Tusko: Elephants on Acid

Tusko: Elephants on Acid

  • Scientists injected an Elephant named Tusko with 297 milligrams of LSD – over 1,500 times the dose of typical recreational use.
  • Before LSD became known to the greater public as a recreational drug, it was used in psychiatric therapy. The last therapeutic LSD session in the U.S was in the 1980’s.

In early 1962 Oklahoma City had acquired an adolescent Indian elephant named Tusko. Tusko was brought with the intent of becoming a research subject for the critically acclaimed psychiatris Dr. Louis Jolyon “Jolly” West. At the time Dr. West was researching musth, a sensation in adolescent male elephants which was commonly seen as momentary madness. Musth occurs first as a dark discharge is secreted from their ears and is then followed by intense stampeding. Dr. West was one of the most well-known psychiatrist of the time and was the head of the Department of Psychiatry, Neurology and Biobehavioural Sciences at the University of Oklahoma School of Medicine. Dr. West was intrigued by the concepts of hypnosis, drugs and mind control and by the late 1950s Dr. West had examined the psychiatry behind various brain washing tactics used on American prisoners of war.

In 1960s LSD was slowly becoming a drug of interest within the scientific community as prominent researchers argued the therapeutic effects of LSD and the positive impact it had on psychiatric patients. Dr. West and his team intended to "induce experimentally a behavioral aberration that might resemble the phenomenon of going on musth."

Dr. West intended to first induce Tusko and once sedated the scientists would observe the dark discharge and thus allow for a clear understanding on the causes of musth allowing for preventative care and an eventual end to musth.

LSD blotters
Some drugs, most notably LSD, are distributed on artfully decorated blotting paper.

Elephants on Acid

Before the experiment, Tusko was administered a placebo of a controlled dose of penicillin using an air rifle. Tusko was shown to have "immediate startle response... 2 or 3 minutes of restlessness followed by normal behavior throughout the day". The following morning at approximately eight o’clock August 3, 1962, Dr. West and his team intravenously injected Tusko with 297 milligrams of LSD. The immediate reaction startled the researchers noting the following:

"[Tusko’s] mate (Judy, a 15-year-old female) approached him and appeared to attempt to support him. He began to sway, his hindquarters buckled, and it became increasingly difficult for him to maintain himself upright. Five minutes after the injection he trumpeted, collapsed, fell heavily onto his right side, defecated, and went into status eplilepticus."

Tusko the LSD Elephant
Tusko: The Elephant on Acid.
Tusko the LSD Elephant newspaper headlines.

Researchers noticed Tusko’s tongue had become discolored a sign of insufficient oxygen to his head. Tusko was then injected with 2,800 miligrams of promazine hydrochloride (commonly used for schizophrenia). There was no noted improvement in Tusko’s health they then attempted to use pentobarbital sodium, a known anesthetic. To no avail, Tusko died one hour after his LSD dose. Tusko’s autopsy determined his death was caused by strangulation due to his spasms. Though it was unclear if LSD was the cause of Tusko’s death what was noted was Tusko’s dosage was the equivalent of 1,5000 human adult dosages.

Dr. West's experiment was published in Science with his conclusions stating that LSD "may prove valuable in elephant control work in Africa."

•   •   •

LSD trials were fairly popular at the time. Below is a video of an experiment conducted in 1964 with British marines who were given LSD dosages.

Not sure how wise it is to give someone with a bazooka LSD... 😰

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