Louis Jolyon West

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Louis Jolyon West
Born(1924-10-06)October 6, 1924
Died2 January 1999(1999-01-02) (aged 74)

Louis Jolyon "Jolly" West (October 6, 1924 – January 2, 1999) was an American psychiatrist whose work focused particularly on cases where subjects were "taken to the limits of human experience". He performed Jack Ruby's psychiatric evaluation, and he was in charge of UCLA's department of psychiatry and the Neuropsychiatric Institute for 20 years. He was also active in anti-death penalty activism.[1] He was a long-time friend of Charlton Heston.[2]

Study of POWs from Korean War[edit]

In the 1950s, West, then a Air Force doctor at Lackland Air Force Base,[3] was appointed to a panel to discover why 36 of 59 airmen captured in the Korean War had confessed or co-operated in Korean allegations of war crimes committed by the United States. Amid speculation that the airmen had been brainwashed or drugged, West came to a simpler conclusion: "What we found enabled us to rule out drugs, hypnosis or other mysterious trickery," he said. "It was just one device used to confuse, bewilder and torment our men until they were ready to confess to anything. That device was prolonged, chronic loss of sleep." The airmen avoided being court-martialed for these events as a result of West's research.[4]

He then published a paper with the title "United States Airforce prisoners of the Chinese Communist. Methods of forceful indoctrination : Observations and Interviews." [5]

Project MKUltra[edit]

West did his psychiatry residency at Cornell University, an MKUltra institution and site of the Human Ecology Fund.[6][7] He later became a subcontractor for MKUltra subproject 43, a $20,800 grant by the CIA while he was chairman of the department of Psychiatry at the University of Oklahoma. The proposal submitted by West was titled "Psychophysiological Studies of Hypnosis and Suggestability" with an accompanying document titled "Studies of Dissociative States".[8]

LSD-related death of an elephant[edit]

One of the more unusual incidents of West's career came in August 1962, when he and two co-workers attempted to investigate the phenomenon of musth by dosing Tusko, a bull elephant at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Oklahoma City, with LSD. They expected that the drug would trigger a state similar to musth; instead, the animal began to have seizures 5 minutes after LSD administration. Beginning twenty minutes after the LSD, West and his colleagues decided to administer the antipsychotic promazine hydrochloride and a total of 2800 mg was injected over 11 minutes. This large promazine dose was not effective and may even have contributed to the animal's death, which occurred an hour and 40 minutes after the LSD was given.[9] Later, many had theories about why Tusko had died. One prominent theory was that West and his colleagues had made the mistake of scaling up the dose in proportion to the animal's body weight, rather than its brain weight, and without considering other factors, such as its metabolic rate.[10][11] Another theory was that while the LSD had caused Tusko distress, the drugs administered in an attempt to revive him actually caused death. Attempting to prove that the LSD alone had not been the cause of death, Ronald K. Siegel of UCLA repeated a variant of West's experiment on two elephants; he administered to two elephants equivalent doses (in milligrams per kilogram) to that which had been given to Tusko, mixing the LSD in their drinking water rather than directly injecting it as had been done with Tusko. Neither elephant expired or exhibited any great distress, although both behaved strangely for a number of hours.[12]

Patty Hearst trial[edit]

West was appointed by the court in his capacity as a brainwashing expert and worked without fee. After the trial, he wrote a newspaper article asking President Carter to release her from prison.[13] After some weeks Hearst repudiated her SLA allegiance.[14][15][16]

Conflict with Scientologists[edit]

According to West, Scientologists attempted to discredit him and get him fired; using methods similar to what the Scientologist's did in Operation Freakout. This was allegedly done after he contributed to a textbook in 1980, in which he called Scientology a cult.[17]

On one American Psychiatric Association panel on cults, where every speaker had received a long letter threatening a lawsuit if Scientology were mentioned, no one mentioned Scientology except West, who was the last speaker: "I read parts of the letter to the 1,000-plus psychiatrists and then told any Scientologists in the crowd to pay attention. I said I would like to advise my colleagues that I consider Scientology a cult and L. Ron Hubbard a quack and a fake. I wasn't about to let them intimidate me."[18]


In 1999, West died at his home in Los Angeles at age 74. His family said the cause of death was metastatic cancer.[1] In 2009, West's son John wrote a book, "The Last Goodnights: Assisting My Parents With Their Suicides", in which he said he helped West commit suicide using prescription medication.[19]


  • West, L. J. (August 1994). "Pseudo-Identity and the Treatment of Personality Change in Victims of Captivity and Cults". In Lynn, Steven Jay; Rhue, Judith W. (eds.). Dissociation: clinical and theoretical perspectives. New York: Guilford Press. ISBN 978-0898621860.
  • Coombs, Robert H.; West, Louis Jolyon, eds. (April 1991). Drug testing: issues and options. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0195054149.
  • West, Louis Jolyn (October 1984). Alcoholism and related problems: issues for the American public (American Assembly Series ed.). Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall Trade. ISBN 978-0130214867.
  • West, L. J.; Singer, M. T. (1980). "Cults, Quacks and Non-professional Psychotherapies". In Kaplan, H.; Sadock, B. (eds.). Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry (3rd ed.). Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins. pp. 3245–3258.
  • Siegel, R.K.; West, L.J., eds. (October 1975). Hallucinations: behavior, experience, and theory. New York: John Wiley & Sons Inc. ISBN 978-0471790969.
  • West, L. J.; Pierce, C. M.; Thomas, W. D. (1962). "Lysergic acid diethylamide: Its effect on a male asiatic elephant". Science. 138: 1100–1103. doi:10.1126/science.138.3545.1100.
  • Farber, I.E. (1957). "Brainwashing, Conditioning and DDD (debility, Dependency, and Dread)". Sociometry. Brainwashing, Conditioning and DDD. 6.


  1. ^ a b Hilts, Philip J. (9 January 1999). "Louis J. West, 74, Psychiatrist Who Studied Extremes, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 November 2014.
  2. ^ "Biography/History". Retrieved 29 June 2016.
  3. ^ Myrna Oliver (January 7, 1999). "Louis J. West; Psychiatrist, Rights Activist". Los Angeles Times.
  4. ^ Hilts, Philip J. (January 9, 1999). "Louis J. West, 74, Psychiatrist Who Studied Extremes, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved December 31, 2016.
  5. ^ Ross, Colin A., MD. The C.I.A. Doctors. (2006). Manitou Communications Inc., Texas, USA. Pg. 31
  6. ^ "Buying a piece of anthropology" (PDF). Wikileaks. Anthropology Today. June 2007.
  7. ^ "1953: Dr. Wolff and Dr. Hinkle investigate Communist Brainwashing". AHRP. Alliance for Human Research Protection.
  8. ^ Ross, Colin A. (2006). The C.I.A. doctors: human rights violations by American psychiatrists. Richardson, TX: Manitou Communications. ISBN 978-0976550808.
  9. ^ West, L.J., Pierce, C.M., & Thomas, W.D. (1962) Lysergic acid diethylamide: Its effects on a male Asiatic elephant. Science 138: 1100-1103
  10. ^ Harwood, P.D. (1963) Therapeutic dosage in small and large mammals. Science 139: 684-685
  11. ^ Schmidt-Nielsen, K. (1972) How Animals Work. pp.86-89. Cambridge University Press
  12. ^ Siegel RK. "LSD-induced effects in elephants: Comparisons with musth behavior." Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society. 1984;22(1):53-56.
  13. ^ West, Louis Jolyon (December 29, 1978). "Psychiatrist pleads for Patty Hearst's release". Eugene Register-Guard. Retrieved January 28, 2013.
  14. ^ "Interview with Patty Hearst – Transcript". Larry King Live. CNN. January 22, 2002.
  15. ^ NBC news Documentary
  16. ^ The Historical Atlas of American Crime, by Fred Rosen, p. 257
  17. ^ Welkos, Robert W.; Sappell, Joel (1990-06-29). "On the Offensive Against an Array of Suspected Foes". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2007-11-05.
  18. ^ "Prozac Frees Ex-Scientology Leader from Depression". Psychiatric Times. CME, Inc. VIII (6): 28. June 1991. Retrieved April 28, 2015.
  19. ^ West, John (2009-02-04). "Excerpt: 'The Last Goodnights'". Good Morning America. ABC News. Retrieved 2010-03-18.