Marijuana: The drug of choice for dudes that want to chill, mellow out, relax or just, you know, hang. It vies with the peace sign for space on poorly hand-screened T-shirts and the binders of junior high school students as the de facto symbol of anti-conformist, anti-government, non-confrontationalism. So it might be a little surprising to learn that, long before the hippies launched (or at least hackey-ed) pot into the collective consciousness, it was being heavily advocated by the military… for use as a weapon.
Now obviously, marijuana wasn’t invented by the hippies – nothing was invented by the hippies. The hippies, if anything, de-invented: They disrespected the concept of the shoe by bringing back the far-inferior sandal; they deconstructed the solidness of the pop song into the rambling jam session; and they broke down good ol' fashioned sleep-in-separate-beds Christian Love into its core components and re-assembled them into unshaven, filthy, back-of-the-van orgies. Pot may have been a symbol of the hippy movement, but they're not responsible for its popularity. As far back as 1952, the Army was busy contacting chemical manufacturers and fringe scientists, trying to find a way to weaponize cannabis. But things didn’t really kick into high gear until the 60s, when Dr. James Ketchum, an Army researcher, began his studies in earnest at Edgewood Arsenal, the base of operations for the U.S. Army Chemical Corps.
"That's right: This is the Drug Division. How could you tell? Was it the lab equipment? The uniforms? The giant disembodied eye? It's the eye, isn't it?"
What, you thought America was against the use of chemical weapons? Thought it was only a tool for terrorists and dictators? Nope! The United States of America never agreed to the section of the Geneva Convention outlawing chemical warfare. So perhaps it’s worth keeping in mind, the next time you watch a press conference citing some foreign power's use of chemical weapons as an example of their inherent evil, that the USA literally has an entire sinister C.O.B.R.A.-style elite unit of Chemical Warriors dedicated solely to their development and testing. But war is a complicated thing, and nobody's trying to pass moral judgments here. Mostly it's worth noting the "Chemical Weapons" tag simply to set the location in your mind for the following experiments: These were not taking place in some lovey-dovey sweat-lodge, where soldiers fleeing the frontlines volunteered to do bong-research on new methods of hugging. No, Edgewood was a chemical weapons compound, first and foremost.
Creepy old-timey amateur porn center, second.
The precedent for Edgewood's research into marijuana as a weapon was actually set first by the University of Michigan Medical School. These early experiments, led by Dr. Edward Domino, revolved around a potent version of hash oil named EA 1476, or “Red Oil.” And that right there just shows a clear lack of foresight by the entire department: It’s going to be increasingly hard to convince the inevitable military tribunal that you only had “the best of intentions” for this research when your lead scientist, Dr. Domino, spends his off-hours trying to kill Wonder Woman, and you've named your experimental substance after something a Nazi would use to try and drown Captain America.
Pictured: Not exactly a PR blitz, Michigan.
Dr. Domino only conducted his tests on canines, where he found the Red Oil to cause mild hallucinations, feelings of paranoia and occasional docility in his subjects. The dosed dogs were observed crawling under tables, barking at shadows, leaping out to attack imaginary objects and eventually just laying on their sides, awake but completely immobile. Not "sedentary," mind you, but completely and utterly still: “You could step on their feet without any response,” noted the totally harmless and well-adjusted Dr. Domino, in between bouts of psychologically scarring puppies and then stomping on their paws. He continued on to say that “it was an amazing effect and a reversible phenomenon” that “greatly increased [his] interest in this compound from the standpoint of future chemical possibilities.” That statement, aside from being a rather excellent phrase to impress your drug dealer with the next time you want to get ripped, doesn't mean much of anything in terms of results: It's just science-speak for “this stuff fucks up dogs; that is worth remembering.”
So while it eventually ended in a kind of paralysis, the bulk of the Red Oil's effects weren't exactly useful on the battlefield. No worse than, say, two rounds on that sketchy hookah with the weird, off-color residue that's been sitting in the tool shed ever since that fat dreadlocked guy who insisted you call him “Boom Boom” left it there the night you mistakenly brought the party home from the strip club.... uh, figuratively speaking. In other words, while it doesn’t exactly sound like a “good high,” it's still mostly a manageable one - hell, sometimes a preferable one, for those occasions you just want to get obliterated enough to forget the sound of dreadlock beads gently pulsing to the beat of a stripper getting railed on top of a clamp vise.
Yup. That'll do it.
Ketchum started up right where Dr. Domino and his Diabolical Detail of Dosed Dogs left off, and soon began testing the effects of EA 1476 on humans. Specifically, on G.I. volunteers. Now, before we start being shocked and horrified by the ease with which the Army jumps from curb-stomping junkie canines to rampantly drugging their own soldiers, keep in mind this experimental drug-testing was probably a godsend for the troops: When your options are “get your face blown off in Korea” or “test this new hyper-weed for me and tell me what language the stars sing in,” your biggest concern is just trying not to giggle while filling out the sign-up form.
Human testing with Red Oil produced pretty much the results you'd expect: When asked to perform routine tests, the G.I.s laughed uproariously, responded with murmured confusion or just smirked obliviously for hours. So Red Oil rendered soldiers functionally useless, but not incapacitated. And when the researchers realized that pure THC actually weighs less than the processed Red Oil--therefore allowing one to cram much more of it onto the wackiest bomber in the army for deployment on the battlefield--EA 1476 was abandoned in favor of the pure compound. By manipulating the molecular structure of the THC, Dr. Ketchum and his research staff were able to drastically intensify its effects, and they continued testing with an entirely new compound named EA 2233. In 1961, they began testing directly on the G.I.s this time, as further doggy trips were deemed as unnecessary as they were hilariously adorable.
"What if I AM the ball?"
So how much is “drastically intensified,” exactly? It was said that doses as low as “10 to 60 micrograms per kilogram of body weight” would show noticeable effects on a soldier for 30 hours. For all of you using God's system of measurement--not that heathen witchcraft the Europeans are trying to corrupt our children with--a kilogram is roughly 2.2 pounds. There are one million micrograms in a gram, and 28 grams in an ounce. Your typical bag of pot is an eighth of an ounce (3,543,690 micrograms give or take). The average dosage for the average G.I. would be about 2400 micrograms. Too many numbers making your vision blur? That's OK, this all just means that one small bag of weed, if filled with EA 2233, would get 1,476 healthy G.I.s--an entire battalion--completely wasted for 30 straight hours. Fucking 30! Jesus, if you’re like me, and you’re kind of sick of being high halfway through the Degrassi marathon and just really want to be able to figure out your microwave again, 30 hours is about 24 hours too long give or take the odd commercial break.
"The fuck is...? What is this thing? Where do nachos come from?!"
And "completely wasted" is, if anything, an understatement here: That infinitesimal dosage didn't cause the kind of high that "impairs problem solving skills a little" seven full hours after being dosed, soldiers were just heading into the heart of the effects, just starting to report both complete numbness and the inability to control their limbs. Here’s a real excerpt from one of their test interviews:
Q: Suppose you have to get up and go to work now. How would you do?A: I don't think I'd even care.Q: Well, suppose the place were on fire?A: It would seem funny.Q: It would seem funny? Do you think you'd have the sense to get up and run out, or do you think you'd just enjoy it?A: I don't know. Fire doesn't seem to present any danger to me right now. ... Everything just seems funny in the Army. Seems like everything somebody says, it sounds a little bit funny. ...
So, nearly a full workday after being dosed with uber-weed, the user was still so completely stoned that they found the Armed Forces hilarious and thought that apathy was a flame-retardant. But the Chemical Corps, not having standing orders to mass-produce platoons of Spicolis from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, realized they didn’t need all of these effects to weaponize THC, they just needed the incapacitating ones. By isolating just a few of the stereoisomers (those are “configurations of atoms,” or “big science words that I skipped over,” depending on how hard you want to look smart on the Internet) they were able to cause a dramatic and instantaneous drop in blood pressure, to the point where victims either became completely paralyzed, or could only move in slow motion, and even then only with assistance.
"You ever feel like you're moving through thick peanut butter? Holy shit I want some peanut butter!"
In other words, they did it: They successfully weaponized pot.
Well before the hippies ever took marijuana as the official drug of peace and love, the U.S. Army took it as the official drug of crippling one's enemies (or at least knocking them loose from the chronostream). So, why aren’t all our troops armed with time-shifting weed guns on the battlefield today? Well, in part because that drop in blood pressure scared the researchers off of further human testing, but mostly because marijuana--even if you’re just experimenting with it (in this case, madly)--is a gateway drug: The Army moved on to harder shit to get their kicks.
Ketchum would later experiment with the effects of Ritalin, BZ (a potent hallucinogen) and even PCP, until eventually settling on LSD as the most promising prospect for a pacification drug. In his LSD tests, he cites reports of soldiers “riding imaginary horses, eating invisible chickens and taking showers in full uniform while smoking phantom cigars,” but for a better glimpse at such hilarious old-timey military acid-trip antics, just watch this video. It's not of the actual experiments in question--these are British troops--but it's basically the same deal.
Except they probably call it something classier than "tripping balls," and all of their hallucinations say "please" and "thank you."
At one point, Ketchum's book recounted the morning he arrived on base, opened the door to his office, and saw “a large, black steel barrel, resembling an oil drum, parked in the corner of the room.” When he opened it, he found 40 pounds of ultra-concentrated government-manufactured LSD. Enough for several hundred million people to trip balls. At the end of the week, before they could make use of the substance, Ketchum says the barrel vanished without a trace.
That’s right: At some point in the early 60s, the United States Government "completely lost" a giant black barrel full of enough super-acid to dose up an entire continent. Yep, riiiight around the time an active, politically minded, anti-war movement was starting among the young people, a lifetime supply of enough experimental pacifying drug to render every single one of them a useless, confused, rambling mess up and "disappeared."
And that "movement" turned into this.
But hell, maybe this weed article is just making me paranoid. Maybe it really is just lost. If so, and if you have seen this barrel, please contact the proper authorities immediately... which are me. Contact me immediately. I have a used Kia that I am willing to barter and I am very interested in rage-fucking the cosmos or at least acquiring complete immunity to fire.
You can buy Robert's book, Everything is Going to Kill Everybody: The Terrifyingly Real Ways the World Wants You Dead, or find him on Twitter, Facebook and his own site, I Fight Robots, or you can go here and learn how to make your own crude hash oil, in the interests of science. Hilariously irresponsible science.