The security of the US’ nuclear arsenal once lay in the hands of a few young men warped on hallucinogenic drugs. Records obtained by AP show that troops at a high-security nuke base in Wyoming bought, distributed, and used LSD.
After an airman made a social media post of himself smoking a joint, Air Force investigators were on the case, and eventually disciplined 14 airmen, convicting six of LSD use, distribution, or both.
“Although this sounds like something from a movie, it isn’t,” said Captain Charles Grimsley, one of the lead prosecutors.
The men were part of the 90th Missile Wing, and were stationed at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, just outside Cheyenne, Wyoming. The wing operates one-third of the 400 Minuteman 3 nuclear missiles that sit ready and waiting for war in silos scattered across the US’ empty Great Plains region.
When they weren’t safeguarding the US’ most powerful weapons, the men would gather to take LSD, cocaine, and ecstasy, sometimes on base.
The leader of the gang, Airman 1st Class Nickolos Harris, told the military court that he sourced LSD from civilian contacts, before distributing it to his fellow airmen at parties in 2015 and 2016.
LSD, short for lysergic acid diethylamide, has been a popular hallucinogen since it was first synthesized by Swiss chemist Dr. Albert Hoffman in 1938. The airmen would consume a small drop of the liquid on a piece of blotter paper, enough to alter their consciousness for hours on end.
“I absolutely just loved altering my mind,” said Harris. The court heard how Harris and his friends gathered to watch YouTube videos, “then went longboarding on the streets of Denver while high on LSD.”
“Minutes felt like hours, colors seemed more vibrant and clear,” another testified. “In general, I felt more alive.”
Not everybody enjoyed their experience however. “I’m dying!” one airman said at an LSD session in a state park outside Cheyenne, followed by “When is this going to end?”
While the men sometimes consumed the drugs on base, they never got high while on duty. However, given the seriousness of their duty, prosecutors argued that Harris should have served extra time for the “aggravating circumstance” of taking drugs on a nuclear missile base.
An air force spokesman told AP that “There are multiple checks to ensure airmen who report for duty are not under the influence of alcohol or drugs and are able to execute the mission safely, securely and effectively.” One of the men testified that if he was recalled to duty while on acid, he would have been unable to serve.
It is unclear how long before duty the men would take LSD. The intensity of an acid trip varies depending on how much is used and how the brain responds. Effects usually start after half an hour, and can last up to 12 hours.
Investigators closed in on the gang in early 2016 after one airman posted a Snapchat video of himself smoking marijuana. With the higher-ups on the scent, one man panicked and fled to Mexico with a bag of cash, before giving himself up and being charged with desertion.
While LSD is illegal in the US, its use in the armed forces is so uncommon that the Pentagon removed LSD screening from its drug testing procedures in 2006.