‘Orange Sunshine’ Is Coming out of the Psychedelic Closet
March 10, 2017
While the popular vote enables cannabis legalization in several new states and brings political legitimacy to medicinal marijuana and the cannabis business industry, other drugs with potentially therapeutic value continue to be blacklisted. LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) in particular has been illegal since 1968. The substance has had a storied past, from the accidental discovery of its psychedelic properties to its use as a potential wartime agent, to the emergence of the “Brotherhood of Eternal Love,” the subject of a recent feature documentary film called Orange Sunshine.
The Birth of LSD
Swiss chemist Albert Hoffman synthesized LSD in 1938, but he didn’t stumble onto its psychedelic properties until 1943, when he swallowed a dose while doing research. Subsequently, in 1947 Sandoz Laboratories presented LSD as a psychiatric drug. In the 1950s, the CIA began researching LSD in a secret program known as MKUltra, which involved agents testing the substance on different kinds of people, usually without their knowledge of being drugged. The government was invested in psychological wartime strategies after World War II and hoped LSD could be used to interrogate other enemies of the country, or possibly take down Fidel Castro during the Cold War.
Word spread of the consciousness-expanding qualities of LSD, and there’s no doubt that wide use by American intellectual academics and the counter-culture during the 1960s created a marked egoless shift in American consciousness that the government, especially Presidents Johnson and Nixon, felt threatened by. The manufacture, sale, and possession became outlawed, medical research shut down, and a black market emerged. It’s hard to say exactly how many people were turned on by LSD before it was made illegal, but enough felt it was important to keep manufacturing and distributing so that people all over the world could have access to the spiritual experience LSD provides.
The Brotherhood of Eternal Love
A group of surfers in Laguna Beach who discovered LSD in the early 60s dedicated themselves to the cause and created a tight-knit family of friends to get the dose out. They evolved into the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, an underground group that helped manufacture, smuggle, and distribute L (more commonly called back then) to people before and after prohibition. The Brotherhood’s name and actions have been sensationalized ever since, and over 50 years later, William A. Kirkley tells their story in the feature documentary film, Orange Sunshine.
“They’re radicals, they’re revolutionaries, in a passive kind of way.”
William A. Kirkley, Director of 'Orange Sunshine'
Kirkley grew up in Orange County hearing rumors that Laguna Beach was the LSD capital of the world. Like any urban legend, the story of Orange Sunshine (the name of the Brotherhood’s legendary brand of L) suffered from the game of telephone over the years, and most involved were secretive and protective about the truth. Decades later, not only had members of the Brotherhood passed away and served time in prison, their real story was still hard to come by. The founding members were hesitant to speak to anyone because the media and government had distorted their experience.
“When I started this, I thought it was just a really cool story about surfers who were smuggling and making LSD in this idyllic beach town community,” said Kirkley. “I thought it was lush and sexy, adventurous and fun, and I loved all those aspects of it. When I finally started working with Mike and Carol [Randall], Travis [Ashbrook], and Ron and Wendy [Stark], I saw how much this was really a story about friendships and relationships. These people really truly believed in changing the world and making it a better place. They believed that with all their heart. For them, it was never about the money, which it usually is with drug dealers.”
Radical Revolutionaries…“in a Passive Kind of Way”
Curiously, the Brotherhood was not motivated by profit. “In the drug business, money is always the motivator. Here with them, the bite that they would get, they would take it and put it right back into manufacturing so they could drive down the cost, so they could give away the LSD,” explained Kirkley.“They truly believed that they could have a positive impact, so I think that their convictions and their authenticity and their passion is kind. They’re radicals, they’re revolutionaries, in a passive kind of way.”
“Plenty of the great writers and artists and scientists have taken acid, and now they’re starting to admit it.”
Another journalist researching the Brotherhood for a book shared notes with Kirkley for a few years, but while the publisher for the book had a deadline, Kirkley did not, and he held out to get to the heart of the story. “I did 25 interviews over the course of seven years, and all during that time I kept trying to get to Mike and Carol. I met them a few times, and they were like, ‘You’re nice, but we’re not interested in telling you our story.’ They were fiercely protective,” Kirkley said. He wasn’t satisfied. Three years later, after persistent efforts on Kirkley’s part, a relationship with Mike and Carol blossomed and their interviews solidified the legitimacy of the film.
The Brotherhood smuggled large amounts of hash from Afghanistan into the US when customs security was just not that attentive. After John Griggs found LSD and started dosing his friends, including his then wife Carol, their mission became clear: to turn on as many people as they could. Archival photos and recreations in the film bring all these adventures to life. Kirkley enjoyed shooting on 8mm to get that nostalgic look in sequences, while interviews with the founding members are mixed in to tell their stories.
After John passed, Mike and Carol fell in love and carried on the message, spreading what they believe is a sacrament to be taken with intention. With direction from books like “The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on The Tibetan Book of the Dead,” the Brotherhood led many guided experiences. Today, they have their own guidebook available, “The Brotherhood of Eternal Love – A Psychedelic Guide,” which they hand out at Burning Man and big concerts for people to have the proper introduction to the exploration of self through LSD.
“LSD gives you that vision of what consciousness can really be. It’s a good thing.”
Mike explained, “The root cause is a psychedelic experience; that’s the unsung thing. Nobody says this about the 60s. ‘Oh, the summer of love, peace, Golden Gate Park, it was beautiful,’ and it was all true. But the one thing they leave out is that it all began because people took LSD. If it hadn’t been for acid, there wouldn’t have been hippies and the whole peace and love movement, and movement for world ecology. It changed the focus of America and a whole generation. It was LSD that did it; no one on the news media has really had the guts, the balls, to say that.”
Carol added, “I think people are starting to come out of the psychedelic closet. I mean, it’s time, for God’s sake, to tell the truth.”
“Plenty of the great writers and artists and scientists have taken acid, and now they’re starting to admit it, and plenty of them were really deeply influenced by their acid trips,” Mike said.
The film follows many of the crazy, fun, dangerous, and beautiful happenings they embarked on together as they risked their lives to help free minds. One such adventure details when the Brotherhood invited psychologist and writer Timothy Leary out west, and after his infamous arrest in 1968 for possessing two cannabis “roaches” and his subsequent 20-year prison sentence, they helped pay The Weathermen to smuggle him out of prison.
The Future of Psychedelics
Perhaps after this presidency, the waters will be warmer for legalization. Psychedelic research is back, and organizations in the U.S., England, and Israel are at the forefront of reliable and safe research studies. People in the tech industry are microdosing and the news is reporting on potential benefits. “I’m pretty sure Steve Jobs took Orange Sunshine. He credited a lot of his ingenuity to his experience taking psychedelics. I think that with MAPS and looking at psychedelics for therapeutic and medicinal purposes again, it’s coming back for the first time in like 40 years,” Kirkley said.
Added Carol, “It’s time. There needs to be a little bit of re-education, or just education about what it really is. Only the old hippies know what it really is is. It’s guided all of our life. It’s set a new set of goals and values that we’ve lived by all of our life ever since we first turned on and got a good look at the expanded consciousness, what a human being can become. LSD gives you that vision of what consciousness can really be. It’s a good thing.”
Mike remains optimistic about the future embracing psychedelics, but that’s up to a power larger than him (or any of us, really). “Somehow the universe pointed us in the direction where we were suddenly in the middle of the flow of where the sacrament came from, and we took it from there. Pretty soon it came from us, and that’s exactly what we intended to do,” he said. “I mean, we had big grand stupid young idealistic ideas, but they were ideas born from good intentions for sure, and we were planning on turning the complete planet on. We did 120 million doses; we were going to do billions. Of course, that was our wish, but it didn’t happen. The universe is running the show, not us.”
Trina Calderón’s books include Wall Writers, Pump Me Up: DC Subcultures of the 1980’s, Risk: Old Habits Die Hard, and 9:30 Club - A Time and a Place. She co-executive produced BBC America's The Nerdist TV show and co-wrote the feature film Down for Life. Calderón lives in Los Angeles and specializes in writing about art, music, and food subculture, aiming to add a voice where mainstream media does not. She can be reached on Twitter and Instagram under @trinaluz.