Why did George Harrison give up LSD?
A deeply disturbing Haight-Ashbury trip changes perception
The Beatles famously brought LSD to public attention. Paul McCartney, the last to take it, briefly became a fervent advocate. In interviews he became the first public figure to ‘come out’ regarding his usage. He also waxed lyrical about its benefits in widely publicised interviews — making vague references to it explaining ‘the mystery of life’ (do tell, Paul!).
Less well known is that George Harrison, an early enthusiast, abruptly abandoned acid in 1967. This was partly in response to the Maharashi’s disapproval of recreational drugs (though that did not stop the Beatles consuming industrial quantities of hashish at Rishikesh). More significant was Harrison’s personal discovery of the collateral damage caused by LSD in the the epicentre of the counter-culture in California.
On 7 August 1967, George Harrison flew with his then wife Patti, Neil Aspinall and Derek Taylor to San Francisco. They were in the US to visit George’s sister, Jenny but were also keen to visit the increasingly famous ‘Hippy Heaven’ area of Haight Ashbury in San Francisco.
Not so many flowers
Are you going to San Francisco/Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair
Scott McKenzie released his single in May 1967. A huge worldwide hit, it acted as a siren call to those attracted by the ideas of the counter-culture. Young runaways began arriving in large numbers from all over the US. Drug dealing petty criminals moved in to exploit them.
By August the situation in Haight Ashbury was spiralling out of control. The atmosphere was especially tense during the weekend that George’s party flew in. Four days earlier two dealers had been murdered in horrific fashion.
Apparently unaware of this turn for the worse, the English stumbled into a depressingly sordid scene.
We were expecting Haight-Ashbury to be special, a creative and artistic place, filled with Beautiful People, but it was horrible — full of ghastly drop-outs, bums and spotty youths, all out of their brains. Everybody looked stoned — even mothers and babies — and they were so close behind us they were treading on the backs of our heels. Derek Taylor
News of the appearance of a Beatle spread rapidly. With the crowd building, Taylor began to fear for their physical safety:
It got to the point where we couldn’t stop for fear of being trampled. Then somebody said, ‘Let’s go to Hippie Hill,’ and we crossed the grass, our retinue facing us, as if we were on stage. They looked as us expectantly — as if George was some kind of Messiah.
There has been speculation that amongst those jostling The Beatles entourage were future members of the Manson family. Manson later told his biographer that Haight Ashbury at this time had become too violent for him “the district was getting ugly and mean.” source
More convincingly George Harrison would claim in Anthology to have come to the same conclusion.
….It certainly showed me what was really happening in the drug cult. It wasn’t what I thought with all these groovy people having spiritual awakenings and being artistic. It was like any addiction. So at that point, I stopped taking it actually… the dreadful lysergic. That’s where I really went for the meditation.
Off to see Rishi
Later in that tumultuous August, The Beatles attended a lecture by the Maharishi Yogi in London. They immediately signed up for more of the same in Bangor, North Wales. It was there that they received the destablising news of Brian Epstein’s death
One of the conditions for joining Team Rishi was that they renounce drug use. This resolution proved short-lived in Lennon’s case, but neither George nor Paul continued to take LSD from that point on.
The Beatles Story (teaching resources)