By Lisa Jacobs, MD, MBA
“Curvescope” by Conrad Schmidt
In the 1970s, Genie Laborde, PhD took acid with her psychiatrist. She never told anyone.
Now nearly 90, Genie still works as a CEO, author, and artist and remains hesitant to discuss the role drugs played in the last psychiatric treatment she ever needed. In her thick Louisiana accent, she explained how she still worries what people might think.
Genie met her psychiatrist, Joseph “Jack” Downing, MD, in his seminar at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. He taught wearing nothing but a red Speedo swimsuit.
LSD “acid” and MDMA “ecstasy” were legal then. Jack had been experimentally treating alcoholism with LSD since the early 1960s as Chief of Medical Services for San Mateo County. He testified before Congress about these substances. He was the expert.
“I was 45 and had never taken drugs in my life, but I trusted Jack,” Genie explained. “Drugs were only used to help reach the next step in your evolution, never just to get high.”
“On LSD,” collage by Genie Laborde
Unable to speak freely about her experience, Genie described her acid trip in a painting. She saw visions of being propelled towards insight with sparks flying from her heels. A large, rainbow-colored painting and collage about her trip still hangs in her formal dining room. Few guests know its meaning.
On acid, Genie learned that accessing your right brain is the revelation. “The right brain knows no fear, it can only experience joy and spirituality. The left brain is consumed by fear. Anxiety is fear, so if you switch to your right brain, it just goes away,” she said.
This revelation shaped Genie’s career. She designed methods she taught to 50,000 students in seminars in 17 countries to facilitate accessing the right brain and harnessing the power of neuroplasticity to reduce anxiety and generate behavioral change.
When Genie found her right brain harder to access, like in heated disagreements with her late husband, an orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Downing prescribed Ecstasy for them to take as a couple. Genie said it “made our lovemaking exceptional.”
Some psychiatrists called Ecstasy “penicillin for the soul” in the ‘70s and ‘80s for its communication and insight-enhancing properties. Ecstasy worked many times for Genie and her husband, who had a long and happy marriage.
MDMA was recently granted “Breakthrough Therapy Designation” by the FDA as a treatment for PTSD when combined with brief, intensive psychotherapy. LSD may not be far behind, with a positive Phase 2 pilot study recently completed – the first since the 1970s.
The pendulum of thought swung from viewing MDMA and LSD as medications to scheduling them as illegal drugs with no therapeutic value. Now, the pendulum is swinging back. Medicine is practiced within a social and political framework that guides our application of science. MDMA and LSD weren’t part of my medical training, but they might be for the next generation. Genie thinks this is a good idea, saying, “with the right psychiatrist, they’re tools for revelations.”
Lisa Jacobs is a fellow in child psychiatry at Stanford University and the founding editor of this magazine.