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the Johnny Appleseed of acid

April 21, 2011

While Owsley provided the fuel for the psychedelic explosion in the 60’s, Captain

Al Hubbard was the fuse.  And, man, did he get full bang for the buck.  Like Owsley,

he was Kentucky born.  Unlike Owsley, he was born into a dirt-poor family.  He

didn’t make it past the third grade. 

He claimed that at age 18 he was visited by a pair of  angels who told him to invent

something.  He did.  It was the Hubbard Energy Transformer, a small radioactive

battery that powered a ferry-sized ship non-stop for three days in Seattle’s Portico

Bay. The Radium Corporation of Pittsburgh bought half the patent for $75,000 and

shelved it.  Radium Corp. killed the competition, but bankrolled Captain Al.

Hubbard then became a cab driver in Seattle.  With a sophisticated ship-to-shore

radio system hidden in the trunk of his taxi, he guided rum-runners in Puget Sound

as they smuggled Prohibited booze into the states from Canada.  It went well until

the FBI caught him and he did 18 months time.

Upon his release from prison, Hubbard’s obvious skills caught the attention of the

Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA.  He was marginally involved

with the Manhattan Project.  Before World War II, with FDR’s approval, he ran unlit

ships at night to Vancouver, where they were refitted as destroyers for the British

navy.  Hubbard also flew planes to the border, then had them disassembled, towed

to Canada and sent to England.

To dodge the neutrality problem, Captain Al was made a Canadian citizen in a mock

procedure.  He filtered millions of  OSS dollars for covert operations in Europe

through the American consulate in Vancouver.  The illegality of this caught the

attention of Congress.

He eventually was fully pardoned by President Truman, but it didn’t lure him back

to the U.S.  He made a fortune in Vancouver, first with a charter boat company, then

with a uranium corporation.  He was spiritually restless, though, and while hiking

one day he purportedly was told by an angel that something immensely important

to human history was going to happen, and he could be part of it if he chose.

Hubbard had no idea what that something was until he read an article about LSD in

1951.  He tried it and became its strongest activist.  He turned on more than 6000

people.  Powerful people: diplomats, politicians, scientists, intelligence officials,

even clergy.  A devout Catholic, he shared his sacrament with a prominent monsig-

nor.  He also converted a Vancouver priest, who then recommended the drug to his


Captain Al had so much clout that he obtained special permission from the Vatican

to administer acid in the context of the faith.

His pilgrimage took him from the west coast of North America to Switzerland, the

birthplace of LSD.  He set up shop in a bank vault in the Zurich airport and started

sending the drug around the world tariff free.  Swiss officials quickly pointed out

that their drug laws had no duty-free exemption.  They invalidated his passport for

five years and deported him.

Back in the states, Hubbard continued his generous ways.  When he came under fire

for administering drugs without being a doctor, he became one by buying a phony

doctorate from a diploma mill.

In 1957 Captian Al met Ross MacLean, medical supervisor of Hollywood Hospital in

New Westminster, Canada.  They set up a wing in the facility to treat chronic alco-

holics with LSD therapy.  Hubbard soon bowed out  when MacLean started charging

$1000 a dose for elite patients, counter to Hubbard’s belief that it should be shared


But Captain Trips, as he was becoming known, barely skipped a beat.  In the states,

he was granted FDA approval to experiment with LSD.  Along with Abram Hoffer

and Humphrey Osmond he fashioned a psychedelic regime the had a reputed re-

covery rate of 60 to 70%. 

The good times started going sour in the mid-1960’s, however.  Public tolerance

(or indifference) toward acid grew negative after incidents like the well-publicized

suicide of TV star Art Linkletter’s daughter Diane.  He blamed it on the drug.

The CIA’s illegal Project MK-ULTRA , involving mind-control experiments, had

caused two deaths in the 50’s; and it was still fouling up secretly with fiascos like

Operation Midnight Climax.  Hubbard’s role in the operation is not well-defined.

Records of it have been destroyed or heavily redacted, but his name was associated

with it.  He fell out of favor in the power corridors.  His fortunes suffered. He spent

his last days nearly broke in a mobile home in Arizona.

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