‘The Sunshine Makers’ (2015)

This entry is part 16 of 19 in the series Countercultural History

'The Sunshine Makers' (2015) (USA • Cosmo Feilding-Mellen • 2015)

‘The Sunshine Makers’ is a 2015 documentary by Cosmo Feilding-Mellen, covering the fabled exploits of American clandestine LSD chemists Nick Sand (Chief Alchemist for the League for Spiritual Discovery at Tim Leary’s Millbrook estate; credited as the “first underground chemist on record to have synthesized DMT” and as the first to discover that substance’s activity when smoked) and Tim Scully. Written by Connie Littlefield (who also wrote the excellent ‘Hofmann’s Potion’), the subject seems like a natural progression for Feilding-Mellen, given that he’s the son of fascinating self-trepanees and counter-culturalists Amanda Feilding (artist and activist – now Lady Neidpath, heading up the Beckley Foundation) and Joe Mellen (gallery owner and author of the seminal ‘Bore Hole’).

Tim Scully & Nick Sand - LSD chemistsMuch anticipated by the cognoscenti, ‘The Sunshine Makers’ (aka ‘Breaking Good: the Untold Adventures of Two Underground Psychedelic Chemists and Their Mission to Save the World One Trip at Time’) is a well-presented and warm take on a fascinating period of the underground psychedelic culture. Based around interviews with the chemists and their fellow travellers, we learn exactly what it was that made these two eccentric personalities set out on a quest to turn the world on by means of their lovingly-crafted LSD, as well as the price they paid for doing so.

A young Tim Scully met the legendary LSD chemist Owsley ‘Bear’ Stanley in 1965, apprenticing under him in his Denver lab until Owsley’s arrest in 1967 (also the year that Scully first met Sand). The same year, Owsley introduced Scully to William “Billy” Mellon Hitchcock (wealthy LSD-and-Tim-Leary-patron), who in 1968 loaned Scully $12,000 to start another lab in Denver, manufacturing LSD intended for distribution by the Brotherhood of Eternal Love. This lab was busted in June of the same year, although Scully was not present at the time. Consequently, Tim stopped producing drugs entirely in 1969 – although not before he and Sand had together produced a further 3.6 million tabs of ‘Orange Sunshine’ in a lab they set up in Windsor – having narrowly avoided a lengthy spell in prison when the 1968 search was deemed to be illegal. Conversely, Sand continued to manufacture ‘Orange Sunshine’ for the Brotherhood of Eternal Love until they were busted in 1972. He was arrested in 1973, when his home (set in 18 acres of land), was found to contain “hundreds of gallons of chemicals and elaborate laboratory equipment”. Sadly, Sand was still in possession of a flowchart that Scully had made for him explaining the LSD manufacture process, bringing the heat down on poor Tim too.

In 1974, Sand, Scully and five ‘conspirators’ were indicted by a Federal grand jury in San Francisco (notably being stitched up by patron-turned-grass Billy Hitchcock). The accused presented the defence that they had been manufacturing ALD-52 (legal at the time) rather than LSD-25, but this was not bought by the opposition. Scully pulled twenty years in prison but delayed starting this time until 1977, by which time his legal appeals had run out. Sand, sentenced to fifteen years, subsequently lodged two failed appeals (using in part financial contributions from fellow clandestine chemist William Leonard Pickard). Accordingly, in 1976 Sand escaped to Canada, travelling to India before eventually returning to Canada to manufacture LSD. In 1990, he was arrested under an alias for drug manufacturing by Canadian police, but managed to flee after getting bail, while the Canadian police tried to ascertain his true identity. Again arrested in 1996 – this time in possession of “43 grams of crystalline LSD … approximately 430,000 doses” and “large quantities of DMT, 2C-B, MDMA, and $500,000 worth of cash and gold” – it took two months to confirm Sand’s real identity, as he refused to cooperate with the police. His original 1974 sentence of fifteen years was eventually reduced to ten, after concerted lobbying from friends and other supporters…

I could write on this subject for hours, so suffice to say that ‘The Sunshine Makers’ is a very welcome addition to the clandestine canon, filling as it does a hole in the historical timeline and focusing some attention on these two lesser-documented luminaries of psychedelic history. Watch with respect – if you’re interested in the subject, two even less-documented underground chemists, Casey Hardison and Darrell Lemaire, are covered well by ‘The Lazy Lizard School of Hedonism’ episode of Vice’s ‘Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia’ series.


Series Navigation<< David Keenan – ‘England’s Hidden Reverse’Jesse Jarnow – ‘Heads: A Biography of Psychedelic America’ (2016) >>