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The Sunshine Makers

The 1935 theatrical cartoon, The Sunshine Makers, created by Van Beuren Studios and distributed by RKO Pictures tells the tale of a community of identical gnomes who distill sunshine into an elixir. Those who drink the liquid sunshine sing and dance about. In a neighboring dark forest a gaggle of cranky goblins reside, surviving only for no other seeming purpose than to wallow in gloom. Upon discovering the sunshine imbued gnomes, the snarly goblins attack. The gnomes return fire with a cascade of bottles filled with the sunshine elixir, causing the goblins to give up their mean ways and everyone lives happily ever after in a land of sunshine and its elixir.

At the 2016 Mendocino Film Festival I witnessed the feature length documentary, The Sunshine Makers. The movie recounts details from the lives of Mendocino County's own Tim Scully and non-Mendocino-ite Nick Sand as they manufactured millions of barrel-shaped LSD pills in the 1960s and how they ran afoul of the law in the 60s and 70s.

LSD is an abbreviation of Lysergic acid diethylamide. The initials come from the German Lyserg-säure-diäthylamid. It was first created by Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann in 1938 from the fungus ergot. More or less accidentally (probably by touching a finger to his mouth) Hofmann discovered the psychedelic properties of LSD in 1943. Subsequently, the company he worked for, Sandoz, introduced it under the trade name Delysid, offering the product primarily to mental institutions and psychiatrists for use with certain mental patients. By the early 1960s Sandoz removed Delysid from the market.

There are no definitive scientific studies on the effects of LSD, but the following may come closest: LSD appears to interfere with the manner in which the brain's serotonin's receptors function. It may inhibit neurotransmission, stimulate it, or both. It also affects the way that retinas process information and conduct information to the brain.

As little as .25 micrograms of LSD per one kilogram of body weight can produce effects. In the 21st century a typical dose would be about this amount; in the 1960s, it was often taken in doses four times as potent. When a person takes LSD, it is metabolized in the liver fairly quickly and eventually excreted through urination. A trace amount remains in the body after the “trip” and is most likely gone within a few weeks.

Some users have claimed that LSD remains in the brain forever in tiny amounts, but no valid evidence supports this claim. Nevertheless, people who believe this theory maintain the brain holds and releases molecules of LSD over time, and this is what causes flashbacks. Under this theory a flashback occurs when someone who used LSD in the past has an experience, lasting anywhere from seconds to hours, somewhat similar to the original trip. The majority of LSD users have not experienced flashbacks, but the concept remains a controversial one among users and researchers.

A medically recognized disorder called Hallucinogen Persisting Perceptive Disorder (HPPD) does exist. It covers those who have taken LSD regularly and experience visual hallucinations, as opposed to brief flashbacks. It's not known what makes some people more susceptible to this than others.

LSD overdoses have resulted in death or permanent health problems in a few cases. In 1973 The Western Journal of Medicine recorded an incident in which eight people took large overdoses of LSD, thinking the white powder being passed around was cocaine. After snorting it, most passed out. Later, in a hospital, they suffered from fevers, vomiting and internal bleeding. However, each patient recovered within twelve hours with no apparent long term after effects. Records of strokes or heart attacks have been linked to LSD, but many of the users had also consumed other drugs, therefore the role of LSD proved inconclusive.

LSD's real damage comes from some users seemingly losing track of their natural inhibitions. LSD users have been killed by irrationally walking in front of moving cars, falling from high buildings, stepping through windows, or using faulty judgment about speed and/or depth perception while operating automobiles.

LSD will not be the primary cause of someone going insane or psychotic. It can interact with other drugs and cause psychotic symptoms, especially other drugs that work on neurotransmitters. It is certainly possible that mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or psychosis may be exacerbated by use of LSD.

LSD is not an addictive drug. Prolonged use is likely to make later “trips” less and less exciting. The effects of LSD are not dependable in the way that many addictive drugs can be. However, prolonged LSD use may lead to problems in social interactions, can wreak havoc with sleep cycles, and may cause its users to lose interest in their personal hygiene and/or develop irregular eating habits. These people grow disinterested in participating in the real world going on around them and feel utterly disconnected from everybody else.

Given those last paragraphs one might wonder why so many of the gray-haired, pony-tailed viewers, and their partners, who watched The Sunshine Makers at the Mendocino Film Festival seemed to revel in the re-lived experience. My best guess is that the documentary somehow helped to validate their earlier lives, but this viewer couldn't help coming away with the feeling, what a waste, and the question, what's wrong with a heavy dose of prolonged reality, especially while living on or visiting the Mendocino Coast?

Turn on, tune in, drop out: What a load of crap.

Everyone makes mistakes. Some learn from them. Mr. Scully, despite some obsessive compulsive overloads, appears to fall into the learner category. The best that can be said for his one time compatriot Nick Sands is that Mr. Sands, in his later years, has seemingly devolved into an egotistical fat pig. My apologies to the porcine world for the comparison.

LSD is a so-what chemical concoction. If you want a film that displays what the human mind can do to enhance itself, without the use of drugs of any kind beyond self-induced imagination, get hold of Life, Animated. It documents real people, with a real tough problem, who remain clear-headed when the opportunity arises to tackle and solve a problem afflicting an entire family. Pretty much the opposite of too many transplants to Mendocino County who choose far too often to avoid the real world and end up dissolving into lethargic self delusion.

(More acronyms can be found at the author's website: )


  1. Betsy Cawn June 16, 2016

    MY response to the beneficial effects of a first-time LSD experience: Turn on, tune in, and GET TO WORK!

    The joys of community life, cornucopia of inter-relationships with nature and human generosity, correspondence with “care giving” and “creative” energies — empower my “being” (despite living in Lost County). I’ve nothing but gratitude for Dr. Hofmann.

    Thank you for the thoughtful review and explication of the unfortunately misused and frivolously wasted opportunities for exploration of psychically and psychologically available alternatives to brain washing and “self-realized” identity-based reality.


  2. Jim Updegraff June 16, 2016

    Sure go ahead and try LSD and before too long you will be part of the zombie group.

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