A U.S. journalist claims that the CIA conducted a secret experiment with LSD, the well-known psychedelic drug, on the residents of the small picturesque French town of Pont-Saint-Esprit, by putting the drug in bread flour.

The story played out in the summer of 1951, when the “cursed bread” (as the inhabitants called it) led five people to death, while 300 got ill and 30 were taken to psychiatric clinics. At least 120 people were locked up in mental asylums and have been taking psychiatric drugs for years.

Now, a U.S. journalist, Hank Albarelli, claims that the CIA was behind the poisoning. In his book entitled “A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA’s Secret Cold War Experiments,” published in 2009, Albarelli claims that the CIA conducted a large-scale chemical test in Pont-Saint-Esprit.

Then some people who evidenced the incident began telling stories.

Someone jumped from the balcony of the second floor shouting “I’m an airplane” while a group of students showed everyone with pride “the red flowers that grew on their bodies“.

The first diagnosis of doctors was poisoning by a hallucinogenic fungus, which was found in the rye flour which was used to prepare bread. However, Albarelli’s research suggests that bread was really “poisoned” but not by a fungus and certainly not “accidentally”!

It is known that scientists around the world were experimenting with LSD in the early 1950s, at a time of conflict in Korea and of escalation of the Cold War.

Albarelli argues that doctors made the diagnosis of fungal poisoning because they “were working for a Swiss drugmaker, who was the exclusive LSD supplier, as well as for the CIA and for the U.S. military.”

The theory is based on secret documents of the CIA that the author claims to have managed to find in an effort to investigate the strange suicide of a biochemist Olson who worked in the service of the U.S. Army. The scientist had fallen from the 13th-floor window two years after the case of the “cursed bread”.

According to the American journalist, he discovered a confidential letter of a CIA agent and an employee of the pharmaceutical industry, in which there was a reference to “the secret of Pont-Saint-Esprit”. According to the evidence gathered so far, French secret services do not seem to be involved.

Was it an experiment with LSD after all?

American academic Professor Steven Kaplan in his book published in 2008 describes the Pont-Saint-Esprit incident in detail, insisting that LSD could not have been responsible for all those tragic events that happened.

He claims that although the symptoms of the people who suffered from the incident were very similar to those of LSD, they are not perfectly matched to the drug.

Furthermore, doctoral students in the laboratory of synthetic biology at Harvard found that fungi found in bread flour could have been modified in such a way as to produce the Lysergic Acid Diethylamide substance, namely LSD!

Approximately 20 tons of lysergic acid (a component of LSD) are used annually for the production of various medicines. The substance is produced from the cultivation of fungus, which is modified by using a special technology.

However, synthetic biology can considerably simplify the procedure. Some fungi (ergot fungus) have the ability to transform certain substances and compose new ones.

These include the bread flour, and the researchers estimate that one liter of the modified flour can produce a gram of lysergic acid!

In any case, whether the Pont-Saint-Esprit poisoning was an experiment with LSD or not still remains unclear.

Anna LeMind, B.A.

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