxical as it may seem," Ketchum asserted, "one can use chemical 
weapons to spare lives, rather than extinguish them."

Some of the Burners were perplexed. Was this guy cool or creepy?

Shulgin, a critic of chemical mind-meddling by the military, was wary 
when he first met Ketchum at a 1993 event honoring the 50th 
anniversary of the discovery of LSD. But Ketchum is not your typical 
military bulldozer type. An intelligent, gracious man with a 
disarming sense of humor, in his own way he has always been a free 
spirit. He and his wife, Judy, who currently reside in Santa Rosa, 
became close friends with Sasha and his formidable partner, Ann. They 
stayed in frequent contact and occasionally socialized together. When 
the Shulgins invited them to Burning Man, the Ketchums joined the 
caravan of RVs driving to the desert.

"I'm kind of a Sasha worshipper," Ketchum, who reads 
neuropharmacology textbooks during his leisure hours, confessed. Tall 
and lanky, the colonel, now 76, is one of the few people who can 
actually understand what Shulgin, six years his senior, is talking 
about when he lectures on the molecular subtleties of psychedelic 
drugs, waving his arms furiously like a mad scientist. Shulgin took 
Ketchum under his wing and welcomed him into the fold.

Shulgin wrote the foreword to Ketchum's self-published memoir, 
Chemical Warfare: Secrets Almost Forgotten, which lifts the veil on 
the Army's little-known drug experiments and illuminates a hidden 
chapter of marijuana history. A graduate of Cornell Medical College, 
Ketchum describes how he was assigned as a staff psychiatrist to 
Edgewood Arsenal, located 25 miles northeast of Baltimore, in 1961.

"There was no doubt in my mind that working in this strange 
atmosphere was just the sort of thing that would satisfy my appetite 
for novelty," Ketchum wrote. Soon he became chief of clinical 
research at the Army's hub for chemical warfare studies. Although the 
Geneva Convention had banned the use of chemical weapons, Washington 
never agreed to this provision, and the U.S. government poured money 
into the search for a nonlethal incapacitant.

Red Oil

The U.S. Army Chemical Corp's marijuana research began several years 
before Ketchum joined the team at Edgewood. In 1952, the Shell 
Development Corporation was contracted by the Army to examine 
"synthetic cannabis derivatives" for their incapacitating properties. 
Additional studies into possible military uses of marijuana began two 
years later at the University of Michigan medical school, where a 
group of scientists led by Dr. Edward F. Domino, professor of 
pharmacology, tested a drug called "EA 1476" -- otherwise known as 
"Red Oil" -- on dogs and monkeys at the behest of the U.S. Army. Made 
through a process of chemical extraction and distillation, Red Oil, 
akin to hash oil, packed a mightier punch than the natural plant.

Army scientists found that this concentrated cannabis derivative 
produced effects unlike anything they had previously seen. "The dog 
gets a peculiar reaction. He crawls under the table, stays away from 
the dark, leaps out at imaginary objects and, as far as one can 
interpret, may be having hallucinations," one report stated. "It 
would appear even to the untrained observer that this dog is not 
normal. He suddenly jumps out, even without any stimulus, and barks, 
and then crawls back under the table."

With a larger dose of Red Oil, the reaction was even more pronounced. 
"These animals lie on their side; you could step on their feet 
without any response; it is an amazing effect and a reversible 
phenomenon. It has greatly increased our interest in this compound 
from the standpoint of future chemical possibilities."

In the late 1950s, the Army started testing Red Oil on U.S. soldiers 
at Edgewood. Some GIs smirked for hours while they were under the 
influence of EA 1476. When asked to perform routine numbers and 
spatial reasoning tests, the stoned volunteers couldn't stop laughing.

But Red Oil was not an ideal chemical-warfare candidate. For 
starters, it was a "crude" preparation that contained many components 
of cannabis besides psychoactive THC. Army scientists surmised that 
pure THC would weigh much less than Red Oil and would therefore be 
better suited as a chemical weapon. They were intrigued by the 
possibility of amplifying the active ingredient of marijuana, 
tweaking the mother molecule, as it were, to enhance its psychogenic 
effects. So the Chemical Corps set its sights on developing a 
synthetic variant of THC that could clobber people without killing them.

Enter Harry Pars, a scientist working with Arthur D. Little Inc., 
based in Cambridge, Mass., one of several pharmaceutical companies 
that conducted chemical warfare research for the Army. (Two Army 
contracts for marijuana-related research were awarded to this firm, 
covering a 10-year period beginning in 1963.) A frequent visitor to 
Edgewood, Pars synthesized a new cannabinoid compound, dubbed "EA 
2233," which was significantly stronger than Red Oil.

At the outset of this project, Pars had sought the advice of Shulgin, 
then a brilliant young chemist employed by Dow Chemical. Shulgin was 
a veritable fount of information regarding how to reshape 
psychoactive molecules to create novel mind-altering drugs. Eager to 
share his arcane expertise, Shulgin gave Pars the idea to tinker with 
nitrogen analogs of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Pars never told 
Shulgin that he was an Army contract employee. A declassified version 
of Pars' research was published in the Journal of the American 
Chemical Society (August 1966), in which he thanked Shulgin for 
"drawing our attention to the synthesis of these nitrogen analogs."

The U.S. Army Chemical Corps began clinical testing of EA 2233 on GI 
volunteers in 1961, the year Ketchum arrived at Edgewood Arsenal. 
When ingested at dosage levels ranging from 10 to 60 micrograms per 
kilogram of body weight, EA 2233 lasted up to 30 hours, far longer 
than the typical marijuana buzz.

"I Just Feel Like Laughing"

In an interview videotaped seven hours after he had been given EA 
2233, one soldier described feeling numb in his arms and unable to 
raise them, precluding any possibility that he could defend himself 
if attacked. "Everything seems comical," he told his interlocutor.

Q: How are you?

A: Pretty good, I guess. ...

Q: You've got a big grin on your face.

A: Yeah. I don't know what I'm grinning about, either.

Q: Do things seem funny, or is that just something you can't help?

A: I don't -- I don't know. I just -- I just feel like laughing. ..

Q: Does the time seem to pass slower or faster or any different than usual?

A: No different than usual. Just -- just that I mostly lose track of 
it. I don't know if it's early or late.

Q: Do you find yourself doing any daydreaming?

A: Yeah. I'm daydreaming all kinds of things. ...

Q: Suppose you have to get up and go to work now. How would you do?

A: I don't think I'd even care.

Q: Well, suppose the place were on fire?

A: It would seem funny.

Q: It would seem funny? Do you think you'd have the sense to get up 
and run out, or do you think you'd just enjoy it?

A: I don't know. Fire doesn't seem to present any danger to me right 
now. . Everything just seems funny in the Army. Seems like everything 
somebody says, it sounds a little bit funny. ...

Q: Is it like when you're in a good mood and you can laugh at anything?

A: Right. ... It's like being out with a bunch of people and 
everybody's laughing. They're just --

Q: Having a ball?

A: Yeah. And everything just seems funny.

Q: Would you do this again? Take this test again?

A: Yeah. Yeah. It wouldn't bother me at all.

EA 2233 was actually a mixture of eight stereoisomers of THC. (An 
isomer is a rearrangement of atoms within a given molecule; a 
stereoisomer entails different spatial configurations of these 
atoms.) Eventually, Edgewood scientists would separate the eight 
stereoisomers and investigate the relative potency of each of them 
individually in an effort to separate the wheat from the psychoactive 
chaff and reduce the amount of material needed to get the desired 
effect for chemical warfare.

Only two of the stereoisomers proved to be of interest (the others 
didn't have much of a knockdown effect). When administered 
intravenously, low doses of these two synthetic cousins of 
tetrahydrocannabinol triggered a dramatic drop in blood pressure to 
the point where test subjects could barely move. Standing up without 
assistance was impossible. This was construed by cautious Army 
doctors as a warning sign -- a sudden plunge in blood pressure could 
be dangerous -- and human experiments with single THC stereoisomers 
were suspended.

Looking back on these studies, Ketchum wonders whether his colleagues 
made the right decision. "This hypotensive (blood-pressure-reducing) 
property, in an otherwise nonlethal compound, might be an ideal way 
to produce a temporary inability to fight, or do much else, without 
toxicological danger to life," Ketchum says now. Given the high 
safety margin of THC -- no one has ever died from an overdose -- and 
the likelihood that the stereoisomers would display a similar safety 
profile, Ketchum believes the Army may have spurned a couple of 
worthy prospects that were capable of filling the 
knock-'em-out-but-don't-kill-'em niche in America's chemical warfare arsenal.

As for the two exemplary stereoisomers weaned from EA 2233, Ketchum 
speculates, "They probably would have been safe in terms of 
life-sparing activity. ... But a person who received them would have 
to lie down. If he tried to stand up and get his weapon, he would 
feel faint and lightheaded and he'd keel over. Essentially he would 
be immobilized for any military purpose until the effects wore off."

The colonel's assessment: "A safe drug that knocks people down -- 
what more could you ask for?"

Volunteers for America

With THC isomers on the back burner, the U.S. Army Chemical Corps 
focused on several other compounds -- including LSD, PCP, 
methylphenidate (Ritalin) and a delirium-inducing ass-kicker known as 
"BZ" (a belladonna-like substance similar to atropine) -- all of 
which were thought to have significant potential as nonlethal incapacitants.

By the time the clinical testing program had run its course, 6,700 
volunteers had experienced some bizarre states of consciousness at 
Edgewood. Under the influence of powerful mind-altering drugs, some 
soldiers rode imaginary horses, ate invisible chickens and took 
showers in full uniform while smoking phantom cigars. One garrulous 
GI complained that an order of toast smelled "like a French whore." 
Some of their antics were so over-the-top that Ketchum had to 
admonish the nurses and other medical personnel not to laugh at the 
volunteers, even though it was unlikely that the soldiers would 
remember such incidents once the drugs wore off.

Ketchum insists that the staff at Edgewood went to great lengths to 
ensure the safety of the volunteers. (There was one untoward incident 
involving a civilian volunteer who flipped out on PCP and required 
hospitalization, but this happened before Ketchum came on board.) 
During the 1960s, every soldier exposed to incapacitating agents was 
carefully screened and prepped beforehand, according to Ketchum, and 
well treated throughout the experiment. They stayed in special rooms 
with padded walls and were monitored by medical professionals 24/7. 
Antidotes were available if things got out of hand.

"The volunteers performed a patriotic service," Ketchum says. "None, 
to my knowledge, returned home with a significant injury or illness 
attributable to chemical exposure," though he admits that "a few 
former volunteers later claimed that the testing had caused them to 
suffer from some malady." Such claims, however, are difficult to 
assess given that so many intervening variables may have contributed 
to a particular problem.

A follow-up study conducted by the Army Inspector General's office 
and a review panel convened by the National Academy of Sciences found 
little evidence of serious harm resulting from the Edgewood 
experiments. But a 1975 Army IG report noted that improper 
inducements may have been used to recruit volunteers and that getting 
their "informed consent" was somewhat dubious given that scientists 
had a limited understanding of the short- and long-term impact of 
some of the compounds tested on the soldiers.

Ketchum draws a sharp distinction between clinical research with 
human subjects under controlled conditions at Edgewood Arsenal and 
the CIA's reckless experiments on random, unwitting Americans who 
were given LSD surreptitiously by spooks and prostitutes. "Jim is 
very certain of his own integrity," says Ken Goffman, aka R.U. 
Sirius, the former editor of the psychedelic tech magazine Mondo 
2000. "There is little doubt in his mind that he was doing the right 
thing. He felt he was working for a noble cause that would reduce 
civilian and military casualties." Goffman helped Ketchum edit and 
polish his book manuscript, which vigorously defends the Edgewood 
research program.

Strange bedfellows, the colonel and the counterculture scribe. Or so 
it would appear. But these days, Ketchum and Goffman see eye to eye 
on many issues. Both feel that the alleged dangers of marijuana and 
LSD have been way overblown. No doubt, LSD could wreak havoc on the 
toughest, best-trained troops, derailing their thought processes and 
disorganizing their behavior.

When used wisely, however, LSD can be uplifting. Ketchum notes that 
some soldiers had insightful and rewarding experiences on acid, 
lending credence to reports from civilian psychiatrists that LSD was 
a useful therapeutic tool. "I had an interest in psychedelic drugs 
long before my interest in chemical warfare," Ketchum says. "I was 
intrigued by the positive aspects of LSD, as well as the 
incapacitating aspects."

Mystery Stash

One morning, Ketchum arrived at his office in Edgewood and found "a 
large, black steel barrel, resembling an oil drum, parked in the 
corner of the room," he recounts in his book. Overcome by curiosity, 
he opened the barrel and examined its contents. There were a dozen 
tightly sealed glass canisters that looked like cookie jars; the 
labels on the canisters indicated that each contained about three 
pounds of "EA 1729," the Army's code number for LSD. By the end of 
the week, the 40 pounds of government acid -- enough to intoxicate 
several hundred million people -- vanished as mysteriously as it had 
appeared. Ketchum still doesn't know who put the LSD in his office or 
what became of it.

But this much is certain: Some officers at Edgewood were dipping into 
the Army's stash for their own personal use. "They took LSD more 
often than was necessary to appreciate its clinical effects," Ketchum 
admits. "They must have liked it."

The colonel was personally a bit skittish about trying LSD. 
Eventually, he worked up the courage to experiment on himself. Under 
the watchful eye of a knowledgeable Edgewood physician, he swallowed 
a small dose and proceeded to take the same numerical aptitude tests 
that the regular volunteers were put through to measure their 
impairment. Constrained by the white-smock laboratory setting, his 
lone LSD experience was somewhat anticlimactic. "Colors were more 
vivid and music was more compelling," Ketchum recalls, "but there 
were no breakthroughs in consciousness, no Timothy Leary stuff."

Ketchum also sampled cannabis shortly after he began working for the 
Chemical Corps. His younger brother turned him on to marijuana, but 
the first time Ketchum smoked a joint nothing happened. "Later, I 
read about reverse tolerance. Some people don't get high on marijuana 
until they use it a few times," Ketchum explains.

It wasn't until he went on a paid, two-year leave of absence from 
Edgewood that he started smoking pot socially. Ketchum had convinced 
the surgeon general of the Army that it would be in everyone's best 
interest if he studied neuroscience at Stanford University. How 
better to keep abreast of the latest advances in the field? In 1966, 
he joined a team of postdoctoral researchers mentored by Karl 
Pribram, a world-renowned expert on the brain and behavior.

Ketchum related well with his academic colleagues. "I got together 
with a few of my friends at Stanford and we had some cheap marijuana, 
which I smoked, and I got a real effect for the first time," he says. 
"I liked it. It was very sensuous. But I didn't use it very often. I 
didn't have any of my own."

Ketchum's West Coast hiatus coincided with the emergence of the 
hippie movement in San Francisco. "I was fascinated with this 
spectacular development," he gleams. "Luckily, I caught it at its peak."

Occasionally, Ketchum took his home movie camera to Haight-Ashbury, 
the epicenter of hippiedom, and filmed the procession of exotically 
dressed flower children strutting through the neighborhood high on 
marijuana and LSD. "I was always interested in drugs, primarily 
because I've always been interested in how the mind works," he says. 
"So when this wave of psychedelic users descended upon San Francisco, 
I thought maybe I'd learn more by going there."

Ketchum attended the legendary Be-In in Golden Gate Park in January 
1967, sitting cross-legged on the lawn with 20,000 pot-smoking 
enthusiasts, soaking up the rays and listening to rock music, poetry 
and anti-war speeches. A few months later, the colonel began working 
as a volunteer doctor at the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic, where he 
treated troubled youth with substance abuse problems.

Life After Edgewood

Ketchum returned to Edgewood in 1968, but the mood back at 
headquarters was not the same as before. Growing opposition to the 
Vietnam War and public disapproval of the use of napalm and toxic 
defoliants cast a lengthening shadow over classified research into 
chemical weapons. When journalists briefly got wind of the Army's 
ambitious psychochemical warfare program, they scoffed at the notion 
of making the enemy lay down their arms by turning them on.

The colonel saw the writing on the wall. Army brass consented when he 
asked to be transferred to another base in the early 1970s. By this 
time, the Chemical Corps had concluded that marijuana-related 
compounds would not be effective in a battlefield situation, but the 
testing of other incapacitating agents under field conditions would 
proceed. And drug companies continued to supply a steady stream of 
pharmaceutical samples for evaluation by the military.

In 1976, Ketchum retired from the Army and embarked upon a new career 
as a civilian psychiatrist in California. Commissioned by the 
California Department of Justice, he collaborated on a 1981 study 
comparing the effects of alcohol and smoked marijuana on driving 
performance. The results were somewhat surprising. "When combined 
with alcohol, cannabis produced little additional impairment," he concluded.

"While alcohol had an adverse impact on steering, THC affected a 
driver's ability to estimate time. But the combination of both drugs 
did not substantially increase the impairment produced by either one 
alone. ... In fact, there was an antagonistic effect. Marijuana 
seemed to offset some of the problems caused by alcohol, and vice versa."

Ketchum feels that drug prohibition is bad public policy. "It's the 
refusal to look at the evidence that keeps pot illegal. They 
misrepresented marijuana as an evil weed. ... I've always had a 
libertarian attitude toward drugs. I believe people should be able to 
do anything as long as it's not harmful to somebody else."

In the years ahead, Ketchum would reach out to medical marijuana 
trailblazers, prominent psychedelic advocates and drug-policy rebels 
working inside and outside the system to end prohibition. He joined 
the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and became 
a member of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS).

Founded by Rick Doblin, MAPS has spearheaded the revival of 
scientific investigations into the therapeutic potential of LSD, 
ecstasy, psilocybin and ibogaine, while also challenging bureaucratic 
roadblocks that prevent independent cannabis research in the United 
States. Ketchum attended fundraising events and wrote letters to 
potential donors, praising the work of MAPS.

During the 1960s, Ketchum supervised thousands of drug experiments, 
yet he barely scratched the surface of the awesome potential of 
cannabis and LSD. "Jim is not apologetic for what he did before," 
Doblin says, "and I don't think he sees it as incongruous with 
supporting research into the therapeutic aspect of psychedelics. 
These tools have tremendous power, but he only looked at a narrow 
slice of it while he was at Edgewood."

Today, Ketchum steadfastly maintains that cannabis and LSD are safe 
drugs compared to many legal substances. This is what the Edgewood 
experiments and other studies have shown, he contends. Given his 
status as a retired army officer who had extensive, hands-on 
experience testing psychoactive compounds, he speaks with a certain 
authority that most medical and recreational drug users cannot claim.

Medical Marijuana

After Californians broke ranks from America's drug-war orthodoxy in 
1996 and legalized medical marijuana in the Golden State, Ketchum got 
a recommendation from his family doctor to use cannabis for insomnia. 
"I have personally found it helpful, especially for sleep," he says. 
"I've had problems with sleep for a long time."

It was at a picnic hosted by the Shulgins that Jim and Judy Ketchum 
first met Tod Mikuriya, the controversial Berkeley-based physician 
who has been described as "the father of the medical marijuana 
movement." One of the prime movers of Proposition 215, the successful 
med-pot ballot measure, Mikuriya quickly took a liking to the 
Ketchums and taught them how to use a vaporizer for inhaling cannabis 
fumes without tar and smoke.

An incurable iconoclast, the colonel has made common cause with 
counterculture veterans and anti-prohibition activists. His 
endorsement of the therapeutic use of marijuana and LSD confers 
additional credibility on views long championed by his newfound 
allies. Validation, in this case, goes both ways. Embraced as one of 
the elders, a peculiar elder to be sure, Ketchum somehow fits right in.

"I don't have a problem with being difficult to categorize," he says.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake