Many of us are ‘on retreat’, living in lockdown as we desperately try to buy time for our medical services to cope with the effects of COVID-19. Some people have been on lockdown for days, others for many weeks.

In The United States Penitentiary Tucson, Arizona, William Leonard Pickard has been on lockdown for two decades. In response to the pandemic Leonard is currently held in a cell of 60 sq feet (with another person) for 22 hours a day, with an hour for email and an hour for showers. His previous meager opportunities for outdoor exercise and social interaction have gone. The confinement that Leonard has lived under for 20 years, having been convicted of manufacturing LSD, has intensified.

Pickard is serving two life sentences for his alleged crime and now, thanks to the pandemic sweeping our planet, his world is even smaller than it was before. This is perhaps particularly tragic since it was through an LSD-inspired insight that biochemist Kary Mullis discovered the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Hailed as, ‘one of the most important scientific inventions of the 20th century’, PCR is critical in helping us understand COVID-19. It’s one of the main ways we test for the virus. The fact that Leonard Pickard and his fellow prisoners, should they ever be tested for coronavirus, will be relying on a method discovered by a biochemist on acid is darkly ironic.

When the pandemic passes, we’ll be in dire need, not only for the brilliant flashes of insight that psychedelic substances can provide for scientists, engineers and others, but also for their healing potential.

In a world where the already threadbare medical services of many supposedly rich countries are being overrun by the pandemic, their mental health services will be too—potentially for many years—once the immediate crisis is over.

We know, and have known for decades, that psychedelic substances have enormous value as medicines. As we push on through this time of crisis, transition, and change let’s not forget that we can also change the world to include healthier use of these drugs and an end to their widespread prohibition.

Let’s also not forget that, especially as prisoners are released across the world in response to current events, that there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of people like William Leonard Pickard who have little hope of escaping their lockdown. These prisoners are not in jail for crimes of violence, but for using and providing substances that, in this pandemic and afterwards, will go a long way towards helping us to heal.

Leonard is the author of The Rose of Paracelsus, an ideal read while you are in your cell (however simple or opulent that may be). You can listen to the book at the Psychedelic Salon podcast. There is an introduction to the whole work and the first chapter read by Leonard himself recorded over multiple, time-limited telephone calls, made from prison. Further audio readings will be released over the next few months. In addition I’m also pleased to announce that sections of The Rose of Paracelsus, read, recorded and mixed by Michael Orlando are also now available.

This is a perfect time to read and listen to Pickard’s book. When our worlds have suddenly become globally joined and yet fragmented into monkish cloisters. When our fate hinges on a test for a potentially deadly virus which might not exist were it not for a tiny, powerful, outlaw molecule.

Stay Well, Stay High!

Julian Vayne

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1 Comment

  1. Thanks J lovely blog post, if petitions did anything I’d sigh a petition to free all non violent or criminal gang drug offenders. The whole thing now, astonishing unpreparedness for the inevitable and zero bio-weapon defences.




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