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Did the CIA’s Experiments With Psychedelic Drugs Unwittingly Create the Grateful Dead?

Collectors Weekly
Dec 4, 2015 · 20 min read
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The undated Muir Beach Acid Test poster by Paul Foster. The one on the left was hand-colored by Sunshine Kesey. Via dead.net.

“‘We’re the Grateful Dead,’ he said, and the impact, in my state of mind at that point, was severe.”

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Author Ken Kesey used some of the money he made from his 1962 novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, to fund the Acid Tests of 1965 and 1966.
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Neal Cassady, seen here in a photo by poet Allen Ginsberg, was the prototype for the hero in On the Road by Jack Kerouac. Both Cassady and Ginsberg were participants in the Acid Tests.
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Mountain Girl and Jerry Garcia, 1966. Via paloaltohistory.org.

“The Acid Test was the prototype for our whole basic trip.”

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The Grateful Dead performing at Troupers Hall in Los Angeles on March 25, 1966. This show is often listed as an Acid Test, but it was not, according to photographer Rosie McGee. From left to right: Pigpen, Garcia, Lesh, Kreutzmann, and Weir.
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In 1965, LSD was still legal in California, where the early Acid Tests took place. Image on left courtesy Farmer Dodds. Image on right courtesy the Herb Museum.
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According to Ken Kesey, Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, published in 1968, was 98 percent accurate.
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Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters selected San Jose as the site of the second Acid Test because the Rolling Stones were in town.
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Future “Rolling Stone” publisher Jann Wenner attended the San Jose Acid Test. Photo by Baron Wolman via jannswenner.com.

“Kesey and the Merry Pranksters were more aligned with the ‘turn on, tune in, drop out’ school of acid exegesis.”

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The Grateful Dead performed at this concert, but their name is not on the poster, and a newspaper review of the show three days later refers to them as the Warlocks. Via jerrygarcia.com.
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The Muir Beach Lodge, circa 1948, site of an Acid Test on either December 11 or 18, 1965. Via bellobeach.com.
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The Big Beat, site of the third or fourth Acid Test, was still standing when Corry Arnold took this photo in 2009; it has since been torn down. Via Rock Prosopography 101.
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Mountain Girl’s Acid Test graduation diploma, via SF Rock Posters.
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This photo of the Grateful Dead taken by Bob Seidemann became a head-shop poster in 1967.
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The Grateful Dead’s first album was released in March of 1967. That October, band members Pigpen and Bob Weir were busted for possession of marijuana. Originally charged with felonies, the rock stars got off with wrist slaps — misdemeanors and light fines.

Ben Marks

General Manager, Collectors Weekly

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