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The Man who Turned On the World: Nick Sand, Orange Sunshine LSD chemist, Dies at 75

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The resounding success of the 2017 MAPS Psychedelic Science Conference last weekend, which with its 2,800 attendees from over 40 countries was the largest psychedelic conference in history (and a sure sign of the continuing main-streaming of psychedelic culture), was tempered by the sobering news that Nicholas Sand – arguably the greatest underground chemist in history, and a genuine hero to many of us in the psychedelic movement – had left this world and moved on into the light at the age of 75. ‘The Buddha from Brooklyn’, Nick’s accomplishments are many and legendary; most famously as the first recognized underground chemist to synthesize both DMT and LSD, as Timothy Leary’s alchemist for the League of Spiritual Discovery at Millbrook, as the co-inventor (with Tim Skully) of the Orange Sunshine LSD that has been estimated to amount to 75% of the LSD ever made, and as the man who figured out how to smoke DMT. Milestones in Psychedelic History, ironically these accomplishments would have remained mostly unknown had Nick not been captured in Canada in 1996 (along with the most sophisticated psychedelic laboratory ever discovered). After having led the underground life of a fugitive for more than 25 years, Nick was returned to the USA to complete his sentence for an arrest in 1971 (when he was caught with a mobile lab in the back of an 18 wheeler) for which he had skipped both bail and the USA.  

As unjust a crime as the time Nick spent in prison was, it was in many ways a curious boon for the psychedelic community-at-large, for the articles he wrote on DMT while in prison (under the nom-de-plume ∞ Ayes were instant classics, and after Nick’s release in 2000, he appeared at MAPS conferences, and memorably at Entheon Village in Burning Man, where he was always gracious with his time and energy to the numerous younger psychonauts who wanted to shake his hand and thank him for what he had done. There has never been anyone I have more enjoyed talking about psychedelics with than Nick (other than perhaps my one memorable lunch with Alexander Shulgin before his stroke) and I have incorporated many of the things that Nick has told me into my own talks, so when the Ozora Festival in Hungary last year asked me for suggestions for their excellent Speaker Series, Nick Sand was my first choice. At first the organizers didn’t really get it, but to my delight they ended up bringing Nick and his incredible wife Usha to Ozora for the week where he was a huge hit, and I got to spend several days picking his brains as much as I dared, something of a personal dream come true. During this time I got the impression that despite the well-deserved recognition he was receiving, Nick probably would have far preferred to remain underground in his spotless laboratory, for while he was free, his hands were shackled from making the sacred compounds that he made so well in his personal attempt to liberate the world. For although for much of his life Nick Sand was an outlaw, he was never a criminal; the LSD and other compounds he created were in truth a holy crusade in which he believed he could help to change the world. And while many men and women in history have wanted to change the world, in my opinion, few were ever as successful.

Nick died on April 24th, 2017, the day after he had addressed the MAPS conference in Oakland after the showing of  ‘The Sunshine Makers’, a movie about him and Tim Skully made by Cosmos Fielding, the son of Lady Amanda Fielding of The Beckley Foundation. Addressing the adoring crowd after a standing ovation, with many of his countless friends in attendance, Nick’s final words to the audience were both a question and a challenge – “Who are you, who are we, what are we doing here? Are we here to make war, or are we here to make Love?” – and then he went home after what was perhaps his finest moment and died peacefully in his sleep that night as the conference was dispersing. A death fitting of a Tibetan Rinoche, it was classic Nick Sand to the end.

Personally, I am still a little in shock – Nick was one of my greatest heroes, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have ever met the man, let alone to call him a friend. My first reaction after I returned from the MAPS conference was to tell Reality Sandwich that I would like to write something about Nick, but my friend Casey William Hardison – who knew Nick much better, far longer, and was imprisoned for LSD manufacture himself – beat me to it with the following memorial that says all that I might have said and probably more, so I am encouraging Reality Sandwich to run that tribute instead. Farewell Nick, thank you for all that you did, I hope to see you one day again in the Love and the Light.

– James Oroc for Reality Sandwich,  April 27th, 2017

The undaunted spirit and psychedelic warrior of love and light, Nick Sand, the outlaw chemist, died in his sleep on Monday April 24th at the age of 75.

Most famous for the Orange Sunshine brand of LSD distributed by the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, Nick Sand was responsible for the manufacture of over 250 million doses of acid. He was also the first chemist on record to have synthesized DMT for widespread recreational use by psychedelic enthusiasts. Nick serendipitously discovered and promoted the fact that the chemical is effectively active when smoked or vaporized. For those that knew him, it was apparent that he was shameless in his alchemical pursuits. He had no regrets: through LSD, DMT, other psychedelics and spiritual practices, he had freed his mind.

Nick’s chemical career began shortly after his first mescaline experience in 1961. As lifelong enthusiast of the psychedelic path, he once remarked that he was, “doing this from my heart out of faith that this was the right thing to do. Everywhere I went I gave it away and I saw what it did to people and I said, ‘This is good.’” As a former incarcerated acid chemist, I understand where he’s coming from. I, too, share the ideals, the passion, and the shamelessness.

Taught the secrets of high-purity LSD manufacture by “Bear” Owsley and Tim Scully, Nick believed:

“When LSD is made in high purity, a certain magic obtains for the person who journeys with preparation and intention. Purity of intention and purity of product go hand-in-hand to produce a transcendent trip. There are no guarantees which corridors will open for you, but the odds are better with intelligent choices. For chemists, also, the mere intention toward purity is transformative: a path unto itself. This is alchemy.”

Rhoney Stanley, the former wife and LSD lab-mate of Bear, said Tuesday that “[Nick] was always optimistic, always thought the best would happen and he had a huge passion, a sexual passion, a love passion, a spiritual passion, and a psychedelic passion. He’s the first one who started talking about us as if we were psychedelic commandos and warriors.”

Nick Sand in 2009. Photo by Jon Hanna

Tim Scully explained that they were doing it because they thought that “acid could save the world. Almost everybody who got turned on became deeply skeptical of the authorities and the politicians.”

The mother of his godson Aidan remarked, “Nick didn’t care about the stupid politics shit, he’d just laugh at it.”

Jon Hanna said Nick “became a criminal as a matter of principle and as an act of civil disobedience.”

The reality of living life as an outlaw, however, came face-to-face with that principled stand. As a result, Nick and many of his lab mates would serve time in penitentiaries as penance for their services to humanity.

This led to quite possibly the funniest and yet most endearing aspect of the shameless proselytizing nature of Nick Sand: He found a way to smuggle in and dose many prisoners at McNeil Island Penitentiary with psychedelics during his stay there. “We got the whole prison stoned, this is what freedom is really about. It’s not about not being in chains, it’s about not having your mind enslaved,” Nick declared.

On appeal from that original sentence, in 1977, Nick went on the run for two decades, continuing to manifest as many doses of LSD and other psychedelics as humanly possible. As a businessman, a former associate and co-conspirator said, “Nick was aware, alert and considerate. He wanted to make sure everyone was taken care of, every mouth that mattered was fed. He cared about consciousness, purity, evolution of the spirit. He made sure that we made it to that same place together.”

Rearrested in British Columbia in 1996, Nick served time in prison through late 2000, first in Canada, and then in the United States in fulfillment of the original 22-year-old sentence that he had evaded.

Nick at Mind States Conference 2001

At the 2001 Mind States Conference in Berkeley, California–a few months
after his release from prison–Nick explained:

“When I began to navigate psychospace with LSD, I realized that before we were conscious, seemingly self-propelled human beings, many tapes and corridors had been created in our minds and reflexes which were not of our own making. These patterns and tapes laid down in our consciousness are walled off from each other. I see it as a vast labyrinth with high walls sealing off the many directives created by our personal history.

Many of these directives are contradictory. The coexistence of these contradictory programs is what we call inner conflict. This conflict causes us to constantly check ourselves while we are caught in the opposition of polarity. Another metaphor would be like a computer with many programs running simultaneously. The more programs that are running, the slower the computer functions. This is a problem then. With all the programs running that are demanded of our consciousness in this modern world, we have problems finding deep integration.

To complicate matters, the programs are reinforced by fear. Fear separates, love integrates. We find ourselves drawn to love and unity, but afraid to make the leap.

What I found to be the genius of LSD is that it really gets you high, higher than the programs, higher than the walls that mask and blind one to the energy destroying presence of many contradictory but hidden programs. When LSD is used intentionally it enables you to see all the tracks laid down, to explore each one intensely. It also allows you to see the many parallel and redundant programs as well as the contradictory ones.

It allows you to see the underlying unity of all opposites in the magic play of existence. This allows you to edit these programs and recreate superior programs that give you the insight to shake loose the restrictions and conflicts programmed into each one of us by our parents, our religion, our early education, and by society as a whole.”

That is about as neat and concise an encapsulation of the purposive use of LSD as I have ever come across.

This Easter at Shulgin Farm, Nick approached looking frail and a bit unsteady in his gait, but grinning ear to ear, he leaned on me and quipped, “Hi Casey, I’m not dead yet!”

I thought it funny at the time, but I had a weird premonition. I followed him into the house and was lucky to be part of this final conversation with Ann Shulgin, the underground psychotherapist pioneer and wife of famed and prolific, lawful psychedelic chemist, Sasha Shulgin. Over a bowl of organic blueberries yesterday, Ann said, “Nick was a dear friend and we are all going to miss him terribly.”

Nick and Ann Shulgin, Easter 2017. Photo by Casey Hardison

This last Saturday, at the Psychedelic Science 2017 conference put on by the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies and The Beckley Foundation in Oakland, California, Nick showed up for the screening of the new movie by Cosmo Feilding Mellen, The Sunshine Makers, about him, Tim Scully, Bear Owsley, and their manufacture of LSD. Nick’s closing remarks to the audience, his last public words, posited that LSD helps to answer our questions:

“Who are you, who are we, what are we doing here, are we here to make war or are we here to make love?”

Nick received a standing ovation, many hugs and kind words. Mike Randall, a former LSD prisoner and leader of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love relayed that Nick said he’d never had a day like that.

I believe it was a kind of completion for him—he could see his work had produced spectacular results and psychedelics had become mainstream. High on the crowd’s love, our love, having lived a proud, free and shameless life, he had a good death. May the four winds blow him safely home.

This essay was originally published on Psymposia

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