One might assume experimentation with psychedelic drugs during the 1960s was a pastime limited to hippies, trippers and youngsters. However, a British military operation conducted in 1964 would suggest otherwise.
Dubbed ‘Operation Moneybags’, the experiment sought to explore the use of psychedelic drugs to incapacitate enemy combatants.
As part of the study, Royal Marines Commandos were given LSD before deploying on exercises in the English countryside. The exercise itself was conducted over three days, two of which were “control days” where exercises went on as usual.
On the third day, the Royal Marines were dosed. Thereafter, researchers observed their activity and behaviour while out in the field.
In video footage available online Royal Marines are seen struggling while on a training exercise, with some incapable of holding it together and laughing hysterically.
Footage also shows officers struggling to maintain order in their unit while conducting manoeuvres while others were found climbing trees and frolicking around in the woods.
“With one man climbing a tree to feed the birds,” the narrator says, “the troop commander gave up, admitting he could no longer control himself or his men.”
At one point, a Royal Marine is taken away by nurses after suffering from side effects and nausea.
Operation Moneybags: The Aftermath
Ultimately, Operation Moneybags was deemed a failure by researchers, with the Chemical Defence Advisory Board dismissing claims it could be used to any effect.
Some personnel involved in the experiment suffered lasting effects from their involvement, and several were awarded compensation from the UK Government in 2006.
Operation Moneybags isn’t the only experiment of its kind, either. In the United States, researchers also explored the potential of LSD in military operations or for use in prisoner interrogation.
The US Military’s psychochemical warfare programme, hosted at the Edgewood Arsenal in Maryland, was charged with developing ways of incapacitating enemy combatants with chemical substances.
This programme, conducted for several years, saw more than 5,000 soldiers tested with drugs. Experiments at the Edgewood site wouldn’t stop until the 1970s after the US Army, like its British counterpart, dismissed the use of psychedelics as ‘impractical’.
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Other disturbing experiments were also conducted ‘off the books’, so to speak. In the 1950s, the CIA tested LSD on unwitting civilians as part of Operation Midnight Climax, a sub-project of the infamous MK Ultra programme.
This programme, which sought to examine the use of psychedelics for ‘mind control’ purposes, saw prostitutes in the employ of the CIA lure clients back to designated safehouses.
There onward, the unwitting subjects were dosed with substances including – but not limited to – LSD while they were monitored behind one-way glass. It was hoped that through the use of LSD individuals would divulge secrets during post-coital questioning.
Origins of LSD
Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) was first developed in Switzerland during the 1930s. Albert Hofmann, a researcher with chemical company, Sandoz, created the drug while examining chemicals found in ergot, a fungus commonly found on wheat products.
Ergot, coincidentally, is believed to be the cause of the infamous ‘Dancing Plague’ which saw citizens of Strasbourg dance themselves to the point of exhaustion and death in 1518.
Read more about the ‘Dancing Plague’
LSD was originally created to act as a psychiatric drug and a treatment for addiction or serious mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia. However, the hallucinogenic drug would later be adopted as a recreational substance.
Today, LSD is illegal in most countries worldwide, but its potential applications in treating mental illness and addiction are still being explored by researchers.