How did the Vietnam War influence the policies of the US Governments on drugs?

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Throughout the 1960s—during which the Vietnam War reached its peak—the United States saw the development of one of the most memorable countercultures of the century. Thousands of college students across the country gathered to protest the US’s ongoing occupation of Vietnam, which was seen as a blatant act of American imperialism and was despised because of the tremendous loss of human life the conflict was incurring. As radical separatist groups like the Black Panthers urged black Americans to stand in solidarity with their brothers overseas, the movement directed its energies toward protesting the War via nonviolent methods. Activists were interested in reaching a higher state of spirituality and began experimenting with a dizzying array of new drugs to achieve this purpose. One such drug, which originated in the Sandoz laboratories of Switzerland but which made its way to the United States in the decade, was LSD, which became one of the most intense targets of American anti-drug policies.

LSD’s most infamous proponent was the famous psychologist Dr. Timothy Leary. Leary advocated the use of psychedelics like LSD to "open up" the mind. Having done the drug many times himself, Leary vividly believed that LSD could provide therapeutic relief to both his students and psychiatric patients. The CIA-backed media at the time referred to Leary as “the most dangerous man in America,” and both his colleagues at Harvard University and the federal government did everything in their power to have his ideas discredited. In addition, the police—particularly in California, where the LSD epidemic was especially prevalent—began to crack down on the sale of illicit drugs. By 1971, Richard Nixon, responding to the rising use of not only LSD but also marijuana and barbiturates, declared his famous “War on Drugs,” launching the US into a determined effort to put an end to drug use once and for all.

The War on Drugs included a number of internal policies directed at reducing the production, distribution, and sale of psychoactive drugs. Nixon’s decision to eradicate drug use stemmed mainly from the connection between psychoactives like LSD and ongoing student unrest, which had reached a crisis point by the end of the 60s. In his book Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream, historian Jay Stevens has catalogued some of the ramifications this had on drug use. The CIA, for example, attempted to buy millions of doses of illicit LSD in order to limit the amount of drug flow on the streets and force consumers to attenuate their habits. The FBI was further engaged all over the country in trying to find out where LSD was being manufactured. These efforts produced only minor results. Ultimately, the drug policies of the 60s were relatively unsuccessful in creating lasting change in American drug use.

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