The Sunshine Makers examines the life and times of Nicholas Sand and Robert Timothy Scully, the masterminds behind the mythical "Orange Sunshine", a brand of LSD that is still heralded as the purest and to achieve mainstream notoriety. Nick and Tim were directly responsible for much of the LSD that was in circulation during that time and found themselves in the crosshairs of what would eventually fester into what we now know as The War on Drugs.
Directed by Cosmo Feilding Mellen (son of the influential Amanda Feilding) and written by Connie Littlefield, the film follows the story of Sand and Scully as they attempt to "turn on the world" through the manufacture and sale of Orange Sunshine. Cosmo and crew have managed to present us with an outstanding and poignant love letter to the era, iconic figures, and controversial chemical at the center of the documentary's narrative. The liberal use of stock footage enhances the overall aesthetic and allows us to easily immerse ourselves in the 60's counter-culture as presented here.
The documentary can only be as good as the figures it is profiling and in this regard, it succeeds. Both of the protagonists are interesting, multi-faceted, and really shine during the interview and narration woven into the film's structure. While their personalities are diametrically opposed to one another (Tim being somewhat reserved and introverted, while Nick is more akin to a streetwise guru), it's interesting to see how these two managed to reach a kind of synergy to attempt something bigger than themselves.
Greed, negligence, and oversight eventually led to the imprisonment of several key parties involved in the distribution and production of the legendary substance effectively ending it's run.
While definitely more low-key than some of his counter-culture contemporaries, Tim has undoubtedly influenced an entire generation. I was able to interview Tim and get a better understanding of why he decided to mount what he believed to be a necessary pushback against the establishment.
Prox: Could you detail your spiritual evolution over the years? What did LSD inject into your faith (if anything) that you still hold on to today?
Tim: My father was from an Irish Catholic family and my mother was from an English Protestant family. The clash in religions pretty much amounted to agnosticism. My brother and I were sent to Sunday school occasionally and to one church or another from time to time but we also soaked up the deep skepticism of organized religion that my parents felt.
By the time I left high school for the University, I was aware of a great deal of bigotry and violence that had been done down through history in the name of one religion or another. In the United States I knew there were churches that encouraged racial discrimination. I had heard on the radio preachers from one sect or another preying on gullible people for donations. I knew about Catholic popes who had sold indulgences and I knew about Muslim clerics who encouraged bloodied violence in response to the greed and rapacity of Crusaders. My opinion of organized religions was very low.
I read a great deal of science fiction as I was growing up and I believed in technological solutions for social problems. As for religion, I liked Robert Heinlein’s idea of pantheistic solipsism which he described in “Stranger in a Strange Land.”
I worked part-time at the Lawrence radiation laboratory when I was first at the University and I imagined a career working in nuclear physics and trying to solve the problem of controlled fusion. I believed that might be a source of very cheap, clean power which would solve many of the world’s problems.
I wasn’t used to getting very good grades in humanities courses, but I remember getting a good grade on a lower division English essay once. I speculated that if the notional psi waves in the Schrodinger wave equation actually had physical meaning, then every part of the universe is immersed in a field of waves from every other part of the universe. This idea of connectedness appealed to me.
When I eventually took LSD and experienced an intense feeling of oneness with everything in the universe I was reminded of that conjecture and used it as a mental model for understanding that aspect of my LSD experiences.
Don Douglas, a childhood friend from kindergarten, was studying oriental philosophy while I studied math and physics. He turned me on first to the Tao Te Ching and then to marijuana. At first I was sure that anyone who smoked marijuana was headed straight for skid row but Don convinced me that smoking a little pot would give me more of an idea of what the Tao Te Ching was talking about. He was right.
Then Don turned me onto Aldous Huxley’s works, particularly Doors of Perception, Heaven and Hell, and Island. And he told me about lectures he’d attended where researchers described mystical LSD experiences. The idea of a chemically-induced mystical experience was very interesting to me and I set out to try to find some LSD.
Don and I shared our first LSD experiences in my living room, sitting quietly in front of the fireplace. I knew that we might have frightening experiences or we might have the mystical experience I was seeking. We weren’t disappointed. For a while I felt at one with God and with the living things in the universe.
The next day we talked over the things we had seen and felt. We both repeated over and over to each other that we should share this fantastic experience with others. We couldn't imagine how hatred, cruelty, and destruction could continue to exist in the world if everyone were to share this experience.
Keep in mind that this was during the Vietnam War and the cold war with its looming threat of nuclear war.
That day I decided that I wanted to make a lot of LSD and give it away. My friend and I spent several weeks digesting that first experience before we took the drug again. Then I fell into the practice of taking LSD once a week, usually on weekends for the next several years.
When I finally ended my involvement with LSD manufacturing in the summer of 1970, I turned my attention to making brainwave biofeedback instruments. I had read about research being done by measuring the brainwave activity of Zen monks and yoga masters which showed unusually large quantities of alpha brain waves and had read about Joe Kamiya’s work training people in voluntary control of alpha brainwave production which in some cases led to meditative states.
Over the next couple of years I found that while some people could learn meditation through simple single channel alpha brainwave training, it was also possible for people to learn to produce more alpha waves without learning to meditate. Jean Millay suggested that I design a 2 channel brainwave synchronization trainer and I did so. We found that when people learned to produce phase synchronized Alpha waves in both hemispheres of the brain they were much more likely to be in a state of quiet centered attention which almost everyone found desirable.
Some years later when I found myself in McNeil Island penitentiary with a 20 year sentence after having lost all of my appeals, I got a job working for one of the prison psychologists. I worked as his assistant while we established a Zen meditation group, a Tai Chi group and a Yoga group in the prison. The Prison Ashram Project sent me a copy of a wonderful little book “Inside Out: A Spiritual Manual for Prison Life.”
I found that my brainwave biofeedback training helped with Zen meditation and Tai Chi which I practiced regularly in prison. I eventually was able to build brainwave biofeedback instruments and set up a biofeedback training program in prison to share my experiences with other inmates.
I haven’t taken psychedelic drugs for many years but I still highly value what I learned from them and I believe I’ve integrated those lessons into my daily life. Now that I’m getting older and the end of my life is much closer than the beginning, I occasionally meditate on death and I imagine that I will return to oneness with everything in the universe. That’s a reassuring thought to me.
Prox: How did prison alter your perspective on human nature, rumination, and solitude? Were there any skills that you acquired in there that you were able to use once you were released?
Tim: I was at McNeil Island for a few months before I was able to get out on appeal bond and then I was free for several years while the appeals were decided. The relatively short time I spent in McNeil Island early on gave me a pretty good idea of what the longer portion of my sentence might be like and I made every effort to try to reorganize my life so that I could make the best possible use of that time.
During that time I became a graduate student in the Humanistic Psychology Institute’s (now Saybrook University) external degree program, studying for a PhD in psychology. I had enough time in the free world to do quite a bit of work toward my degree including collecting experimental data for my dissertation. I maintained a correspondence with prison psychologists while I was free and had a job waiting for me when I finally had to return to prison.
Thus I was able to use my time in prison to be a student and I earned a PhD in psychology shortly before I was released from McNeil Island. I was also fortunate to be able to get permission to have parts sent in so that I could build a computer in prison and improve my skill at writing software. Both of these were of great practical use after my release from prison initially to a halfway house and later on parole.
In the free world I had been too busy to do things like meditation and Tai Chi but at McNeil Island I was fortunate to be able to participate in a Zen meditation group and a Tai Chi group both of which taught me valuable skills.
As I read more psychology and observed my fellow inmates I realized that a large proportion of the prison population adopted the victim stance. I helped prison psychologists do psychological testing and I saw that many inmates had an external locus of control corresponding to the victim stance.
One of the lessons that I left prison with was that life works much better for people who take responsibility for the results of the choices they make in life. Having an internal locus of control in this way is very empowering, even in prison. I recognized that I was in prison because of choices that I’d made and it was foolish to try to blame my situation on anyone else.
The inmates who chose the victim stance were also the ones who were most likely to waste their time in prison. I learned that it’s certainly possible to turn a prison into a monastery and/or school and thus to make very good use of the time.
I’m attaching a copy of an essay I wrote while I was at McNeil Island which addresses some of these issues.
Prox: Have you experimented with psychedelics at all since your incarceration? If so, how does the space differ from when you initially began experimenting with psychedelics in your youth?
Tim: I left McNeil Island with 5 felony convictions in a world where “3 strikes and you’re out” is a common policy. So I made a decision upon leaving prison to put as much space between myself and criminal activity as possible because even a small crime might end up putting me back in prison for a long time.
Prox: You mentioned during the documentary that having manufactured LSD was seen as a positive in the computer industry. How did consuming and producing psychedelics improve your abilities within the tech sphere?
Tim: I think that particularly during the early years of Silicon Valley, when the companies were still relatively small and not so corporate, it was common for people to see having made psychedelics as a positive form of rebellion. Quite a few people in Silicon Valley had tried psychedelics and understood that people who had taken psychedelics were more likely to be able to think both inside and outside the box and hence might be better at solving difficult problems.
Prox: Do you think it’s accurate (or fair) to compare the topography of these experiences to digital, software-like realms? Why does it feel so “virtual” in your opinion?
Tim: I didn’t find LSD experiences to be virtual. Perhaps that’s because the doses we took back in the mid-60s were significantly higher than those that are commonly taken now. If you take at least 100 or 150 µg of LSD there’s a good chance that you’ll experience ego loss or oneness with everyone and everything. In my opinion, that was the most important part of the LSD experience. It’s true that the synesthesia and dazzling visual effects were fun and might in some ways be compared with computer graphics but the deeper LSD experience felt far more significant to me.
Prox: With the state of current global sociopolitical landscape (rampant greed, racism, unrest, etc) being the way it is, what do you think these substances can do to contribute to a better world?
Tim: In 1965 when I first took LSD most of the same problems were rampant and I hoped then that making LSD widely available would save the world. By 1970 I was far less convinced that scattering LSD to the 4 winds would somehow magically solve the world’s problems and I stopped making LSD. I still believe that LSD can have a positive influence on the world but it appears to me that the same factors that kept LSD from saving the world in the 1960s are likely to do the same now.
Unfortunately the same problems are rampant now and the results of the last election in the United States were deeply disappointing to me. It’s very hard to feel optimistic these days. The world certainly needs saving.
I wonder if Aldous Huxley and Al Hubbard had the right idea when they tried to turn the world on from the top down; turning on political and religious leaders.
Prox: I’ve always admired how you seemed to have taken the whole thing in stride. How did and have you managed to stay so jovial in the face of adversity?
Tim: I was very fortunate and had a lot of help from my family, friends and colleagues. As a result I was given a lot of opportunities to make lemonade out of lemons. It also helped that I ended up in a federal prison operated by the Bureau of Prisons instead of a contract or state prison.
I did make a conscious choice to try to always remember that I was in prison because of things that I chose to do knowing that I would probably end up in prison. I still ended up feeling sorry for myself sometimes but that helped me get over it.
The way the correctional system operates tends to be strongly politically modulated and the pendulum swings slowly back-and-forth from pure punishment to punishment tempered by efforts at education and rehabilitation. I was fortunate in that when I served my time in federal prison, education and rehabilitation were in favor.
Prox: Favorite hobbies?
Tim: I’ve always enjoyed reading fiction for relaxation; you’ll see in The Sunshine Makers that I have a large library of paperback fiction.
I used to very much enjoy flying but unfortunately I’m no longer medically fit to be a pilot.
I enjoy working on small electronic design projects around my property. One ongoing project has been an ever more elaborate well monitoring system which uses software that I’ve written and hardware I’ve designed to keep track of many parameters associated with each well that I’m responsible for.
Last but not least is the history project where I’ve been gathering and organizing the history of underground LSD manufacturing.
Prox: Who are some of your favorite contemporary artists?
Tim: If you’re thinking of the visual arts I’m afraid that I am relatively oblivious to them. If you’re thinking of contemporary music, I have to admit that I prefer classical music. I did enjoy some of the music of the 60s, e.g., Bob Dylan.
Prox: Tips for aspiring artists, visionaries, and businessmen?
Tim: I have trouble imagining that my advice is valuable.
I think it’s important to try to find the right livelihood, that is if it’s financially practical, try to choose work that fully engages your heart and your interests so that you can be truly passionate about it.
When I look in my cloudy crystal ball it looks to me as though the world is going to be changing ever more rapidly and that there’ll be more and more difficult challenges to face in the future. That means acquiring as many different skills as possible so that you can flexibly surf the coming changes. If you’re too rigid you’re much more likely to break in the face of adversity.
If you’re a visionary, it might be wise to remember that is very difficult to predict all the consequences of a projected course of action and it is surely wise to remember the principle “first, do no harm.”
Try to put your feet into the other person’s shoes. There’s so much polarization now. It’s very important to remember there we’re all in this together whether we like it or not. Demonizing people we don’t agree with keeps us from understanding them.
When I set out to make a lot of LSD to try to save the world, I found myself being expedient all too often, doing things that I knew were not right because I believed at the time that the end justified the means. If you find yourself doing the expedient thing and rationalizing it, watch out. You may well end up regretting what you’re about to do.
Think globally, act locally.
Prox: Information on upcoming projects and releases?
Tim: My current project is a memoir which I hope will fill in most of the information that had to be left out of The Sunshine Makers due to limitations of a 90 minute film. That’s taking longer than I hoped.
Once my memoir is completed my tentative plan is to embark on a biography of Ron Stark. I’ve been very interested in his adventures for many years and I’ve been gathering records from all over the world and interviewing other people who knew him.
And of course there’s the larger history project. I’ve put quite a bit of it on back burners while I work on my memoir but I hope to resume work on the larger project as soon as possible.
Prox: Final Thoughts?
Tim: I’m delighted that medical research with LSD and other psychedelics is finally resuming. I think successful medical applications will be the way forward for eventually blazing a trail and changing cultural perceptions thus making a space for healthy people to be able to legally and safely use psychedelics.
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