CAN YOU PASS THE ACID TEST?
The year was 1965. LSD was not federally illegal yet, but was still not widely available because of the demand for pure acid crystals from Sandoz Laboratories (the inventor and patent holder of LSD) was so high (har har). So, heroes of my parents’ generation, like the famous Sound Engineer of Grateful Dead fame, Mr. Owsley Stanley, took it upon themselves to make as much acid as the market demanded.
The name “Acid Test” was modeled after the gold miner’s acid test, where a mixture of acids called agua regia (known since ancient times) were used to determine the purity of gold. This lingo entered common west coast jargon in the 1850s (see my article on Pacific northwest pigeon English).
The first acid test was conducted in ’65, on Ken Kesey’s farm in La Honda, California. The Merry Pranksters, a nomadic hippie group that included such famous beatniks as Neal Cassady, were central to organizing the Acid Tests.
They were advertised with posters that read “CAN YOU PASS THE ACID TEST?”, and the name was later popularized in Tom Wolfe’s 1968 book, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (see my book review of TEKAT for more information).
Musical performances by the Grateful Dead were commonplace, along with black lights, strobe lights, and fluorescent paint, which became the basis of the San Francisco area music sound, and marked a milestone in the transition from the beat generation to the hippie movement.
The last (official) Acid Test was on Halloween, 1967, in San Francisco, at Winterland Ballroom. This was the famous graduation ceremony where Kesey encouraged his followers to go “beyond acid.”
Despite the “graduation” concept of the last Acid Test, The Merry Pranksters organized another party, modeled after Kesey’s Acid Tests, in Texas. It was held by Kesey’s friend Larry McMurtry on October 24th, 1968.
Borne out of a legal if frowned-upon practice, these acid chemists’ hobbies were all illegalized in the US less than 3 years later with the passage of the Staggers-Dodd Bill, which criminalized the recreational use of LSD in America.
International distribution rings grew from there… Operation Julie, the biggest LSD seizure until Pickard was found in a missile silo the 1990s, was conducted in ’77, just a little over a decade after the first acid test.
The period between 1977 and 1996 (Nick Sand’s final arrest) proved practically fruitless for the DEA. The LSD Fraternity that was started during the acid tests remains one of the only international organizations never infiltrated, dismantled, or busted by the Drug Czars, American or otherwise. I like to think we won that round.
At this point, many of them, the survivors we call “Uncles,” are in their venerable ages and have passed on most of their knowledge to the next generation.