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Sixties City
    Drugs and the Sixties        


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60s Sixties City does not condone the use of drugs. This page is intended for background info only.
One, and not the most beneficial, of the social changes exploding from the ground zero of the Sixties was the increasingly widespread use of drugs, most notably LSD and marijuana. Prior to this era marijuana was primarily used by American jazz musicians and other 'hip' denizens of the larger inner cities.

The main followers of this culture in the mid-Fifties, the 'Beats' or 'Beatniks', in idolising and adopting the habits of the jazz musicians, started to use marijuana and references to the allegedly mind-expanding group of drugs, known collectively as hallucinogens, began to make an appearance in protest songs, essays, novels and verse by the Beat poets.

Almost unknown to the American society of the early Sixties and inexplicably still legal until 1966, LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide) gained widespread recognition and notoriety in the U.S. as a consequence of the very public exploits of 'acid gurus' Ken Kesey and Timothy Leary who charmed 60s youth with his mantra "Turn on, Tune in, Drop Out".

By the middle of the decade, and quite insidiously, the use of LSD and marijuana had become quite common amongst the youth of the entire country. In the U.K. the 'drug culture' started with the increasing popularity of amphetamine 'pep pills'.

Timothy LearyAlbert Hofmann A form of pep pill containing the drug Benzedrine had been in use perfectly legally during WW2 to ward off fatigue and tiredness. The post-war development of synthesised drugs rapidly expanded and Benzedrine was being used in drugs for many other purposes, such as weight loss and enhancing self confidence.Amphetamine began to be used more prominently in these drug concoctions and very many varieties could be bought 'over the counter' in chemist shops.

In order to get the energy for their 24 hour dance-til-you-drop lifestyle, mods popularised the perceived common use of drugs. There was always something happening somewhere and the Mod drug of choice, amphetamine, kept them going for days. Although available, marijuana did not fit in with the Mod culture as it had the effect of 'slowing down' not 'speeding up'. It is the modern perception that the Sixties youth society was rife with substances of various sorts, and there is no doubt that they were becoming increasingly available, particularly towards the close of the decade, but the fact is that they were generally pretty hard to get hold of and the actual overall usage was comparatively very low compared to today. At that time, the only legislation the police had to work with was the outdated Dangerous Drugs Act of 1920 which, although amended several times up to and including 1964, did not cover synthetic drugs such as 'amphetamines' and LSD.In 1964 additional legislation known as 'The Drugs (Prevention of Misuse) Act' was introduced in an attempt to control these other substances.

The Dangerous Drugs Act was left in place which led to a misconception that still exists today, in that the substances controlled by the Dangerous Drugs Act are more dangerous than others controlled by the Prevention of Misuse Act. So the mid-Sixties legislation saw opium and its derivatives (heroin, cocaine etc., known as 'hard' drugs) being controlled by the earlier Act of Parliament and the 'pep pills' (that were causing increasing problems for the youth of the country by the end of the decade) were controlled by the 1964 and rapidly became known as soft drugs. Other, more harmful, drugs were to follow, including amphetamine derivatives, barbiturates and cocaine, pushing the concept of the use of 'mind-expanding' drugs to gain some special insight into the world to one side in favour of plain, frequently harmful, recreational use.

Superstars of the day, musicians Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, died directly as a result of such 'recreational drug' use. One of the original proponents of the use of LSD, Ken Kesey, had started to denounce its curative values by early 1967 but, by then, the habit had already taken a grip amongst youth cultures and its use had become too widespread to be so easily controlled. Much was written to try to justify, explain or vilify the use of these drugs, examining the use of substances such as peyote and mescaline in the religious ceremonies of native Americans and referring to the use, in ancient texts, of marijuana for both medicinal and spiritual purposes. One of the most famous of these was Aldous Huxley's 'The Doors of Perception' in which he describes his experimentation with mescaline in Mexico.

The hallucinogenic group of drugs were called "psychedelics" and affected a person's perceptions, sensations, thinking, self-awareness and emotions. It included drugs such as LSD, mescaline, psilocybin mushrooms and DMT. Some of them come from natural sources, such as mescaline which is derived from the peyote cactus. Others, like LSD, were synthetic or manufactured. PCP [phencyclidine] was sometimes considered to be a hallucinogen because it had some of the same effects on the user, but it does not fit so easily into any one drug category.


The most well-known Sixties hallucinogen, LSD, is a chemical discovered by Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann in 1938 at the Sandoz Laboratories in Basel during research for medically useful ergot alkaloid derivatives (LSD is derived from a fungus that grows on rye and other grains). Its 'psychedelic' properties were unsuspected for many years until Hofmann, acting on what he called a "peculiar presentiment", returned to work on the chemical and attributed his discovery of the effects of the substance to the accidental absorption of a tiny amount through his skin on April 16 1943, which led to him testing a larger amount. LSD was originally available in tablet form, but after it was made illegal it was more often used in straight liquid form (via oral, eyeball or mucous membrane entry), crystalline form (window-pane acid), as 'dots' on blotting paper, in a mixture with other drugs (e.g. dropping some onto marijuana before smoking) or a drop on a sugar cube.

An LSD 'trip' could last anything from 2 to 12 hours, when the user experiences distorted vision, impaired judgment and, often, vivid hallucinations. Note: A bad psychological reaction to hallucinogenic drugs is quite common. The frightening sensation may last just a few minutes or many hours and can vary from mildly scary to absolutely terrifying. Flashbacks can occur years after the user has quit taking LSD, where a person may experience the effects of the drug without even taking it. The effects are completely unpredictable and can depend on the quantity taken, mood, personality and external surroundings. Physical effects include increased heart rate and blood pressure, dilated pupils, higher body temperature, sweating, loss of appetite, sleeplessness, dry mouth and shaking. Frightening emotional and mood swings or the feeling of several different emotions simultaneously can cause the user to panic.

Marijuana / Cannabis / Hashish

Grass, pot or weed are common names for the crude drug made from the plant Cannabis Sativa that contains the mind-altering ingredient THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) among more than 400 other chemicals also found in the plant. A marijuana "joint" is made from the dried particles of the plant and the amount of THC in the plant determines the strength of the effect. The strength of today's marijuana can be as much as ten times greater than the marijuana used in the Sixties and this more potent plant increases the possibility of physical and mental effects and health problems for the user. Hashish, or hash, is made by taking the resin from the leaves and flowers of the plant and pressing it into cakes or slabs. Hash is usually stronger than crude marijuana and may contain five to ten times as much THC. Pure THC is almost never available, except for research. Substances sold as THC on the street often turn out to be something else, such as PCP. Some immediate physical effects of marijuana include a faster heartbeat, bloodshot eyes, and a dry mouth / throat. Studies of marijuana's mental effects show that the drug can impair or reduce short-term memory, alter sense of time and reduce the ability to do things that require concentration, swift reactions, and coordination, such as driving a car or operating machinery. A common bad reaction to marijuana is the "acute panic anxiety reaction" which is an extreme fear of "losing control" which, in turn, causes panic. Although these symptoms usually disappear in a few hours, long-term regular users of marijuana may become psychologically dependent.


'Magic mushrooms' are a powerful, naturally occurring hallucinogenic.There are about a dozen varieties of hallucinogenic mushrooms found growing in the wild in the UK, the most popular being the 'Liberty Cap' (Psilocybe Semilanceata). After picking, mushrooms are eaten raw, cooked, made into a drink, or dried for later consumption but as the body quickly develops a tolerance, continued use is unlikely. One of the biggest risks is in people picking and consuming poisonous mushrooms by mistake, which is very easily done.

Mescaline / Peyote

Mescaline is one of the oldest psychedelics known to man and is the major active component of the small dumpling cactus known as Peyote which is a spineless cactus (Lophophora Williamsii) with a long root. Growing in the south-western United States and Mexico, its crown, or 'button', is cut from the cactus and dried into a hard brown disc. The disc, sometimes referred to as a 'mescal button', contains a methoxylated amphetamine.

Drugs, of course, includes alcohol and many other substances than the 'iconic' types listed here. 'It couldn't happen to me'..... maybe not, but here's a list of a few of the famous names of the Sixties who have died from drug-related causes (including suicide), some of whom probably thought the same thing.....

Chet Baker, Florence Ballard,
Lester Bangs, Scotty Beckett, George Best, Dave Bidwell, Mike Bloomfield, John Bonham, James Booker, Lenny Bruce, Tim Buckley, Michael Clarke, Sonny Clark, Montgomery Clift, Brian Cole, Pamela Courson, Dorothy Dandridge, Jesse Ed Davis, Desmond Donnelly, Nick Drake, Bobby Driscoll, John Entwistle, Brian Epstein, Rick Evers, Rory Gallagher, Judy Garland, Bobby Hatfield, Tim Hardin, Wynonie Harris, Alex Harvey, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Hite, Michael Holliday, Howard Hughes, Brian Jones, Janis Joplin, Jack Kerouac, Frankie Lymon, Phil Lynott, Steve Marriott, Clyde McPhatter, Joe Meek, Marilyn Monroe, Keith Moon, Jim Morrison, Johnny O'Keefe, Christina Onassis, John Phillips, Elvis Presley, James Ray, Johnnie Ray, Rachel Roberts, David Ruffin, George Sanders, Jean Seberg, Edie Sedgwick, Judee Sill, Inger Stevens, Rory Storm, Screaming Lord Sutch, Gary Thain, Dinah Washington, Danny Whitten, Alan Wilson, Kenneth Williams, Natalie Wood
Sixties City does not condone the use of drugs - they are highly addictive and can kill. You only have 1 life - don't find out the hard way!

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SixtiesCity 2006