How Ram Dass’ Life Lasted Changing Attitudes About LSD


This week brought with it the sad news that Baba Ram Dass died at the age of 88. His obituary at The Guardian detailed the arc of his life: from academic to psychedelic advocate to spiritual figure. His life overlapped with that of a number of notable counterculture figures, most notably Timothy Leary, but his life also escapes easy categorization; his place in culture cannot be summed up precisely in one short sentence, as many of his former colleagues might have been.

Ram Dass first rose to prominence for his research alongside Timothy Leary on the effects of LSD and other psychedelics. They carried out this research at Harvard University until 1963, when the university fired them. It wasn’t because the substances they were working with were illegal at the time, however – they weren’t. And that fact opens the door to one of the most fascinating parts of Ram Dass’ life.

As a young man, psychedelics weren’t illegal; instead, they have been the subject of great scientific interest. Aldous Huxley’s book in 1954 The doors of perception focused on his experience with mescaline; it was seen as a major literary event, as opposed to an obscure countercultural work. LSD was not necessarily common at that time, but it also occupied a more central place in culture than one would expect.

In the late 1960s, things changed and LSD became criminalized. From there, LSD moved underground – to some extent it had to. And LSD itself has fallen into disuse: a 2004 article in Slate A University of Michigan study reported on a massive drop in its use reported: “The group has never seen such a dramatic drop in the use of an established illicit drug as they now see with LSD.

But things have a way of going backwards over time. And over the last few years of Ram Dass’ life, he has seen attitudes towards LSD evolve into a more therapeutic role for drugs. In an interview earlier this year with The New York Times Magazine, he spoke of LSD in terms reminiscent of the sacred. “I gave LSD to my guru in India, and he said that plants with similar effects used to exist and that by taking them you could stay in the room with Christ for just a few hours instead of living with it. Lord, ”he said. said David Marchese.

The growing popularity of microdosing, described in leading books by Ayelet waldman and Michael pollan, also reinforced the idea that – as Ram Dass and Timothy Leary argued decades ago – psychedelics can be good for you. And given that Steve Jobs spoke enthusiastically about his own experiences with LSD, there’s probably a business school class somewhere that teaches you how psychedelics can make you a better disruptor in your field.

The way LSD was viewed at the start of Ram Dass’ long and rich life may not have been perfectly aligned with how it was viewed towards its end, but the colon is closer than it is. it seems. And it’s hard to deny that Ram Dass’ own work has contributed to this resurgence.

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