Counterculture icon Timothy Leary was a longtime advocate of drug use as a way to expand minds. "Turn on, tune in, drop out," became one of his most popular phrases in the 1960s. But in 1987 Leary predicted that people of the 21st century wouldn't need "old fashioned" drugs anymore. Instead, we'd all be using "brain radios" to alter consciousness.
The January 1987 issue of OMNI magazine included Leary's predictions for the future of mind-altering experiences:
Right now there is a great deal of concern about the drug problem. In 20 years there will be hundreds of neurotransmitters that will allow you to boot up and activate your brain and change mental performance. There are going to be what I call brain radios—hearing aids you put in your ear—that will pick up and communicate with the electricity in your brain. You will be able to tune in any brain aspect, like sex, that you want. You will speed up or slow down your thinking. Anything you can do with chemicals you can do with brain waves, and they are so much healthier.
Drugs will be old-fashioned. No one will be addicted because you can just turn on the ultimate orgasm and keep it going for an hour. But how long are you going to do that? You'll get bored. You're going to want to turn it down or off. The criminality of drugs is what is causing the so-called drug crisis, but if you legalize a brain radio — and you're going to have to — everyone will have the ability to dial into any emotional, mental, or sensual experience. We will use these radios to think more clearly. The key to the twenty-first century will be five words: TFYQA — think for yourself, and question authority.
Of course, Leary's predictions seem rather optimistic in a number of different ways. Technological feasibility aside, if governments want to ban old fashioned drugs, it seems rather silly to believe they wouldn't do the same for this "brain radio."
Hour-long "ultimate orgasms" sound great and all. But even if this "brain radio" came to market there's little doubt that governments around the world would ban it.
But who knows? With recreational marijuana becoming more widely accepted in the U.S. (58 percent of Americans believe it should be legal), it should be quite interesting to see where our drug policies are at 20 years from now. Leary — the eternal optimist — could've simply been a few decades ahead of his time.
Photograph: Timothy Leary in 1964 via Getty Images