There are certain stories that deserve to be kept in the public’s mind so that we continue to learn their lessons. The small town of Pont-Saint-Esprit in southeast France was the scene of a bizarre illness in August of 1951 when hundreds of residents were suddenly overcome with hallucinations thought to be mass insanity.
According to news reports, “seven people died and several dozen were sent to psychiatric hospitals. Hundreds of others were also affected to varying degrees by this mystery illness.”1
The illness was sudden and dramatic. Leon Armunier, who was delivering mail on his postal route, fell off his bicycle and was overcome by nausea and hallucinations, recalls, “It was terrible. I had the sensation of shrinking and shrinking, and the fire and the serpents coiling around my arms.” 2 He was hospitalized, confined in a straitjacket, and shared a room with teenagers who were chained to beds to control them. 2
The Telegraph wrote that Time magazine described the incident like this: “Among the stricken, delirium rose: patients thrashed wildly on their beds, screaming that red flowers were blossoming from their bodies, that their heads had turned to molten lead.” 3
At the time, a local baker was blamed for accidentally poisoning the townspeople with rye flour contaminated with ergot, a hallucinogenic mold. The event became known as Le Pain Maudit (Cursed Bread). 2 That theory has more recently been dismissed due to the investigative reporting of an American journalist who was researching activities of the CIA during the Cold War.
In his book, A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson, H.P. Albarelli connects the dots from his initial work to uncover the true cause of Dr. Frank Olson’s death to the CIA’s mind control experiments during the Cold War, to the sickening events in Pont-Saint-Esprit. Dr. Frank Olson was a bacteriologist at a U.S. Army biological research laboratory at Camp Detrick, Maryland. He died from a fall out of a 10th story hotel window during a 1953 business trip in New York City. His death was surrounded in controversy—thought to be suicide, murder, or the result of exposure to LSD. 4
In an interview with ABC News, Albarelli said, “When researching my book, I came across numerous references to Pont-Saint-Esprit. There were references in CIA documents and even White House documents. And after thorough research, I discovered that the village was the target of a CIA experiment and that it was also part of the motive as to why Frank Olson was murdered.” 1 Albarelli says that Olson had participated in the Pont-Saint-Esprit experiment, later deeming it “a terrible mistake,” and was seen as a threat to the secrecy of the project. 4
There is much evidence today that U.S. government agencies had explored the use of LSD as a weapon. Videos such as the one shared here show that the Army was testing LSD on soldiers.
According to ABC News, “One of the declassified documents obtained by Albarelli mentioned a dinner conversation in New York between an agent of the CIA and a scientist of the Swiss Sandoz lab. Sandoz was where Albert Hoffman, a chemist who discovered the effect of LSD in the 1940s, worked.
‘The two-page document said that after dinner, the scientist started talking about Pont-Saint-Esprit. He knew it was not the ergot (that was the cause of the illness). He knew the real secret of Pont-Saint-Esprit and that it was an experiment,’ Albarelli said.” 1
According to the BBC, The Sandoz Chemical company’s base is located a few hundred kilometers from Pont-Saint-Esprit and it was the only location where LSD was being produced in the early 1950s.
Controversy remains today. There are scientists who dispute both the bread mold and the LSD theories. 2 Albarelli has not been able to determine whether French authorities are aware of the true nature of the bizarre incident. 5 The surviving townspeople in Pont-Saint-Esprit are still waiting for answers and accountability.
We hope you liked our article. Over the decades there are numerous documented cases of governments and corporations engaging in covert activities in order to gain control over resources oftentimes under the guise of protecting national security and/or in order to manipulate the populace to continue to sell products they know to be hazardous to our health (think about products like DDT, lead paint, tobacco, mercury and more recently the herbicide known as RoundUp). In the words of George Carlin, we continue to encourage you to continue to: “Question Everything.”
1Schpoliansky C. Did CIA Experiment LSD on French Town? 23 March 2010. ABC News.
2Thomson M. Pont-Saint-Esprit Poisoning: Did the CIA Spread LSD? 23 August 2010. BBC News.
3Samuel H. French Bread Spiked with LSD in CIA Experiment. 11 March 2010. The Telegraph.
4Albarelli HP Jr. A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson. Waterville, OR: Trine Day LLC, 2009.
5Manson H. In The 1950s The CIA Sprayed A French Town With LSD, Here’s What Happened. 1 May 2017. Awareness Act.
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