The Concorde Prison Project

Following on from his Harvard Psilocybin project, Leary decided to up the anti, and really see what shrooms could do by trying to see if he could prove that shrooms have the ability to change people's lives in positive ways for the better. Surely, what better way to prove this, then by seeing if convicted criminals exposed to psilocybin could be so positively infused by it's life changing qualities, that they did not re-offend again. It still remains one of the most insightful and meaningful lines of enquiry made into this aspect of psilocybin's capabilities that has been made. The SLF strongly feels that more research of this kind needs to be conducted. Intolerance is simply no longer a justifiable excuse by government as an obstacle to this kind of research. To find out more about this fascinating study from this by-gone era read on.

Subsequently, Leary sort a controlled setting where measurable long-term results could demonstrate that psilocybin might be a powerful catalyst of behavioural change.  He found it in Concord Prison, where between February 1961 and January 1963, with the co-operation of the prison bureaucracy and staff and of thirty-two inmates, his team conducted in-house experiments using psilocybin in a unique setting of openness and mutual support.  The behavioural criterion of insight and personality change was to be the recidivism rate (the rate of return to prison after release) of the prisoners who had participated in the project.

The concept of the program was to be radical.  Leary’s philosophy of research was to design it as a ‘collaborative group program; we avoid as much as possible the traditional doctor-patient, research-subject, or professional-client relationships.’

When the end results of the Concord Prison project were finally tallied up, some 18 months after the project’s termination, it was found (no matter how Leary tried to dress the facts and statistics, recidivism rates for subjects were reported as not different from the expected base rate for Concord Prison as a whole.  Of all mean released from Concord 56% had returned two a half years later.  Out of the thirty-two involved in the project, four were still in prison, one had escaped , and eleven remained free, a recidivism rate of 59%. 

In a follow up study conducted by Dr Rick Dolbin and his team from the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), Leary’s original data was painstakingly re-examined.  It was found that Leary had used some unorthodox statistical methods.  When the rather glaring omissions were properly ironed out, it was concluded that Leary had wittingly or unwittingly steered this results in a direction that would endorse his belief in psilocybin as magic cure all.  Dolbin conclude that ‘ The failure of the Concord Prison experiment should finally put to rest the myth of psychedelic drugs as magic bullets, the ingestion of which will automatically confer wisdom and create lasting change after just one or even a few experiences.

However it would be wrong to say that Psilocybin offer no positive applications within research.  It has been used almost exclusively in Europe as an agent to help activate unconscious material in in depth psychology (psycholysis).  This procedure utilizes the properties of hallucinogenic substances to stimulate the emotions and promote a fluid, dreamlike state that is experienced in clear consciousness and with good recollection of what is occurring.  In this manner, subconscious conflicts and memories can be re-created and made accessible to psychotherapy.   It is understood that it is not the pharmacological effect that causes the therapeutic result, but the long-term therapeutic processing of material that has been exposed, backing up Dolbin’s statement to a certain degree.

In utilizing this pharmacologically aided method, many previously therapy-resistant patients could be treated.  Psilocybin, as well as its quick acting derivative, CZ 74 (4 –hydroxy-N-diethyltryptamine), distinguishes itself by its unique properties of short duration of effects, mild neurovegetative side effects, few instances of depersonalisation or anxiety provocation, as well as a stable and positive influence on the emotional experience.  Since it offers a more gentle and direct control of the altered state than LSD, it appears to be a substance of choice for future application in psychotherapy. (Leuner 1968, 1981)