Ep. 27 – An Unexpected Trip: The Incident at Pont-Saint-Esprit

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In southern France, on the West Bank of the Rhone river, sits the picturesque village of Pont-Saint-Esprit. The village itself looks exactly like what you might expect; Stone buildings with colorful shutters covering their windows sit beneath the clock tower of a 15th century church.  The village looks sleepy today, it probably is, and it probably has been throughout the majority of its history. In August 1951 though, over 250 residents of Pont-Saint-Esprit unexpectedly started tripping balls.  Husbands and wives chased each other with knives, people screamed in terror and ran from flames that did not exist, a mother howled in grief believing that her children had been ground into sausages. By the events conclusion, more than 250 people would suffer from hallucinatory visions, 50 would be institutionalized, and 7 would lose their lives.  

For decades, the incident at Pont-Saint-Esprit would be blamed on bread tainted with a particular fungus and responsibility for the occurrence was placed on the shoulders of the village’s bread bakers.  In fact, in France, the incident is still known as Le Pain Maudit, “The Cursed Bread”. But is tainted bread really the culprit here? Is it just a coincidence that this all happened amid the CIA’s stint of interest in LSD experimentation?


2 charged in bad bread deaths of 4. (1951, Sep 01). The Washington Post (1923-1954) Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/152385150?accountid=14472

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‘Bread that makes men mad’ blamed on flour by baker. (1951, Aug 30). The Washington Post (1923-1954) Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/152357038?accountid=14472

By the United Press. “No Ergot Peril Here, U.S. Officials Assure.” The Washington Post  (19231954), 1951, p. 8. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post, resolver.ebscohost.com/openurl?ctx_ver=Z39.882004&ctx_enc=info:ofi/enc:UTF8&rfr_id=info:sid/ProQ%3Ahnpwashingtonpost&rft_val_fmt=info:ofi/fmt:kev:mtx:journal&rft.genre=article&rft.jtitle=The+Washington+Post+%2819231954%29&rft.atitle=No+Ergot+Peril+Here%2C+U.S.+Officials+Assure&rft.au=By+the+United+Press&rft.aulast=By+the+United+Press&rft.aufirst=&rft.date=19510901&rft.volume=&rft.issue=&rft.spage=8&rft.isbn=&rft.btitle=&rft.title=The+Washington+Post+%2819231954%29&rft.issn=&rft_id=info:doi/.

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“En 1951, l’intoxication Alimentaire Qui a Rendu Fous Les Habitants de Pont-Saint-Esprit.” Leparisien.Fr, 7 Apr. 2019, http://www.leparisien.fr/societe/en-1951-l-intoxication-alimentaire-qui-a-rendu-fou-les-habitants-de-pont-saint-esprit-07-04-2019-8048088.php. Accessed 6 Mar. 2020.

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Malone, A. (2010, Mar 18). Was this idyllic french village driven crazy by LSD in a secret american mind experiment? [scot region]. Daily Mail Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/320000987?accountid=14472

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Nour, Matthew M et al. “Ego-Dissolution and Psychedelics: Validation of the Ego-Dissolution Inventory (EDI).” Frontiers in human neuroscience vol. 10 269. 14 Jun. 2016, doi:10.3389/fnhum.2016.00269

Osborn, Sam. “The Great French Acid Trip.” Vice, 24 Aug. 2010, http://www.vice.com/en_us/article/n7jny8/the-philly-oil-refinery-that-exploded-was-already-leaking-tons-of-a-toxic-chemical-that-causes-leukemia-and-infertility. Accessed 5 Mar. 2020.

Page, D. L. “Thucydides’ Description of the Great Plague at Athens.” The Classical Quarterly, vol. 3, no. 3/4, 1953, pp. 97–119. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/637025. Accessed 5 Mar. 2020.

Poisoning wave hits town again. (1951, Dec 16). Los Angeles Times (1923-1995) Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/166254903?accountid=14472

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Reuters. (1951, Sep 02). French baker challenges experts on poison bread. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/111982191?accountid=14472

Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES. (1951, Aug 29). 3 die, many stricken by madness from poison in bread in france: Mayor describes attacks. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/111789042?accountid=14472

THE NEW YORK TIMES. (1951, Aug 29). 3 die, many stricken by madness from poison in bread in france: Mayor describes attacks. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/111789042?accountid=14472

Thomson, Mike. “Pont-Saint-Esprit Poisoning: Did the CIA Spread LSD?” BBC News, 23 Aug. 2010, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-10996838. Accessed 2 Mar. 2020.

Wakenell, Patricia  CHAPTER 15 – Management and medicine of backyard poultry, Editor(s): BRIAN L. SPEER, Current Therapy in Avian Medicine and Surgery, W.B. Saunders, 2016, Pages 550-565, ISBN 9781455746712, https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-1-4557-4671-2.00024-0. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9781455746712000240)

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