What’s Missing from Lois Wilson’s Hallmark Biography (and Our Culture)

Lois was the long-suffering wife of Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, who tried psychedelics and found their ego-reducing properties useful in ending alcohol addiction.Lois was the long-suffering wife of Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, who tried psychedelics and found their ego-reducing properties useful in ending alcohol addiction.The Hallmark Hall of Fame production of “When Love is Not Enough: The Lois Wilson Story” premiered Sunday night on CBS, but missed a key element of Wilson’s life.

Lois was the long-suffering wife of Bill Wilson, a raging alcoholic and co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. She founded Al-Anon, a similar group for families of alcoholics.

The film, based on Lois’s autobiography, depicts the moment when Bill has a religious experience while being treated at New York City’s Charles B. Towns Hospital in 1933, a moment that lead to his ultimate success in overcoming drinking.

In his autobiography “Pass It On,” Bill’s description of the experience sounds like an acid trip: “Suddenly, my room blazed with an indescribably white light. I was seized with an ecstasy beyond description.” Wilson had been dosed with belladonna and henbane, two plants with hallucinogenic properties, just before his revelation. After his release, he never drank again.

In his 1957 book Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, Wilson wrote of the experience, “All at once I found myself crying out, ‘If there is a God, let Him show himself! I am ready to do anything, anything!’ Suddenly the room lit up with a great white light. I was caught up in an ecstasy which there are no words to describe. It seemed to me in my mind’s eye, that I was on a mountain and that a wind not of air but of spirit was blowing. And then it burst upon me that I was a free man. Slowly the ecstasy subsided. I lay there on the bed, but now for a time I was in another world, a new world of consciousness… and I thought to myself, ‘So this is the God of the preachers!’ A great peace stole over me.”

On August 29, 1956, Bill Wilson took LSD (then legal) under a doctor’s supervision in California. He enthusiastically explored LSD’s clinical use to treat alcoholism and convinced others, including Lois, to try it.

Wilson wrote that it was not “the material itself [that]actually produces these experiences. It seems to have the result of sharply reducing the forces of the ego – temporarily, of course. It is a generally acknowledged fact in spiritual development that ego reduction makes the influx of God’s grace possible. If, therefore, under LSD we can have a temporary reduction, so that we can better see what we are and where we are going – well, that might be of some help. The goal might become clearer. So I consider LSD to be of some value to some people, and practically no damage to anyone. It will never take the place of any of the existing means by which we can reduce the ego, and keep it reduced.”

AA, the organization Wilson helped found, clamped down on his LSD experiments and so, just as modern religion has erased sacramental substances from their ceremonies, we have AA-ers chugging caffeine, sucking nicotine, and trying to talk themselves out of the religious experience they turned to alcohol for.

In a final irony, Winona Ryder, the actress who plays Lois in the film, is the goddaughter of LSD guru Timothy Leary. (Ryder’s parents are drug historians and Leary’s archivists.) Leary was kicked out of Harvard after his April 20, 1962 Divinity School experiment showed several participants had the most religious experience of their lives on psilocybin. Tracking down participants 25 years later for a Journal of Transpersonal Psychology study, MAPS director Rick Doblin said, “Everyone I talked to who had the psilocybin felt after 25 years of reflection that the experience was a genuine mystical experience. It was a clear viewing of some ultimate level of reality that had a long-term positive impact on their lives.”

In other news, Santonio Holmes, the MVP of last year’s Superbowl, has been traded by the Pittsburgh Steelers for a late-round draft pick from the New York Jets. Seems after being suspended from the NFL over a pre-Superbowl incident when he was caught with marijuana in his car, Holmes turned to a harder drug (liquor), leading to an incident last month when he allegedly threw a drink at a woman in a Florida bar.

The NFL has recently re-evaluated its policy towards marijuana, acknowledging to Sports Illustrated that 10 or 11 potential first-round picks have used marijuana. But the NFL does not suspend players over alcohol, at least not until they turn inappropriately violent on it.

A new book Marijuana is SAFER: So why are we driving people to drink? details the ways in which marijuana is healthier to individuals and society than alcohol. In a world where the top day for domestic violence remains the beer-drenched Stuporbowl, it’s time to face up to this reality.

What are we looking for when we turn to drugs or alcohol? A deadening of emotion or a doorway to the soul? At last week’s latest marijuana industry trade show in San Francisco, SF State business professor Mike Whitty said to some 15,000 souls in attendance, “Marijuana and the psychedelics can change the world.” A new documentary film, 2012: Time for Change celebrates the role of the psychedelic experience in connecting us to nature and saving our planet.

It’s our best, if not our only hope.

Ellen Komp is an activist and writer who manages the website VeryImportantPotheads.com.



  1. Pingback: Belladonna Cure Alcoholics Anonymous - Alcohol Rehabilitation Care

  2. Ellen Komp on

    May 12 – A team at The Scripps Research Institute has found decisive evidence that the endocannabinoid system is active in a brain region known to play a key role in the processing of memory, emotional reactions, and addiction formation. The new study also shows that this system can dampen the effects of alcohol, suggesting an avenue for the development of drugs to combat alcohol addiction.

  3. Anonymous on

    Just to clarify one minor detail in this article– The Superbowl is NOT the number one day for domestic violence. This myth has been around since the 1980s, but there was never any fact behind it. It was a case of putting theory before fact. Some people just assumed that since the Superbowl is a day for masculinity, it would naturally be a day for domestic violence, and they publicised this idea without ever bothering to check the actual crime statistics.

  4. VIPelle on

    It’s too bad Lois didn’t document her use of psychedelics.

  5. Anonymous on

    I think you missed the point…the Hallmark film was about Lois Wilson and the impact of Bill’s drinking on her and her family, her discovery that meeting with other family members, and the value of applying the Twelve Steps to her life. IT WAS NOT ABOUT BILL or his spiritual “hotflash.”

  6. Anonymous on

    Magic mushrooms were rare in the East and it was easier to find LSD or Mescaline, which kept me floating for a year or so. But self-examination or a search for “Truth” wasn’t in my agenda at the time.

  7. Adam on

    When I tried psilocybin for the first time, it reminded me of my acid trip in some ways. Having a way to juxtapose them allowed me to figure out more about just what it was doing, and I came to the conclusion that it was being much gentler, and that I would have been more comfortable on the acid if I had tried the mushrooms first. It is likely because the mushrooms have an abundance of psychedelics, their precursors, and all the analogs that nature needs (and our brains are nature).

  8. Anonymous on

    let’s have more henbane then-
    apparently thats the way to seei God
    we have been wasting our time all along on Cannabis

  9. Anonymous on

    …and to the point of your question: AA has notoriously lied about it’s effectiveness from the beginning. Official information from AA about it’s effectiveness continues to tell untruths. Doctors, judges, policymakers, nurses, and faithful AA members continue to talk about how effective AA is but none of them know the truth. That is why it is a lie that AA has helped SO MANY people. Yes it’s helped a few relative to the numbers that have been hearded into meetings, but it’s barely significant. Those people could have helped themselves or been given assistance in other ways that may have been more effective.

  10. Anonymous on

    What part of this aren’t you understanding? I was trapped in AA for 15 years so I know what I”m taling about. I’ve counseled scores of people whose lives were effected negatively by their participation in 12 step groups. The information I’m posting here is positive, though it’s implications are ugly, but so is the truth.

    The truth is that you really can’t be a member of AA unless you give AA all the credit for your recovery. You won’t last long in those meetings unless you tow the party line within reason. That’s the reality.

    Statistically speaking, AA has barely helped a fraction of the people who have been forced to join those groups. Everytime AA’s effectiveness is put to the test it comes up as no better than NO treatment at all, or sometimes giving results that are worse!

    You may know people who claim AA helped them, but there are millions upon millions of people worldwide who have rejected 12 step programs – far more people than AA has helped.

    Federal courts have ruled that it is unconstitutional for anyone to be required to participate in 12 step activities because they are religious in nature. And yet our govt continues to require alcohol offenders to attend AA meetings.

    Tens of millions of Americans have been literally forced to join 12 step groups when they sought help with an addiction. If you want to have an accredited rehab program in the US it will have to pass through an arm of Health and Human Services which was founded by AA members.

  11. Honey on

    I don’t understand.. how is it a lie that AA has helped some if it did in fact help them recover their addiction to alcohol. I know many many people who have successfully recovered with the help of AA and not all the people who go suck back cigarettes and drink coffee either. If people need to use substances to reduce their ego to allow the universe to find them, its a little sad. If we an all find ways in our daily lives to reduce our own ego without the use of substance and stop pointing fingers at eachother and just point it at ourselves we could all experience that eloquent grace every moment in our days.

  12. Anonymous on

    I’m a historian of Twelve Step movements. One quick correction: “Pass It On” is not Wilon’s autobiography. It is the official AA biography of Wilson written after his death.

    Wilson’s experiments with LSD began in 1956. His participation was as a psychonaut, not as a participant in any sort of legitimate research. He was working with Hoffer and Abrams through his friendship with Gerald Heard and Aldous Huxley. Abrams and Hoffer were testing chronic alcoholics and schizophrenics with LSD. They were trying to induce a mock state of delerium tremens (DT) with LSD because so many down and out drunks had spontaneous recoveries from alcoholism after harrowing experiences with DT.

    Wilson and his public relations squad worked tirelessly to promote the 12 step program which was really inherited from an earlier religious movement they all belonged to called the Oxford Group. The 12 step program had nothing to do with Wilson’s own conversion experience. On top of the other drugs mentioned, Belladona and Henbane, Wilson was on opiates, alcohol, and entering a state of acute alcohol withdrawal. He had been warned by his doctor that he needed to stop drinking before he did any more damage to his brain.

    In 1973 Nixon signed legislation known as the Hughes Act which was pushed by AA members within congress and without. It would eventually become a major piece of the “prevention” side of the Drug War and it meant that tens of millions of Americans would be forced to join Bill Wilson’s religious movement. 12 step rehab remains the main form of drug treatment in the US. AA’s success as a social institution is largely due to Nixon’s drug war policies which funnelled billions of dollars and millions of Americans into the 12 step system.

    You won’t find many people out there who are telling this story like it really is. Too many people have been “helped” by AA, but that’s a lie too.

  13. Anonymous on

    Psilocybin is the God’s honest truth! While I have never experienced an LSD trip, I have never felt the need to. I see no need for LSD when psilocybin is a much more naturally occuring and equally as powerful psychedlic. I have long been wary of human-synthesized drugs, for good reason. I’m aware that LSD occurs naturally in ergot mold but there is a certain process you must follow to seperate it. With mushrooms, this is not so.

    Psilocybin totally shattered my ego (temporarily) which is something a lot of people could benefit from. It was an incredibly universal experience that taught me a lot about myself and my environment.