The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test: How The Author of “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” Spread LSD Across America

Published August 8, 2017
Updated December 1, 2017
On The Bus Further
Ken Kesey Dressed Up
Acid Test Graduation Girls
Acid Test Hand Freakout
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test: How The Author of “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” Spread LSD Across America
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In 1964, Ken Kesey, author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, traveled across America in a tie-dye school bus with nothing but a few friends and enough LSD to get an entire country high.

He drove around America challenging people to take his "acid tests" — and thus helped start the entire hippie movement.

Strange though it may seem, this was all inspired by the CIA. Kesey had a part of their MKULTRA program, in which the CIA fed LSD and other psychedelics to citizen guinea pigs in order to see what would happen. For Kesey, the experience opened his mind and he wanted to share it with the world.

He set out with a group called the Merry Pranksters in order to conduct his acid tests with anyone that he could find. The group included beatniks like Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady, who inspired Jack Kerouac's On The Road. Kesey's house band was the Grateful Dead, then an unknown group called the Warlocks. And his journey was chronicled by author Tom Wolfe, who would immortalize the trip in his book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

These Merry Pranksters threw parties across the country, inviting people to try LSD and “graduate” into what they considered a higher order of thinking. All kinds of people got involved. Artists, musicians, and even members of the Hells Angels flocked out to Ken Kesey’s acid tests both to party and to become, as they would say, "aware."

But it was more than just that — it was a happening that changed the world. They passed LSD through the youth and the celebrities of the day and thus helped create a whole new era: the era of psychedelics, hippies, and rebellion.

It was a revolution. As Merry Prankster Ken Babbs told the BBC, "We won’t blow up their buildings, we’ll blow their minds."

Next, check out some of the most incredible Woodstock photos and see what life was like inside America's hippie communes. Then, read up on hippie history.

Mark Oliver
Mark Oliver is a writer and teacher, and father whose work has appeared on The Onion's StarWipe, Yahoo, and Cracked.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.