Mental patient given LSD killed herself, doctor says

January 05, 1994|By Boston Globe

BOSTON -- A mentally ill patient who was given LSD by physicians experimenting at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center in the 1950s killed herself within hours of taking the potent psychedelic drug, says a Cambridge, Mass., psychiatrist who had been following her progress at the time.

"They gave this patient LSD one morning and when I came back from lunch that day, I was told she had hung herself in the downstairs bathroom," Dr. Robert Reid said yesterday. Dr. Reid said he was not told until after the woman's death that she had been given LSD.

"Obviously, she had an adverse reaction to the drug and panicked," he added.

Dr. Reid and another psychiatrist, who also was in training at the state-operated mental hospital at the time, said they knew of other patients who had had adverse reactions to the LSD experiments, although they knew of only the one death. As many as 10 to 15 patients with mental illness were given LSD as part of a series of studies in the early 1950s that also involved giving the drug to student volunteers from Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and to staff members at the hospital, then known as the Boston Psychopathic Hospital.

"The fact that these experiments were done is appalling," said Eileen Elias, commissioner of the Department of Mental Health, which operates the Massachusetts Mental Health Center in Boston. "The bottom line is that our consumers were used as guinea pigs."

Ms. Elias said yesterday she had ordered a search of records to determine whether other patients were harmed by these and other research experiments in the 1950s and to gather more information on the patient who committed suicide.

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