Psilocybin Project at Harvard – Players



Frank Barron.

The relationship between Leary and Barron goes back to graduate school at UCLA, where the two were drinking buddies. By 1959 Leary is concluding a career as director of psychiatric research at the rather elite Kaiser Memorial Hospital. [33] Despite creating a psychology test that has been implemented by the CIA, Leary has developed doubts about the effectiveness of psychology. [34] Also, his wife has just committed suicide. He goes to live with his two children in Florence, Italy.

One day, in Florence, apparently on a sabbatical to this very same town, Barron decides to visit his friend here. He tells Leary about his experiences with magic mushrooms, but Leary is skeptical and advises caution to prevent him from losing his credibility. As a parting gift, Barron offers Leary $500 of his Ford Foundation grant to go and interview Arthur Koestler in London. In addition, Barron informs him that David McClelland, head of Harvard’s Center for Personality Research, happens to be in Florence as well, has read Leary’s book Interpersonal Diagnosis of Personality, and might be interested in hiring him to Harvard. [35] McClelland indeed is in Florence – on a Guggenheim Fellowship. [36]

Leary takes Barron up on this last offer and has lunch with McClelland the very next day. After elaborating a bit more on his very progressive views on psychiatric treatment, McClelland hires him with the remark, “There’s no question that what you’re advocating is going to be the future of American psychology. You’re not a lone voice. … You’re just what we need to shake things up at Harvard.” [37] With that, Leary returns to the United States to become a professor at Harvard’s Center for Research in Personality, where he is allowed to teach graduate students based on his own, modern, practical views of psychology. [38] Alternately, Leary described his assigned as having to come up with “better methods of behavior change” for psychiatric patients. [39]

Timothy Leary (left) and Richard Alpert at Harvard in 1961.

McClelland staffed the Harvard Center with several “maverick instructors”, according to Leary. Among them is a certain Richard Alpert, the well-to-do son of the last president of the New Haven Railroad. This actually is the aspect Leary will end up mentioning in his biography, including that Alpert enjoyed his apartment penthouse and limousines. [40] His father’s wealth also explains why Alpert was in the possession of a pilot license at such a young age, complete with his own Cessna airplane. He used it at one point to pick up Leary in Mexico and fly him back to the United States. [41] A little additional checking reveals that the biography of Richard Alpert’s father, George Alpert, is really impressive. He was one of the leading Zionist leaders of the United States of his time with ties not only extending to the White House, but also to leading Jewish families as Warburg, Bronfman, Lehman and Oppenheimer. It even looks as if Alpert was part of the Mossad-allied Jewish intelligence underground in the United States known as the Sonneborn Institute. It took a while to compile George Alpert’s biography. Here’s what it looks like:

  • Born in 1898. Graduated from Boston University Law School and became a district attorney.
  • Boston lawyer and founder of the law firm Alpert & Alpert with his brother. [42]
  • At the end of World War II, Alpert was a trustee of Associated Jewish Philanthropies, Combined Jewish Appeal and Hebrew Teachers College, a director of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (, as well as president of Middlesex University, all of it in Boston. [43]
  • Trustee of the American Institute for International Information, Franklin Hospital and Temple Ohabei Shalom, also at the end of World War II. [44]
  • Key founder of Brandeis University in Boston and the university’s first chair/president 1946-1954, and after that a lifetime trustee. Elites as Eleanor Roosevelt, Herbert Lehman and Philip Klutznick have been deeply involved in Brandeis over the years. [45] The university used to be known as Middlesex University, of which Alpert was president, and briefly was known as the Albert Einstein Foundation, of which Alpert was a director. It was the first secular Jewish American university in existence. [46]
  • National co-chairman of United Jewish Appeal at the end of World War II. [47]
  • National vice-chairman of the United Palestine Appeal at the end of World War II, with Albert Einstein serving as honorary chairman. UPA’s honorary co-chairman and U.S. Haganah/Sonneborn Institute leader Rudolf G. Sonneborn served as chairman of the national council at the time. [48]
  • Director of the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee from at least 1944 to at least 1961, co-vice chairman in the late 1940s, and chairman of the New England Region. Key names of the JDC in this period (and beyond) were Edward Warburg and wife; Abe Bronfman, Samuel Bronfman, Herbert H. Lehman (CIA-tied), Harry Oppenheimer (1001 Club) and others. [49]
  • Director of the New Haven Railroad 1952-1954 and last president 1956-1961. Went back to his Alpert & Alpert law firm after that.
  • Key founder/fundraiser, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Yeshiva University, in the 1953-1955 period, together with Pilgrims Society members Walter Annenberg, Thomas Dewey and Eleanor Roosevelt, as well as then-U.S. vice president Richard Nixon. [50] Member, board of overseers, until at least 1966, together with Annenberg, Max Stern and Laurence Tisch. [51]
  • Present at a dinner with President Richard Nixon in 1969 with Gabriel Hauge and a number of other influential persons. [52]
  • Died in 1988, with an obituary in the New York Times. [53]

Leary takes a liking to Alpert at Harvard. At the time, everything still seems relatively mundane. Both professors are guiding graduate students, Alpert still is very much Alpert – instead of “Ram Dass” – and there is little to no talk about psychedelics. Once again, Frank Barron is about to change that.

Six weeks after his own hiring, Leary is asked by his superior, David McClelland, if he knows anyone for a one-year appointment to the Center for Research in Personality faculty. Leary suggests Barron, who is promptly hired as a visiting professor for a year. Leary is surprised at how close the ties are between Harvard’s Center for Personality Study and California’s IPAR, where Barron is working, prompting him to remark:


“At the top level everyone seemed to know everyone. I was interested in how these power networks worked, especially when they involved psychology and the government.” [54]

One thing Leary’s friend Barron and Leary’s boss McClelland certainly have in common is the Ford Foundation. Barron received financing from the foundation when visiting Leary in Florence, while McClelland – coincidentally also in Florence at the time he recruited Leary and that on a Guggenheim Fellowship – used to be director of psychological studies for the Ford Foundation in 1952 and 1953. [55]

Cuernavaca, South-West Mexico.

As a visiting professor at Harvard throughout 1960, where he sets up a center for drug studies, Barron is able to get Leary excited about magic mushrooms, in no small part by showing him Gordon Wasson’s May 1957 article in Life magazine Seeking the Magic Mushroom. Leary spends the summer of 1960 in Mexico, ingesting the exact same mushrooms as Wasson did. That August, the whole Harvard clique spends summer in Cuernavaca, Mexico. Barron, Leary and Alpert are situated in a villa, along with Leary’s children and a number of associates. McClelland is situated 10 miles away on a working vacation in which he’s trying to stimulate the local economy through psychological means and a supposedly superior Protestant work ethic. It is here that Leary first ingests the magic mushrooms. As with Wasson and Barron, he is sold rather quickly: “In four hours by the swimming pool in Cuernavaca I learned more about the mind, the brain, and its structures than I did in the preceding fifteen years as a diligent psychologist.” [56]

Back at Harvard, Alpert – who didn’t take the mushrooms in Mexico – is quickly won over to the cause. With the consent of their superiors at Harvard, Leary and Alpert begin to include the psilocybin, the synthesized active ingredient of magic mushrooms, in their experimental psychological treatments on volunteer prisoners in the Concord Prison Experiments and with students at Harvard. It is during the beginning stages of these experiments that even more names of the emerging psychedelics scene begin to coalesce. On November 8, 1960, on the day of John F. Kennedy’s election, LSD and mescaline enthusiasts Aldous Huxley and Humphry Osmond arrive in Cambridge (Harvard) where they meet for the very first time with Leary. Huxley is given his first dose of psilocybin and quickly decides to join the prison experiments. [57]

Then there are some of the other pioneers, as described by Leary:


“I was visited by a graduate student named Ralph Metzner. … He wanted to work on the prison project. …

“Ralph, Gunther [Weil], and I, feeling a sense of camaraderie as a result of the [psilocybin] session, drove out to the Concord prison to meet the six candidates Jefferson had selected from the pool of volunteers. Two murderers. Two armed robbers. One embezzler. One black heroin pusher.

“[Soon] the convicts spoke about their mystical experiences to … Alan Watts … William Burroughs [and] Aldous Huxley…” [59]

Let’s take a look at these new names in Leary’s circle. Ralph Metzner we’ll meet several times more in this article, but by the 1990s his psychedelics research was co-financed by Laurance Rockefeller through the Heffter Research Institute.

Gunther Weil has been a psychology student at Harvard since 1961 who also served as an elite Fulbright Scholar. A Harvard student until 1965, Weil was not just involved in the Concord Prison Experiments, but also the IFIF project and Millbrook. With Leary and Metzner he edited The Psychedelic Review, an irregularly published magazine in the 1963-1971 period that featured articles of just about every prominent psychedelic researcher and enthusiast: Gordon Wasson, Richard Evans Schultes, Albert Hofmann, Alan Watts, Gerald Heard, Humphrey Osmond, etc. Even the notorious Bronfman agent and CIA asset, Ira Einhorn, who later fled the country for murdering his girlfriend, was published in here. [60] Some of these individuals still need to be discussed.

After graduation in 1965, Weil was invited by Abraham Maslow – the most influential psychologist involved in the Esalen Institute – to teach at the Jewish Brandeis University, where Richard Alpert’s father was deeply involved in. Weil went on to become a successful psychologist with clients that included “JPMorgan Chase, Citibank, Credit Suisse … Harvard JFK school [and] MIT Media Lab.” [61]

Meanwhile, Weil kept involved in “alternative” circles. In 1978, for example, UFO researcher Jacques Vallee gave a lecture at his house. Present in the room was the notorious Ira Einhorn, a long-time friend of Weil. [62] In 1981 Weil brought qigong master Mantak Chia to Harvard, taught him how to teach to groups instead of just individuals, and continued a life-long association with him. [63] From 1994 to 1998 Weil was founding chairman of the National Qigong Association. His Media Lab appointment starting in 2012 demonstrates that Weil kept his old friendships even in old age, because he was hired here by director Joi Ito, a godson and very close friend of Timothy Leary. [64]

William Burroughs II was a gay, drunken, heroin-addicted Beat Generation author who back in 1944 shot his estranged wife to death in a failed William Tell enaction. In 1953 he traveled to Peru in search of ayahuasca, sending letters of his travels and experiences with the vine back to the United States to poet Allen Ginsberg, a cousin of LSD pioneer Dr. Oscar Janiger. [65] Ginsberg quickly followed Burroughs to Peru to experience ayahuasca for himself. [66] In 1963 the two men published Burrough’s letter under the title The Yage Letters. By that time both Burroughs and Ginsberg had become intimately involved in Leary’s circle at Harvard. Burroughs was directly part of the Concord Prison Experiments; Ginsberg more on the periphery. Leary and Barron first introduced Ginsberg to mushrooms on November 26, 1960 at Leary’s Harvard residence. [67] Like Alpert and many others, he was quickly won over.


By: Joël van der Reijden | Date: October 23, 2017 | Updated: February 24, 2022 




1983, Timothy Leary, ‘Flashbacks’, p. 17: “[Frank Barron] said [to me] his research on creativity had led him to Mexico, where he interviewed a psychiatrist who had been producing visions and trances using the so- called “magic mushrooms. Frank had taken a bag filled with the mushrooms back to Berkeley and ingested them.”


October 13, 2002, New York Times, ‘F. X. Barron, 80; Studied Science of Creativity’.


1983, Timothy Leary, ‘Flashbacks’, p. 29.

[33] (accessed: January 5, 2017): “Timothy Leary was the Director of the Kaiser Foundation Psychological Research from 1952 to 1958, some reports indicate the years 1954-59. In 1950 he helped found the Kaiser Psychiatric Clinic in Oakland, California. During the next eight years he received nearly one-half million dollars in federal grants at the Kaiser Clinic for research work on mental illness.”


Jessica Locke De Greco (BA in psychology, University of Hampshire),, ‘LSD Research: An Overview’: “One well-known study that Leary conducted at the Kaiser Foundation measured the progress of patients in psychotherapy against that of patients who were on a waiting list for therapy during a nine month period. The psychological community was quite shocked by the results, which indicated that the improvement ratios of the two groups were virtually identical. …
He [also] developed a personality test himself called “The Leary,” which the CIA and other organizations used to test prospective employees. These accomplishments eventually lead Leary to an appointment at Harvard…”


1983, Timothy Leary, ‘Flashbacks’, pp. 17-18.

[36] (accessed: January 18, 2017), David C. McClelland papers: “1956: … Chairman of Staff, Center for Research in Personality [at Harvard]. … 1958: Receives Guggenheim Fellowship… 1959: Travels to Italy with Guggenheim fellowship [Leary is located in Florence, Italy]…”


1983, Timothy Leary, ‘Flashbacks’, p. 18.


Ibid., pp. 19-20.


March 1984 interview of the author unknown journalist with Timothy Leary about his new biography ‘Flashbacks’ (YouTube title: ‘Timothy Leary Ph.D – Air date March 1984’): “I was invited to Harvard in 1960 [note: mid to late 1959] to institute “better methods of behavior change.” Give individuals more control and understanding of their lives. They invited me to change things. I guess they didn’t know they were going to get more than they calculated.”


1983, Timothy Leary, ‘Flashbacks’, p. 21.


1968 (1995 edition), Timothy Leary, High Priest, pp. 37-39, 48-54.

[42] (accessed: July 10, 2017):“Born in 1898 and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, Alpert graduated from English High School in 1915 and from Boston University Law School in 1918. From 1924-1927, he served as an assistant district attorney for Suffolk County, Massachusetts; he later opened the law firm Alpert & Alpert with his brother Herbert.”


November 7, 1946,, ‘Einstein Foundation Names Its University After Brandeis; Will Open It Next October’:“George Alpert, prominent Boston attorney and philanthropic leader, was elected to the presidency of the Board of Trustees of Middlesex University. Mr. Alpert, who is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Albert Einstein Foundation, is well known in Jewish communal activities. He is a board member of the Joint Distribution Committee and chairman of that organization’s New England region. He is also a trustee of the Associated Jewish Philanthropies, Combined Jewish Appeal and Hebrew Teachers College, all of Boston. In addition, he is national co-chairman of the United Jewish Appeal, a trustee of the American Institute for International Information, and a director of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.”


*) Ibid.
*) (accessed: July 10, 2017):“[George] Alpert was … a member of the board of trustees of the Franklin (N.H.) Hospital [and] a trustee of Temple Ohabei Shalom…”


*) (accessed: July 10, 2017): “George Alpert was the first Chairman of the Brandeis University Board of Trustees. He held this position from 1946-1954 and remained a Board member for the rest of his life.”
*) (accessed: July 10, 2017): “The Board of Trustees [of Brandeis] began in 1947 with George Alpert as its first Chair. Prominent trustees have included Leonard Bernstein and Eleanor Roosevelt. … Klutznick, Philip M [a fellow and his wife was deeply involved in Brandeis] –Correspondence, 1959-1964. Klutznick, Philip M–Correspondence, 1965-1968. … Lehman, Senator Herbert H.–Correspondence, 1956-1964. … Roosevelt, Anna Eleanor, 1954-1963… “
*) 1995, Abram Leon Sachar, ‘Brandeis University: A Host at Last’, p. 92: “members of our own [Brandeis] board, Senator Herbert Lehman and Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt.”


November 7, 1946,, ‘Einstein Foundation Names Its University After Brandeis; Will Open It Next October’: “Professor Albert Einstein, leading proponent and sponsor of the first secular American university to be established under Jewish auspices, gave his endorsement to the choice of name. … Mr. Alpert, who is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Albert Einstein Foundation…”


1951, Israel Goldstein, ‘Brandeis University: Chapter of Its Founding’, p. 29: “Mr. George Alpert, a prominent lawyer in Boston, who had attained local recognition in the Jewish charities and national recognition in the United Jewish Appeal…”


June 1945, UPA Report, p. 4, ‘Tours Communities in Behalf of U. P. A.’ (Alpert) and officers list in the lower right corner. (Photocopy)


*) November 7, 1946,, ‘Einstein Foundation Names Its University After Brandeis; Will Open It Next October’:“George Alpert … is a board member of the Joint Distribution Committee and chairman of that organization’s New England region.”
*) See the following Joint Distribution Committee officers lists from October 1945April 1949December 1960 and January 1962. In the first three lists George Alpert is serving with members of the Bronfman and Warburg families. In the last list he is serving with Bronfmans and Oppenheimers.


May 12, 1953 letter of director of development Michael M. Nisselson to Albert Einstein about the appointment of George Alpert as a fellow-honoraray chairman of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University. All officers are visible on the page.


George Alpert, Walter Annenberg, Max Stern and Laurence Tisch are listed as members of the board of overseers of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University on this photocopy of a flyer of a May 6, 1962 ‘Albert Einstein Commemorative Dinner’.


March 14, 1969, photocopy of President Nixon’s schedule for the day.


September 13, 1988, New York Times, ‘George Alpert, 90, Ex-President Of New Haven Line and a Lawyer’.


1983, Timothy Leary, ‘Flashbacks’, p. 22.

[55], David C. McClelland papers (accessed: January 9, 2017): “1949-1950: Lectures in Social Psychology at Harvard University, then returns to Wesleyan University.
Fall 1950: Becomes a staff consultant for the Social Science Research Council. This was in connection with the Ford Foundation Program for basic Social Science Development…
1952-1953: Serves as Deputy Director of the Behavioral Sciences division of the Ford Foundation…
1956[-]: … Chairman of Staff, Center for Research in Personality [at Harvard]. …”


1968 (1995 edition), Timothy Leary, High Priest, pp. 12-13, 15-17.


1983, Timothy Leary, ‘Flashbacks’, p. 379.


February 16, 1979 reunion video of Leary et al., ‘A Conversation on LSD’, 0:50, 2:54.


1983, Timothy Leary, ‘Flashbacks’, p. 85.


1971, no. 11, Ira Einhorn for the Psychedelic Review, ‘The sociology of the now’.

[61] (accessed: September 12, 2017).


2009, Jacques Vallee, ‘Forbidden Science: Volume Two: Journals: 1970-1979’, p. 441. See here for excerpt.


July 29, 2014 YouTube upload by “Healing Tao Society”, ‘Gunther Weil Brings Master Chia to Harvard’.

[64] (accessed: September 12, 2017).


August 19, 2001, New York Times, ‘Oscar Janiger, 83, Psychiatrist and Early Advocate of LSD Use’: “Born in New York City, Dr. Janiger, who was a cousin of the poet Allen Ginsberg, moved to Los Angeles in 1950…”


1968 (1995 edition), Timothy Leary, High Priest, pp. 114-115: “Allen Ginsberg hunched over a teacup… started telling of his experiences with ayahuasca. … He had followed the quest of William Burroughs, sailing south [to the Peruvian village] Pacullpo… I kept asking Allen questions about the curandero.” This was during the same November 26, 1960 meeting where Leary and Barron gave Ginsberg his first mushroom trip.


July 1968, Timothy Leary for Esquire magazine, ‘In the Beginning, Leary Turned on Ginsberg and Saw That It Was Good… And Then Leary and Ginsberg Decided to Turn on the World’: “November 26, 1960, the sunny Sunday afternoon that we gave Allen Ginsberg the mushrooms, started slowly. First in the cycle of breakfasts at noon were my son Jack Leary and his friend Bobbie, who had spent the night. … Frank Barron, who was visiting… remained upstairs…”


1998, William Burroughs and James Grauerholz, Ira Silverberg and Ann Douglas, ‘Word Virus: The William S. Burroughs Reader’, pp. 3-4: “William Burroughs’ father, Mortimer… graduated M.I.T. [and] married … Laura Lee… Laura Lee’s brother, Ivy Lebetter Lee…”


Ivy L. Lee certainly appears on Pilgrims Society membership lists 1924 and 1926-1927.