James Ketchum, Who Conducted LSD Experiments on Soldiers, Dies at 87


While the experiments used popular recreational drugs of the 1960s counterculture — marijuana derivatives, mescaline and lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD — many subjects were exposed to a more powerful compound called BZ (3-quinuclidinyl benzilate), which produced acute anxiety, paranoia and delusions.

To test soldiers’ performance under the influence of BZ, Dr. Ketchum in 1962 had a fully equipped communications outpost constructed at Edgewood — an enclosed mock-up resembling a Hollywood set. One soldier received a placebo, but three others were given varying doses of the drug. All were locked up in the “communications center” and for three days subjected to barrages of commands and messages suggesting that they were under attack.

Dr. Ketchum, who often filmed his experiments with a theatrical flair, called this scenario “The Longest Weekend.” As hidden color cameras rolled and radio warnings of chemical assaults intensified, soldiers panicked, donned gas masks, tried to escape and lapsed into deliriums that lasted up to 60 hours. The Army concluded that BZ could disable a small military unit in a compact space, and for a time produced stockpiles of volleyball-size BZ bomblets.

But to test BZ in battlefield conditions, Dr. Ketchum in 1964 developed a sprawling experiment, code-named Project Dork, at the Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, to determine if clouds of BZ could incapacitate enemy troops at 500 and 1,000 yards. He deployed soldiers in goggled masks and protective clothing, two prefabricated hospitals staffed with doctors and nurses, a generator to create BZ clouds, and television cameras to make a documentary.

He called this 45-minute black-and-white film “Cloud of Confusion.” With Bela Bartok’s “The Miraculous Mandarin” as mood music, a white cloud engulfs soldiers as a narrator intones, “And on this desert this cloud was unleashed so men could measure the dimensions of its stupefying power.”

The soldiers are seen disoriented, stumbling about in confusion. But Army officials ruled the test a failure because there was no way to control the psychedelic cloud.

Source : Nytimes