BY HENRIK DAHL
In 1966, Tim Scully lived with and built sound equipment for the Grateful Dead. He is also known as the sidekick of Owsley “Bear” Stanley, perhaps the most well-known manufacturer of LSD in the 1960s. The two set up a lab in Point Richmond, California, and started making acid together. They parted company at the end of 1967 when Owsley was arrested. Scully set up his own lab and during this time he was briefly associated with The Brotherhood of Eternal Love, an organisation that was using LSD as a religious sacrament and who were distributing Scully’s acid. A year later he set up a third lab with Nick Sand, another chemist making psychedelics. Scully’s persona as one of the major acid manufacturers of the hippie era finally caught up with him, and he spent several years in prison in the 1970s.
I got in touch with Tim Scully in 2003. Back then, I was making research on The Brotherhood of Eternal Love, and my main reason for getting in touch with Scully was to learn more of his days with the organisation. We corresponded by email. The text below is an edited version of these messages.
Martin A. Lee and Bruce Shlain’s Acid Dreams tells us the story of The Brotherhood, and also frequently mentions you. The book gives the impression that you once were a very devoted man, with a firm belief in the inherent spiritual qualities of acid.
– I can’t speak for everyone. Although when we took LSD we felt that we all understood each other and agreed on some deep level, I now think that feeling was sometimes an illusion.
– When I took LSD, the experience was so magical that I wanted to share it with everyone and make it available to everyone who wanted it. I believed that this would make the world a better place, at a time when it was very troubled, e.g. the war in Vietnam . I believed that others would have experiences similar to those I had, if they tried LSD, and I believed that such an experience would make people gentler, more caring, more conscious and at one with the universe. I thought of LSD as an entheogen , though that term was not in use at the time. I also believed that this is what the Brotherhood [of Eternal Love] members believed.
– Now, in hindsight, it appears that LSD doesn’t carry a specific message with it. I like the model presented in Acid Dreams, that LSD is an amplifier. Given the proper set and setting it can be a powerful entheogen. But with different set and setting it can be an interrogation aid for the CIA or a party drug or any number of other things. So I think a good cultural context is needed for entheogens to function, such as in Huxley’s Island or as in primitive cultures.
– I have also learned that although many idealists were drawn to make and distribute LSD, that this scene was and is also a magnet for con artists. I think Ron Stark probably was a world class example. I’m currently skeptical of the theory that he was a CIA agent, by the way.
— I only had close contacts with a few brothers during the time I was making acid, for security reasons. And the years I was making acid were from 1966-1970, with only the period from late 1968-mid 1970 overlapping with the Brotherhood. My main contacts were with John Griggs, Mike Randell and Ed May. I believe they were all sincere in sharing my beliefs. Of the three, only Mike Randell is still alive now. Since then, I have seen the testimony of several former brothers who became informers. I have read of the alleged involvement of some Brothers in dealing hard drugs. I don’t have any personal knowledge of the accuracy of this last allegation. I was always of the opinion that forcing entheogens into the same channels as other drugs would corrupt some people, and that certainly happened to some people. It is too bad we weren’t able to give them away.
— I have met many people who took LSD. The vast majority believe they benefited from the experience. A few obviously did not and I feel bad about them. I think a higher percentage of the people who made or sold LSD were harmed by doing so.
— With regard to the accuracy of Tendler and May’s book [The Brotherhood of Eternal Love], in many areas I am impressed with the research they did. I hope the Tendler and May book was inaccurate in saying that in later years the Brothers lost their idealism. Since I wasn’t in touch with them, I don’t know.
We were in a race with time to garner enough raw material to make enough acid to turn on the world before it became impossible.
You say that you only were in close contact with three of the Brothers. I understand your position as a major acid chemist was unique and that the security you mentioned was of great importance, but did you see yourself as a “Brother” or just somebody helping them doing a righteous thing?
— Many people shared the goal of turning on the world in the ’60s. There wasn’t nearly as formal an organization as the government seemed to believe. Nick [Sand] and I cooperated in obtaining raw materials, for example, but were in many ways working completely independently. Nick, Bear and I all got some help from Billy Hitchcock, but again, this was a very loose arrangement and not at all the kind of organization that most folks imagine. Perhaps it would be more accurate to describe it as a community of common interests or a network.
— I don’t have a clear sense of how formal the Brotherhood was, but I suspect that it also was pretty informal, with various “members” doing their own thing but sharing resources. They made me an honorary member, giving me a necklace with a symbol which the members would recognize. But it was an extremely loose association.
The psychedelic counterculture of today is now an underground phenomena and probably very different from what it was in the Sixties. It is more likely that people pick up a book by Terence McKenna rather than reading Timothy Leary’s manual based on The Tibetan Book of the Dead. McKenna made a big impact in the 1990s, but instead of LSD opting for the use of Psilocybin mushrooms and also DMT, saying LSD simply isn’t very spiritual in nature. McKenna’s view on acid as less spiritual seems to have become somewhat established.
Could this shift in attitude possibly have anything to do with the degradation in the quality of acid? There are recent reports showing that the LSD of today is much weaker and also of inferior quality, while your Orange Sunshine was said to be even purer than that of the Sandoz laboratories.
— Yes, Bear and I both made every effort to make the purest possible LSD. We aimed to get 3600 doses per gram of pure crystalline LSD. We always dispersed it on tribasic calcium phosphate which was thereafter diluted with lactose. In the earliest period, Bear put the resulting mixture in #5 geletin capsules. Later we switched to tablets, either tablet triturates or compression molded, depending on the equipment we had available. The tribasic calcium phosphate had a strong affinity for the LSD and kept it evenly distributed throughout the tablet or capsule. This protected the labile LSD from decomposition due to exposure to UV light, extreme Ph, etc. Tablets were harder to counterfit or adulterate.
— There was one small batch of acid which Bear combined with 1mg of STP as an experiment. He concluded that STP was a bad idea and reverted to pure LSD.
— I gather from reading on the web that modern acid is usually distributed on blotters, a cheap but very bad distribution method since it leaves the acid vulnerable to rapid decomposition, and that a typical dose is not 50 micrograms. I don’t have much information yet on the purity of present-day street acid, though I’m looking for published reports.
— I’d expect several factors to influence the kind of trips people have. Certainly the size of dose makes a big difference. After that I would rank set and setting with impurities coming in last, assuming they are not unusually toxic. That doesn’t mean I think purity is unimportant. I just suspect that the other factors may be substantially more of an influence in this case. One blessing of the small doses popular now is that extreme bad trips are more rare.
Do you think acid will be around in the future and if so, will this drug be relevant in any spiritual or scientific way rather than just being the party drug it has become?
— I have met many people who are still using LSD for spiritual purposes. I doubt that will stop. If the current drug war ever abates, I think it is likely that scientific and medical research would resume. I also think that more frivolous uses of LSD will also continue.
You still claim that it would have been better to give the acid away rather than selling it. Was this way of thinking shared by others in the community? Viewing LSD as a religious sacrament, like the early Brothers from Anaheim did, also makes the idea of selling it absurd. In what way did people justify charging money for it?
— Without a wealthy patron to finance the production and distribution, selling it was the most straightforward way of financing the costs, which were very substantial. The raw materials were very hard to buy and involved bribes, smuggling, etc. There were ever increasing legal expenses in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Setting up and operating a good clandestine lab is not cheap either. Tabletting is also expensive. The last tablet machine I was involved with, in 1970, cost $15,000. I read that one costing $100,000 was confiscated in one of Nick’s labs. A substantial fraction, perhaps 1/3, of the acid I made was given away.
— Nevertheless, it appears to me that some people were corrupted by the money that flowed through the pipeline. And certainly having LSD in the same milieu as cocaine and heroin, particularly when government propaganda made every effort to erase the distinctions between drugs, led all too many people into deep trouble with hard drugs.
— During the years when I was making LSD, I was very concerned with the likelihood that the authorities would make raw materials completely impossible to obtain at some point. I felt that we were in a race with time to garner enough raw material to make enough acid to turn on the world before it became impossible. I think others shared this view and labs scaled up as rapidly as raw materials and resources permitted.
— At the time, we fantasized about various free distribution methods. One unrealized fantasy was to buy one of those postcard advertising inserts for a mass-market magazine such as LIFE and, after publication, tell everyone that there was a dose of LSD hidden on each postcard. But we never had the wherewithall to make that happen.
Out of curiosity, I’d also like to know how long you stayed on The Merry Pranksters’ Bus? According to Acid Dreams you helped them install the sound equipment, is this right?
— I designed and built sound equipment for the Dead, lived with them and worked as a roadie for about the first 6 or 7 months of 1966. Then when the Point Richmond lab started up, the Dead wanted Bear and I to move out, so we did.
By Henrik Dahl
Featured image: Tim Scully photographed at the McNeil Island Prison (photographer unknown).
This article was originally titled A Correspondence with Tim Scully.