How LSD experiment made dolphins one of the most intelligent animals on Earth

56 years ago a group of world’s top scientists gathered in West Virginia, in the Green Bank Observatory to decide if scanning the whole cosmos and waiting for any signs of aliens was a good idea. The observatory held the most powerful radio telescopes and for many years was the first choice when it came to searching for extraterrestrial intelligence. In honor of a neuroscientist John C Lilly they named the group Order of the Dolphin. Why you may ask? It was due to the fact that this neuroscientist spent most of his time taking LSD and attempting to talk to the dolphins.

Later on, Lilly spent more time researching consciousness and the brain of dolphins. He discovered that dolphins have almost the same sized brains as humans. So it popped in his mind: would we be able to communicate with dolphins, if they were as smart as humans?

To make the studies even better than they were, neuroscientist opened the Communication Research Institute on the St. Thomas island, where Lilly and his companions were pioneering the study of dolphin communications. Early experiments showed that dolphins were able to imitate the same speech patterns as humans and their inter-species is very possible.

In Lilly’s article, written in 1967 he specified that he was injecting dolphins with 100 micrograms of LSD and he has been authorized to do that because of research purposes of the therapeutic effects of this particular drug.

Study showed that dolphins were more vocal than usually. It was measured through so called “duty cycle” or in other words the percentage of the time dolphins spend vocalizing per minute. It varied from zero to 70 percent, but the interesting part was that being on LSD, the duty cycle almost never dropped to zero. Interactions with humans or other dolphins (not on LSD) only rose the duty cycle to about 10 percent. They wouldn’t shut up while in contact with another intelligent mammal.

Even though he failed to prove that it is highly possible to establish meaningful communication with his subjects, the work he have done provided some important insights into LSD and psychotherapy.

One of his experiments included a particular dolphin, which was shot through the tail three times with a spear gun. The dolphin was rescued and Lilly thought it would be a good idea to make an experiment out of it. Dolphin’s previous owners had a very close relationship with the animal until the accident. After that he never came near humans again. Two years after the incident, Lilly used this dolphin injecting 100 micrograms of LSD. When LSD effect came 40 minutes after, the dolphin came to the neuroscientist. When he started moving around the tank, dolphin started to follow him wherever he was going.

Despite Lilly’s experiments being a complete failure in an ethical and scientific way, his work impacted people of how we think about psychology, interspecies communication and drugs overall. He was also one of the many people, who helped to make dolphins discovered as one of the most intelligent animals on Earth.

Viktorija Lipkaite

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