New film details how Nick Sand and Tim Scully tried to change San Francisco – and the world – with psychedelics
When you hear the letters "LSD," you probably think of psychologist and writer Timothy Leary – as in "Timothy Leary, deary" from "Let the Sun Shine in," one of the most famous tracks from the1969, drugged-out anti-war musical Hair. Nick Sand and Tim Scully's names, however, might not be as familiar to those with more of a casual knowledge of the psychedelic drug, although they had just as much influence on those under the influence — perhaps more.
The duo, vital to the rise and fall of LSD in the 1960s, was a kind of alternative odd – if Oscar and Felix did a lot of mind-altering substances. Now they're the subjects of a new documentary, The Sunshine Makers, which chronicles how they were responsible for the production and distribution of the highly popular Orange Sunshine brand of acid.
Who were the Sunshine Makers?
Scully was a lanky, bespectacled brainiac with Asperger's from California – an orderly man who explains in the doc,how he ate wholly white dinners (spaghetti with cheese and butter) every night for thirty years and shows off his exhaustively catalogued book collection. Sand looked like a handsome high school quarterback, a Brooklyn kid with an eye for the ladies and a propensity for nudity. Throughout The Sunshine Makers, you can catch him doing yoga au natural, his nether regions expertly hidden in carefully framed shots.
In the documentary, directed by Cosmo Feilding Mellen and now available on demand, both express that they ardently believed (and, in Sand’s case, at least, still believe) that LSD could save the world. "My first experience with taking acid changed everything," Sand says at the start of the film. He and Sand first tried acid, separately, in the mid-1960s, when it was still scarce. (It was first made in the late ‘30s by Swiss scientist Albert Hofmann).
Scully tripped out in front of a fireplace in San Francisco, Sand in the wilds of New York State – nude, of course. Despite the vastly different locales, though, the pair had a similar takeaway: if everyone did acid, they would be much less likely to fight, both personally and globally. They wanted to make psychedelics and "turn on the world," as Sand says. He and Scully first start experimenting with LSD during a turbulent time: the Vietnam War was underway, among other atrocities. LSD, they thought, would save the world in a matter of years, provided they could get enough people to take it. Money wasn't the aim for the pair — at least not for Scully, Sand didn't mind getting paid — their goal was to spread the lessons they had learned on those early trips.
How Did Orange Sunshine Spread?
With a little help from their rich-kid friend Billy Hitchcock’s deep pockets, Sand and Scully started their own lab in California and started cranking out their own "Orange Sunshine" LSD tabs – four million doses in a single month, to be exact. The Brotherhood of Eternal Love – a bunch of former stick-up men who called themselves "The Hippie – stepped in to help with distribution. Micheal Randall, the leader of the Brotherhood, shared Scully and Sand's beliefs about LSD. Randall, with a Willie Nelson edge and a yoga teacher’s ease, appears in the documentary, smoking what looks to be a blunt and lounging on a purple velvet couch. He now runs a gem shop, but back in the 1960s he was just as committed to the cause as Scully and Sand. In fact, he claims that the Brotherhood coined the name "Orange Sunshine."
"Evangelists have an epiphany at church; we’re the same, except we were LSD evangelists," Randall says from his purple throne of the Brotherhood's mission to spread the good word of LSD far and wide. They managed to distribute Orange Sunshine across the U.S., Europe, India and Afghanistan. "Jesus, that’s what he was trying to do. I think we did a better job than Jesus – Christians would hate me for saying that.… Just because it's a modern world and Jesus didn’t have no acid."
Was The Rest of the Country Down With Their Mission?
Christians weren't the only ones to take umbrage with the Sunshine Makers' agenda. LSD was officially made illegal in the U.S. in the mid 1960s, which threw a serious wrench in to Sand and Scully's turn-on-the-world agenda. They may have thought they were doing good, but law enforcement officials had seen the adverse effects of the drug and were on the hunt for operations like the Sunshine Makers'. The documentary doesn't get too specific about the negative aspects on LSD, however – aside from a few Reefer Madness-esque clips of trips gone wrong. Gordon White, who supervised the investigation of LSD sales in San Francisco for the Bureau of Narcotic and Dangerous Drugs in the 1960s, also appears in a neat yellow argyle sweater in the documentary and recalls his feelings about acid and its proliferation.
"LSD was kiddie dope…. The real men are using cocaine and heroin and those kind of drugs," he says – yet he believed that acid was more harmful than these allegedly "harder" drugs. "I felt [LSD was] more dangerous.… It’s causing problems in society." And the men behind a good number of those problems in his opinion? Sand and Scully.
How Long Did Their Operation Last?
Their time in the sun was short-lived, however. The Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs had been watching the pair, and arrested 23-year-old Scully in 1969 for a lab he'd started in Colorado prior to meeting Sand. Here's where true crime fans might perk up, as the pair viewed the cops' intervention in characteristically divergent ways – which had disastrous consequences.
Facing 56 years in prison, Scully managed to elude prison because the search was ruled illegal, and he decided to quit the drug game and go clean. Sand, not so much. Despite dire warnings from his former partner, he continued making LSD. He was eventually arrested in 1973, bringing Scully down with him, as Sand still had a flowchart Scully had made explaining how to make LSD. Moreover, Hitchcock made a deal with the government to avoid going down with Sand and Scully, handing over evidence against them to the authorities. Scully was offered the same deal, but he decided to stick by his friend. Sand got 15 years in prison, Scully 20.
While Scully spent his time in prison reading up on how to get them out, Sand smuggled in drugs and got his cellmates high. His girlfriend at the time would visit him with a mouthful of drugs, hidden in a balloon and kiss the goods into his possession. Sand even says he managed to get LSD in the prison food, although the documentary doesn’t delve much into how.
Where Are They Now?
Scully and Sand eventually got out on bail while their case went to the appeal courts, but after they lost the appeal in 1976, Sand decided to lead the police on a high-speed chase to Canada, where he spent 20 years doing what he loved: making LSD. He was arrested in the Nineties and released after six years, after which he moved to Ecuador, where he still extols the virtues of psychedelic drugs. (The doc doesn't reveal whether or not he still makes them.)
For his part, Scully – who appears in the doc in a jaunty yet frayed Panama hat – has mostly walked the straight and narrow since his initial arrest. He dutifully returned to jail in 1977, before being released on parole just three years later. He spent his time in prison well, however, working on devices that would allow cerebral palsy patients to communicate with the world, and threw himself into computer work in Silicon Valley following his release. He retired in the early 2000s.
Sand and Scully still strike a funny pair in the film — Scully long and lean and trim in his hat, Sand portly and slightly sloppy in cargo shorts. While Sand practices (naked) yoga and rings bells with a ceremonious air, Scully tinkers with a shed full of mysterious electrical devices, and shows off cupboards of canned goods, arranged with excessive care. Still, as they amble together through the film, side by side and a bit worse for the wear, you can still sense the camaraderie there – you can still see the men who worked so hard, at all costs, to turn on the world.
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