Nicholas Sand, Chemist Who Sought to Bring LSD to the World, Dies at 75
One day in 1964, Nicholas Sand, a Brooklyn-born son of a spy for the Soviet Union, took his first acid trip. He had been fascinated by psychedelic drugs since reading about them as a student at Brooklyn College and had experimented with mescaline and peyote. Now, at a retreat run by friends in Putnam County, N.Y., he took his first dose of LSD, still legal at the time.
Sitting naked in the lotus position, before a crackling fire, he surrendered to the experience. A sensation of peace and joy washed over him. Then he felt himself transported to the far reaches of the cosmos.
“I was floating in this immense black space,” he recalled in the documentary “The Sunshine Makers,” released in 2015. “I said, ‘What am I doing here?’ And suddenly a voice came through my body, and it said, ‘Your job on this planet is to make psychedelics and turn on the world.’ ”
Like Moses receiving the tablets, Mr. Sand took this commandment to heart. After being trained by the lab partner of Owsley Stanley, America’s premier LSD chemist, he set about producing vast quantities of the purest LSD on the market. His most celebrated product, known as Orange Sunshine for the color of the tablets it came in, became a signature drug of the late 1960s.
Touted by Timothy Leary as the finest acid available, “the tiny orange pills quickly acquired near-mythic status,” Martin A. Lee and Bruce Shlain wrote in “Acid Dreams: The Complete Social History of LSD” (1992). Distributed by the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, a drug cult based in Laguna Beach, Calif., it showed up wherever hippies gathered: at Grateful Dead concerts, in California communes, in Indian ashrams, in the hashish havens of Afghanistan. Mr. Sand made sure that Orange Sunshine was available to American soldiers fighting in Vietnam, whose minds he hoped to bend in the direction of nonviolence and brotherly love.
The goal was simple. “If we could turn on everyone in the world,” he said in the documentary, “then maybe we’d have a new world of peace and love.”
It did not work out that way. Orange Sunshine was Mr. Sand’s ticket to a life on the run. For years he raced to stay a step ahead of federal agents, and after being convicted on drug and tax-evasion charges, he hid in Canada for two decades under an assumed name.
Eventually, after being arrested and unmasked, he was returned to the United States, where he served six years in prison.
He emerged an unchanged man, totally committed to the beatific vision granted to him that day in upstate New York.
Mr. Sand died on April 24 at his home in Lagunitas, Calif. He was 75. The cause was a heart attack, said Gina Raetze, his longtime companion, who uses the name Usha, which she adopted as a follower of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh.
He was born Nicholas Francis Hiskey in Brooklyn on May 10, 1941, to Clarence and Marcia Hiskey. His father was a chemist and, since his college days, a committed Communist. He was recruited by Soviet intelligence during World War II while working on the Manhattan Project, from which he was expelled after American investigators saw him meeting with a Russian agent.
When Nick, as he was known, was a young boy, his mother, an activist for a time with the party, divorced her husband, took back her maiden name, Sand, and gave it to her son.
Mr. Sand graduated from Erasmus Hall High School in 1959 and two years later married Maxine Solomon, a childhood sweetheart.
After working for a year on a kibbutz in Israel, the couple returned to New York, where, taking night courses, Mr. Sand earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology and anthropology from Brooklyn College in 1966.
After taking his first psychedelic drug, mescaline, in 1962, Mr. Sand taught himself chemistry and set up a lab in his mother’s attic to make dimethyltryptamine, or DMT. Although it produced only a brief high, it was much easier to formulate than LSD. Brisk demand prompted a move to larger premises in a Brooklyn loft, where he created the fictitious Bell Perfume Labs.
An invitation from Richard Alpert, Mr. Leary’s former Harvard colleague, brought him to Millbrook, a farm in Dutchess County, N.Y., where Mr. Alpert, Mr. Leary and others had started a psychedelic community. After 1966, when LSD became illegal, Millbrook created the Original Kleptonian Neo-American Church, whose clergy members, known as Boo Hoos, administered sacraments in the form of psychedelic drugs. Mr. Sand was designated the “alchemist” of the new religion, as well as of Mr. Leary’s church, the League for Spiritual Discovery, whose initials spelled LSD.
The glory days lay just ahead. In 1967, Mr. Stanley, America’s premier LSD chemist, encouraged Mr. Sand to shift his operations to California. To help him get started, he offered him the services of his lab partner, Tim Scully, who proved to be a brilliant teacher.
From a lab in Windsor, Calif., north of San Francisco, the two partners turned out four million doses of Orange Sunshine, the first step in a planned production of 750 million doses — the right amount, they decided, to precipitate a psychedelic revolution.
Federal and state law enforcement officials had other ideas. By late 1971 Mr. Sand was being investigated by a joint force of federal narcotics and tax agents, who pressured Billy Hitchcock, the owner of Millbrook and Mr. Sand’s liaison with the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, to testify against Mr. Sand and Mr. Scully.
Both men were convicted on multiple charges by Judge Samuel Conti, known as Hanging Sam, who complained during the trial that the death penalty was not available to him.
Judge Conti, telling Mr. Sand that he had “contributed to the degradation of mankind and society,” handed down a sentence of 15 years. In his cell at McNeil Island Penitentiary in Washington State, which he shared with Mr. Scully, an unrepentant Mr. Sand conducted LSD sessions for his fellow prisoners until he won release pending an appeal of his case.
When it became clear that the appeal would not succeed, Mr. Sand, dressed as a tourist on a fishing holiday, entered Canada under the assumed name Ted Parody — officially Theodore Edward Parody III.
He settled in the town of Lumby, in British Columbia, and began growing psilocybin mushrooms as a cash crop. After becoming enchanted by the teachings of Shree Rajneesh, the Indian guru, he spent time at the Rajneesh ashram in Poona, taking the name Pravasi. He learned to grow hydroponic vegetables and set up an LSD lab. With the guru, he helped create a Rajneeshee community, Rajneeshpuram, near Antelope, Ore.
Rajneeshpuram disbanded in 1985, and Mr. Sand returned to Canada, where he eventually created a large lab in Port Coquitlam, near Vancouver, to make LSD and other psychedelic drugs on a grand scale. In 1996, Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers raided the lab and in the course of their investigations discovered that their suspect, now using the name David Roy Shepard, was a fugitive from justice in the United States.
The drug haul was stupendous, the case big time. Staff Sgt. Kenneth Ross of the mounted police, speaking at a news conference, called Mr. Sand “an icon in the world of illicit drugs.”
In 1998, Mr. Sand pleaded guilty to manufacturing drugs in Canada — he had been found with enough acid, he said, “to dose the whole of Canada two times over” — and was sentenced to nine years in prison, to run concurrently with his United States sentence. He was returned to San Francisco, where Judge Conti was brought out of retirement to preside over the case. The judge added five years, the maximum, to Mr. Sand’s original sentence.
Mr. Sand was released to a halfway house in 2001 after winning an appeal to overturn the bail-jumping conviction on the grounds that he had not been told what date to return to court. He completed his parole in 2005.
Mr. Sand’s first marriage ended in divorce. In addition to Ms. Raetze, he is survived by his wife, Judy Shaughnessy, from whom he separated in the 1980s; their daughter, Sorrel Sand; and a half sister, Iris Hiskey Arno.
In an interview in 2009 for a National Geographic documentary on LSD, Mr. Sand estimated that he had manufactured about 30 pounds of it over the course of his career, enough for nearly 140 million doses. The number gave him satisfaction.
“I have a vision,” he wrote in The Entheogen Review in 2001, outlining a future in which the police would be replaced by “guides, friends, helpers and lovers” and the human race would ascend to “a new level of consciousness” through psychedelic drugs.
“That is what I have seen in my visions, and that is what I have been working for all of my life,” he added. “That is what I will continue to do until my last breath.”