Accompanying Kai Kupferschmidtâ€™s July 3 feature in Science, which discusses a current revival of clinical research on hallucinogens such as LSD and psilocybin, was a curious historical photo. The 1955 copyrightedÂ photo depicts pharmacologist Harry Williams squirting LSD into the mouth of Carl Pfeiffer, chair of pharmacology at Emory during the 1950â€™s.
This was no secret: Pfeiffer was visitingÂ a local television stationâ€™s studio. A wealth of information on Pfeiffer is available (via Google Books) in a recent biography of organized crime figure Whitey Bulger, who participated in research conducted at the Federal Penitentiary in Atlanta. Congressional investigations later revealed that Pfeiffer collaborated with the Central Intelligence AgencyÂ on LSD research.
Itâ€™s a striking reminder of how much medical research has changed. Pfeifferâ€™s work took place before Timothy Leary ever took psilocybin, before LSD was made illegal â€“ and before the landmark Belmont Report established the modern basis for ethical research on humans in the United States.