The criminal justice system has told us that people incarcerated due to drug charges are the greatest dangers to society. William Leonard Pickard spent 20 years in maximum security federal prison, convicted in American history’s largest-ever LSD manufacturing case. But the danger he faced was inside the system, where he says he witnessed killings every day at the maximum security facility. Pickard’s work in LSD – allegedly he is responsible for 90 percent of the world’s supply of the substance – has in fact been all about healing. He was brutally punished not for harming people, but for dedicating his life to helping them understand their own consciousness.
Watch Honeysuckle's full interview with William Leonard Pickard:
William Leonard Pickard Speaks at Trailblazers Sedona
Honeysuckle got the rare opportunity to interview Pickard, who was released from prison in July 2020, when he recently appeared as the keynote speaker at the May 2022 Trailblazers conference. An exclusive audience of cannabis and psychedelics industry executives gathered in Sedona, Arizona to discuss their visions for the future of these revolutionary sectors. Though the event also featured speakers including former NBA player and Viola CEO Al Harrington, 1906 founder and CEO Peter Barsoom, medical cannabis pioneer and President of Scottsdale Research Institute Sue Sisley, Garden Society founder and CEO Erin Gore and more, none was regarded with more awe than Pickard. As the guest of honor held forth on all things LSD, it became clear that Pickard had not only won the hearts of those in attendance with his story, but also his uncanny knowledge about humanity’s connection to the universe.
“We are consciousnesses that can experience many blessings,” Pickard told Team Honeysuckle the day following his speech. Stopping to rest while on a group hike in the Sedona Valley, Pickard explained how his Christian upbringing had imbued him with a belief in God and the idea that ultimately “God is love… God permeates every atom, every electron to the far reaches of the universe and beyond. But I see that great Spirit as benevolent. If it weren’t, how could we feel what we feel?”
William Leonard Pickard on Birth and Death Experiences in Psychedelic Use
How does LSD fit into this? Much more than one might imagine. According to Pickard, one of the beauties in psychedelic exploration is that it can bring on transcendent states of consciousness. He described birth and death experiences as classic sensations of psychedelic use, theorizing that being able to “leave” one’s present moment in some form to shift and confront a kind of consciousness trauma could in fact be incredibly healing for people. Although the substances are shifting one’s mind, proper use with knowledgeable guides may help one to see life’s layers from atoms to a great expanse.
“People come to the conclusion in death experiences of seeing themselves as collections of atoms or dancing molecules and that they are already dead,” Pickard observed with a laugh. “That they are comprised primarily of a vacuum occupied by calcium atoms and phosphorous atoms and space primarily. And so the question of what is life and death becomes very profound. There's an ease that occurs after death experience. Once one goes through it, one is in a sense relieved of many burdens and unnecessary responsibilities. So on the other side of a death experience is a type of healing Then there are birth experiences, where one feels born into a new consciousness, finally awake, subsequent to one's physical birth. And that has its own glory as well.”
What Was William Leonard Pickard’s Most Powerful Experience With LSD?
In fact, Pickard recalled one of his most intensely poignant experiences with LSD occurred in his early years as an underground manufacturer. One night at 2AM, while standing on a ladder decanting 10 million doses of acid in a remote laboratory in New Mexico, he slipped and fell into the very solvent that was dissolving the LSD.
“Methylene chloride,” Pickard noted, “goes through skin rather instantly, carrying with it whatever’s dissolved, in this case 10 million doses of LSD drenching from head to foot.” Though he has detailed the story in his autobiographical novel The Rose of Paracelsus, Pickard reminisced vividly yet fondly of the memories. An instant high, a panicked shower, lots of praying. And then a vision of “every imaginable psychic transformation” from choirs of angels singing to votives burning with fire. As he stumbled from the lab to the outside, he sat quietly to ponder his own existence, suddenly soothed by his private communion with nature.
“It was a perfectly clear night in the desert,” Pickard intoned melodically. “Beautiful full moon, hovering over the horizon, little cacti stretching over rolling hills… Very isolated. The night birds rustling, soft wind moving about. I noticed the ground was like jewels and the air was delicious. Like the perfume of goddesses and lovers. I felt tremendous bliss and comfort. Like everything was right, very all right, and would always be. And the universe was very kind and gentle. It was nothing to be afraid of. That went on throughout the night… In the morning I realized that really nothing had happened that night, that the ultimate experience was simply our natural mind. That all these millions of doses had no effect whatsoever. And one still retained the wonder of one's, childlike mind. The grace that has been bequeathed to us, the essential peace that we all have at a moment's reflection. And so that was a great teaching, that these lessons are not the gift of some drug. It's not dependent upon a drug, but simply the gift of our natural mind and heart. Of who we truly are. And so with that realization, I felt very refreshed and energized [and] I went back to work.”
He also emphasized that he and other early underground manufacturers of psychedelics, such as Nicholas Sand and Timothy Leary, would pray to God and the universe while making their initial batches. They would ask that these medicines go out into the world as beacons of hope and peace, relieving suffering and ushering in times of enlightenment. We must remember the risk they took – and that Pickard lost twenty years of his life for daring to bring humanity health and happiness.
Yet from his suffering, the global reward, for his words of wisdom proved a once-in-a-lifetime treat. We cannot fear our body-mind connections or the sensations that result. We cannot ignore our place in the universe and how that impacts everything else across time and space. We cannot be too preoccupied with the extraordinary adventure that is the afterlife. Most of all, we must use what we have in this life, on this plane, to give thanks and seek to heal others. Psychedelics are only the first of many keys to unlock the mysteries inside us.
William Leonard Pickard Answers Questions on Consciousness, Depression, Death and Psychedelic Medicine
HONEYSUCKLE: You’d mentioned that we’re mostly empty space, that the space between the electrons and atoms is huge compared to their size. What do you think consciousness is?
WILLIAM LEONARD PICKARD: Oh, well, that’s the eternal question. Where does space begin and matter end? Where does mind begin and brain end, the interface between the great dualities? I think neuroscientists see consciousness as just a collection of neuro anatomical loci if you will, that interact. We have our vision, we hear things. We feel things. We internally process thoughts, and the consciousness simply circulates among seeing, hearing, feeling one's posture. So almost a Buddhist concept that consciousness is only about five or six perceptions that constantly circulate among themselves. For example, right now I notice that I'm seeing these marvelous plants and I notice that I'm hearing the birds tweeting, ravens in that, that far tree. And I can feel the warmth of my hands and the pressure of the grass beneath me. Meanwhile, multiple thoughts are occurring, appearing and disappearing. So the neuroscientists and ancient thinkers and Buddhism are a type of convergence into the nature of consciousness. It may be very complex, but there are certain simple aspects of it. How good to be awake. I'm reminded of an early question of the Buddha 2000 years ago, where one asked him, “Are you a man?” “No.” “Are you a God?” “No.” “Well, what are you?” And he responded, “I'm awake.”
If interconnectivity is integral to life, what does that mean for people who experience depression or have the absence of that connection?
Well, I really haven't investigated psychiatric disorders such as depression, other than that's extraordinarily common. So I can only speak to it as a man who has encountered people that are very depressed. You know, I'm not really subject to depression. I can't explain why. In the 20 years in maximum security environments, doing a life sentence, losing one's family and loved ones and dignity, it would be easy to be depressed, a feeling of hopelessness as a despair, but somehow I never felt that. I saw people spiral into curling up into balls, into depression, and you could see it in their drawn faces and their haunted eyes. But I was spared that. I found it helps to, if one is feeling low, to engage in some work if the work is very healing. Some activity, something that has a future, a promise, something that has a great positive change… So for those that are depressed and have existential despair and sadness, I can only suggest being active, engaging with others. It helps not to focus so much on oneself, but to think of others perhaps in more difficult situations. Look for others having problems and try to help them.
There’s a statistic that Genghis Khan has had the largest impact on the human genome, just by the number of children he had when he was active. You have opened and expanded probably the most minds of any human ever – could we look at you as the Genghis Khan of LSD?
I don't look it that way. I don't think of it that way. Of course there was Nicky Sand before me, who did about 130 million doses. Wonderful Nicky. There've been a number of individuals responsible for large acid batches, but we're speaking only of a narrow small psychedelic community versus the great spiritual teachers of which we're hardly getting great. But one does in underground manufacturing think about the responsibility of affecting millions of consciousnesses. And that's a very serious moment of reflection. One can't go about it casually or with a cavalier attitude.
I can tell you how seriously underground GIMs tend to [their] global scale batches. There's a period in a underground laboratory where the swirling mixture of chemicals become psychoactive. And it's not uncommon at that moment for underground manufacturers to offer a prayer that this substance be benevolent in the world. That it might heal suffering. That it bring peace and tranquility and affection to many minds. And only with that particular prayer or blessing would these materials go out into the world. And that's an absolute necessity, to respect medicine. I would suggest that most employees in the pharmaceutical industry, even though they’re doing antibiotics, regard their medicines the same way.
You’ve found some understanding in death experiences with psychedelics. What can you tell younger people about the concept of death?
Death is an interesting concept to ask a person approaching 80… I’m in good health, but I think increasingly about it, but not enough to distract oneself from this glorious existence. But pitching forward to that moment, you could look at it as a sorrowful ending and detachment from the beauty and friendships and love of this world. That would be quite horrible, of course, saying farewell, ultimately poignant tears. “No, I don't want to die,” that sort of thing. But the other way to look at it, and I think [Timothy Leary] considered it was that it's the interface between life and death and that could be the greatest possible adventure of all time during one's life short of being born. So one might go with a sense of joy if you trust the universe, which one might after having this long life, these glorious mountains around us and thoughts and friendships. And if the universe has given us that blessing, then likely that's not the end of it. I can't imagine in the eternity of blackness of a cold void forever and ever. We came from that into this world and I suspect there's more. How could there not be?
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