by Peter Fernandez

BIll Wilson Birthplace, East Dorset, Vermont

Aldous Huxley is best known for authoring the now prophetic novel Brave New World, but he was also a trailblazing advocate of a 1940s-50s “New Age” consciousness movement. The British writer-teacher-lecturer would become a good friend of Norwich alumnus Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. 

Huxley had heard of Alcoholics Anonymous’ success in transforming human lives, and since the two men shared a mutual friend in Gerald Heard, yet another English writer/radio commentator, they soon met. During the winter of 1943-44 at Huxley’s Trabuco College, a spiritual retreat facility in Southern California, they brainstormed human development.  According to the Wilson biography, Pass It On, “Bill and Huxley had an immediate rapport, a rapport that Bill, incidentally, was immensely proud of, although Huxley was not an alcoholic.”

Since both men were keenly interested in the advancement of human consciousness through mental, intellectual, and spiritual development, they had much to discuss. Huxley was convinced that the ego acted as the brain’s receptive re-stricter to true mindfulness, and only through ego reduction, could we evolve. Wilson believed an acute alcoholic, such as himself, now abstinent over twenty years, could not achieve and maintain sobriety, without experiencing a “spiritual awakening.” He had already undergone an abstemious resurrection, but what about all the other still-suffering drunks?  Perhaps it was here that Wilson asked Huxley about his psychedelic drug experiences yet it wasn’t until 1956 that the Yankee from East Corinth would decide to take LSD. Under the medical supervision of Dr. Sidney Cohen,  a noted  LSD researcher and UCLA psychiatrist, Wilson was administered the experimental drug at a Los Angeles veterans hospital.

According to an article by Don Lattin, Bill Wilson, LSD and the Secret Psychedelic History of Alcoholics Anonymous – Lucid News, Wilson stated, “It was a matter of finding ‘a power greater than ourselves’ that “could restore us to sanity,” He warned: “I don’t believe [LSD] has any miraculous property of transforming spiritually and emotionally sick people into healthy ones overnight. It can set up a shining goal on the positive side, after all, it is only a temporary ego-reducer.”

In a 1957 letter to Heard, Wilson wrote, “I am certain that the LSD experience has helped me very much. I find myself with a heightened color perception and an appreciation of beauty almost destroyed by my years of depression…” 

Soon after Wilson’s  LSD  experience had become AA gossip, he contributed this in a 1958 Grapevine (AA publication) newsletter: “We can be grateful for every agency or method that tries to solve the problem of alcoholism — whether of medicine, religion, education, or research. We can be open-minded toward all such efforts, and we can be sympathetic when the ill-advised ones fail.”

Since a vast number of recovering alcoholics believe he had helped liberate them from alcohol, Bill W’s reported LSD use was disillusioning. “Wilson’s sincere belief that people in an abstinence-only addiction recovery program could benefit from taking a psychedelic drug was a contradiction that AA leadership did not want to entertain,” writes  Katie McBridge in the February 9, 2022 issue of Inverse, an online science magazine. For the same reason, Wilson was initially reluctant to have alcoholics participate, until he tried it.

Suffering from clinical depression for the better part of his being, Wilson knew that abstinence from alcohol and narcotics was a must, but untreated depressive disorder, historically an all too common malady for many recovering AAs, needed investigation.  

According to The Guardian, a British periodical, “Between 1950 and 1965, around 40,000 patients (in the US and Britain) were prescribed lysergic acid to treat conditions as diverse as alcoholism, schizophrenia   and PTSD.” Neurophilosophy + Psychology | Science | The Guardian Results were mixed, English and US hospitals were sued by patients’ families, and in 1966 the drug was made illegal in both countries. Then came Easy Rider, Jimi Hendrix, and the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album with Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds (LSD) and Woodstock.

Wilson made his amends to Alcoholics Anonymous, and the burgeoning program survived this public display of “dysfunctional behavior.” Not one for keeping secrets, and still searching for answers,  Bill W.  started a correspondence with Carl Jung, the famous Swiss psychologist, in 1961. Jung agreed with Wilson that a “spiritual awakening,” or a new awareness of reality, was required for a chronic alcoholic to recover from alcoholism. In the letter,  Jung also cited that “spiritus” was by no coincidence the Latin term for alcohol. No doubt, Wilson was familiar with the Japanese proverb: “The man takes a drink. The drink takes a drink. And the drink takes the man.”

In 1938, LSD was first synthesized by Albert Hoffman, a Swiss chemist, who perhaps lacking lab rodents and common sense, ingested the drug itself not knowing its effects.  Yikes!  In his autobiography published in 1980,  Hofmann stated, “I could not speak intelligibly,” and asked his lab assistant to help him return home safely.


Reporter’s Note, 

CAUTION: LSD, mescaline, all psychedelic drugs are illegal for good reason(s). 

The author is a children’s book author and Vermont resident.

Categories: History

3 replies »

  1. Huxley wrote “Brave New World,” not “1984,” which was written by George Orwell. BNW’s tyranny was based on regimentation through substances and endless entertainment.

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