Master LSD Chemist Owsley Stanley's Life Chronicled In New Book

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Master LSD Chemist Owsley Stanley's Life Chronicled In New Book

By Seth Ferranti 11/22/16

Bear: The Life and Times of Augustus Owsley Stanley III profiles the curious life of the master chemist and Grateful Dead insider. 

Master LSD Chemist Owsley Stanley's Life Chronicled In New Book
Owsley and Garcia at airport Photo credit: Rosie McGee

Back before LSD was made illegal after 1966, Augustus Owsley Stanley, aka "Bear"—not widely known outside of the hippie counterculture—produced the purest and cleanest acid since Albert Hofmann, the Swiss chemist who first synthesized the drug.

Bear: The Life and Times of Augustus Owsley Stanley III, by prolific rock scribe Robert Greenfield, details the life of the Grateful Dead insider who became a master chemist, did sound for the band and recorded some of their most famous live performances. This jack-of-all-trades was a central figure in the rise of the counterculture, and without him the Sixties wouldn’t have had the same impact or evolved as they did. 


Owsley behind amps - Photo credit: Amalie R. Rothschild

“He wasn’t a dealer ever,” Robert Greenfield tells The Fix about the man known as Bear. “He never sold on the street. He would give the stuff out at big events like the Monterey Pop Festival. He was this very reclusive and shadowy figure. Nobody ever knew what he looked like, so he became this legendary figure. When the Dead started playing arenas, they didn’t like the sound and Bear created what we call the Wall of Sound. Phil Lesh said it was like piloting a spaceship. The great Deadheads will tell you the band never sounded was good as they did through the Wall of Sound.”

In the book, Greenfield also looks at what LSD was being used for before it was made illegal. Just like marijuana, doctors and chemists thought that LSD had a lot of medical value. Artists have talked about the creative effects of LSD for years. As he delved into the life of Bear, Greenfield discovered the history of tripping for medical purposes. 

“Serious research is once again being done into the use of LSD in medically supervised therapeutic situations,” Greenfield tells The Fix. “As soon as Albert Hofmann took acid, the first thing he thought about was this would be of use as a psychiatric tool. What people don’t remember or really know is that it was being used to treat alcoholics in the Fifties. 

“It was being given out by Dr. Oscar Janiger. In Los Angeles, he gave it to Cary Grant. He gave it to Anaïs Nin, a very famous writer. Henry Luce, who ran Time Incorporated, took acid. His wife, Clare Boothe Luce, who was a very famous playwright and political figure, took acid. When Aldous Huxley was dying in Los Angeles on Nov. 22, 1963, the day that John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, his wife Laura (who I interviewed) shot him up with two 100 microgram doses of Owsley LSD. He died tripping.”

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