Welcome to Pont St Esprit in the Gard – a pituresuqe town of 10,000 souls, 164 shops, 12 restaurants, 4 hotels and 859 free parking spaces, situated between Ardéche and Provence nestling on the banks of the Rhône river – just a couple of hours drive and you are on the shores of the Med.
This is « la France Profonde » as dreamed and sought after by many Brits. Pont St Esprit is a quiet place in the sun – « sans histoires » as the French would say – just the sort of place for a quiet holiday, and just the right place to conduct a vast secret chemical warfare experiment.
Here’s the story
« In 1951, a quiet, picturesque village in southern France was suddenly and mysteriously struck down with mass insanity and hallucinations. At least five people died, dozens were interned in asylums and hundreds afflicted.
For decades it was assumed that the local bread had been unwittingly poisoned with a psychedelic mould. Now, however, an American investigative journalist has uncovered evidence suggesting the CIA peppered local food with the hallucinogenic drug LSD as part of a mind control experiment at the height of the Cold War. »
Henry Samuel – Daily Telegraph March 11th 2010
Seems just a litte far-fetched, the CIA using French peasants as guinea pigs in a vast experiment. Mind you, where beter than deepest rural France in the early fifties – far from the glare of the world’s media, and the « bread story » is very plausible –
So, just what are the effects of LSD. Aldous Huxley once took some on TV and it didn’t seem to do much to him. Believ those who have (or think that they have ) taken LSD and you get everything from mood swings to visions of monsters coming out of walls.
Here’s some info from a reputable drug web site
What are its short-term effects?
The effects of LSD are unpredictable.They depend on the amount taken, the user's personality, mood, and expectations, and the surroundings in which the drug is used.The physical effects include dilated pupils, higher body temperature, increased heart rate and blood pressure, sweating, loss of appetite, sleeplessness, dry mouth, and tremors. Sensations and feelings change much more dramatically than the physical signs.The user may feel several different emotions at once or swing rapidly from one emotion to another.If taken in a large enough dose, the drug produces delusions and visual hallucinations.The user's sense of time and self changes.Sensations may seem to "cross over," giving the user the feeling of hearing colors and seeing sounds.These changes can be frightening and can cause panic.
What are its long-term effects?
Some LSD users experience flashbacks, recurrence of certain aspects of a person's experience without the user having taken the drug again.A flashback occurs suddenly, often without warning, and may occur within a few days or more than a year after
And what did the LSD (or bread) do to the inhabitants of Pont St Esprit? Back to Henry Samuel
« The mystery of Le Pain Maudit (Cursed Bread) still haunts the inhabitants of Pont-Saint-Esprit, in the Gard, southeast France.
On August 16, 1951, the inhabitants were suddenly racked with frightful hallucinations of terrifying beasts and fire.
One man tried to drown himself, screaming that his belly was being eaten by snakes. An 11-year-old tried to strangle his grandmother. Another man shouted: "I am a plane", before jumping out of a second-floor window, breaking his legs. He then got up and carried on for 50 yards. Another saw his heart escaping through his feet and begged a doctor to put it back. Many were taken to the local asylum in strait jackets.
Time magazine wrote at the time: "Among the stricken, delirium rose: patients thrashed wildly on their beds, screaming that red flowers were blossoming from their bodies, that their heads had turned to molten lead."
The Pain Maudit was probably made from infected wheat or Rye and the inhabitants of Pont St Esprit (known as Spiripontains & Spiripontaines) got a spot of Ergotism which is …
« Ergotism is the effect of long-term ergot poisoning, traditionally due to the ingestion of the alkaloids produced by the Claviceps purpurea fungus which infects rye and other cereals, »
and here are the symptoms
Convulsive symptoms include painful seizures and spasms, diarrhea, paresthesias, itching, headaches, nausea and vomiting. Usually the gastrointestinal effects precede central nervous system effects. As well as seizures there can be hallucinations resembling those produced by LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide, to which the ergot alkaloid ergotamine is an immediate precursor and therefore shares some structural similarities), and mental effects including mania or psychosis. The convulsive symptoms are caused by clavine alkaloids.
The dry gangrene is a result of vasoconstriction induced by the ergotamine-ergocristine alkaloids of the fungus. It affects the more poorly vascularized distal structures, such as the fingers and toes. Symptoms include desquamation or peeling, weak peripheral pulses, loss of peripheral sensation, edema and ultimately the death and loss of affected tissues.
Ergot poisoning has also been used as one of the explanations of bewitchment, which of course takes us to Salem and the famous witch trial. The cause of the « bewitchment » of the Salem « Witches » could be ergot poisoning. This is actually a very serious theory.
« The cause of the symptoms of those who claimed affliction continues to be a subject of interest. Various medical and psychological explanations for the observed symptoms have been explored by researchers, including, convulsive ergotism caused by eating rye bread made from grain infected by the fungus Claviceps purpurea (which is the natural substance from which LSD is derived) »
Surely the CIA weren’t experimenting with LSD back in 1692.
And the reason for this post ?
Well it was on radio 4’s morning news programme « Today » - and here is the link.
Plus there is a documentary about the story on BBC2 this evening