Is Narconon Valid?
Hubbard's Junk Science

Last updated
10 November 2002
Contents > Is Narconon Valid? > Hubbard's Junk Science

Hubbard & Science | The "Nuclear Physicist" | Hubbard & Medicine
Scientology versus Medicine | Hubbard's Junk Science

One would expect that a secular drug rehabilitation programme would be based on a solid scientific and medical foundation. Unfortunately, this is not the case for Narconon. Much of the "medical" aspect of the programme, dealing with the detoxification of drug addicts, is based on little more than junk science. This obviously has serious implications for Narconon's clients, a topic discussed in more detail in "Is Narconon Safe?". It also raises major questions about Narconon's medical supporters, who happily endorse Hubbard's therapy despite many aspects being medically unsound, or even physically impossible.

  • Drug Effects
    Hubbard explains how he thinks drugs really work
  • Niacin
    Hubbard's belief in niacin, the "educated vitamin"
"All drugs are the same" back to top

L. Ron Hubbard takes an extreme line on the benefit of drugs of all kinds. A wide range of otherwise innocuous drugs, including aspirin and caffeine, are lumped together with recognisably dangerous substances such as heroin and LSD. The reason for this lies in the rigidly dogmatic attitude which Hubbard took towards what he regarded as the fundamental instinct of all life, the desire for "survival". In Hubbard's view, the benefit of a drug can be judged by its contribution towards "survival". Some drugs, such as antibiotics, have a positive survival value, in that they help to improve a physical condition such as an infection; others, such as aspirin or cocaine, have negative survival value, in that they merely suppress a psychosomatic or psychological condition such as a headache or feelings of anxiety.
Hubbard defines a drug as "Any substance taken internally to remove a person from an unwanted condition and is upsetting to the body's natural chemistry." ["What is a drug?", <>] This leads to some curious contortions in definitions. Narconon's recent former director, John Duff, states in his book The Truth About Drugs that

Pain killers are taken to remove one from pain. Tranquilizers are used to remove one from anxiety or restlessness. Boredom or social inhibitions can be removed with marihuana [sic]. One is taken from tension and stress to a state of relaxation with the help of alcohol.

Pesticides are drugs. They remove one from having to have bugs on his vegetables.
[John Duff & Gene Chill, The Truth About Drugs (1981), p.36]

This rather eccentric definition conflicts with the more usual ones used by medical experts, with fundamental implications for the direction of Narconon's approach. The term "drug" is itself somewhat vague. The Encarta encyclopaedia defines a drug as a "substance that affects the function of living cells, used in medicine to diagnose, cure, prevent the occurrence of diseases and disorders, and prolong the life of patients with incurable conditions." According to the British Medical Association, some 5,000 substances can be included in this category. The key point is that all are biologically active compounds.

This is a fundamentally different tack from that taken by Hubbard. In Hubbard's view, the "unwanted conditions" are the key issue; the medical point of view focuses instead on the biological effects. Hence Narconon (and Scientology) focus primarily on "handling" unwanted conditions - the bulk of the detoxification/purification programmes is taken up with this element - while more medically-based rehabilitation therapies concentrate on the physical aspects. For these reason, too, Hubbard effectively considers biochemistry to be a side issue. All drugs, from aspirin to Zoloft, are treated in an identical fashion. This makes no sense at all from a medical point of view, but it is entirely logical if one supposes that the mental "conditions" cause the physical effects, rather than the other way round.

Drug Effects back to top

Narconon's explanation of drug effects relies on Scientology dogma rather than science. Curiously, the explanations that it presents are inconsistent to the point of mutual incompatibility. Narconon's websites on specific drugs (, etc) present facts on how drugs produce their effects, which explain the physical processes in the brain that cause addiction. This is credited to the United States National Institute on Drug Abuse and, as might be expected from such a source, is in line with scientific opinion on the subject. [See, for instance, "Cocaine Information" at <>] However, L. Ron Hubbard declares in his book Clear Body Clear Mind that:

It has never been known in chemistry or medicine exactly how or why [painkillers such as aspirin] worked. Such compositions are derived by accidental discoveries that “such and so depresses pain.”

The effects of existing compounds are not uniform in result and often have very bad side effects.

As the reason they worked was unknown, very little advance has been made in biochemistry. If the reason they worked were known and accepted, possibly chemists could develop some actual painkillers which had minimal side effects.
[Hubbard, "Painkillers" - also quoted at <>]

If chemistry and medicine do not know how drugs work, why is Narconon quoting medical explanations of how drugs work? The statement is also completely untrue. It is a prime example of the Church of Scientology's dogmatic and wholly unscientific approach to matters of fact; it is now very well known how and why aspirin works, thanks to the work on prostoglandins for which Sir John Vane won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1982. Hubbard's statements on the subject, which were originally made in a bulletin published in 1969 [Hubbard, "Drugs, Aspirin and Tranquilizers", HCO Bulletin of 17 October 1969, rev. 19 July 1978, re-rev. 20 September 1978], preceded Vane's work on prostoglandins - not that Hubbard appears to have been much of a reader of medical literature. But because Hubbard failed to revisit his work in the light of Vane's discoveries, Hubbard's version is dogmatically deemed to be correct despite having been rendered false by new knowledge.

Hubbard considers the effect of drugs to be principally spiritual - indeed, Clear Body Clear Mind includes a disclaimer that its statements are "entirely spiritual in character". The purification/detoxification course is intended to address the biochemical aspects of drugs, but the mental and spiritual factors are addressed separately. Drugs, he says, cause people to become "disassociated" from the world:

The reason is that, among other things, drugs dull a person's communication. This is most directly observed in the action of painkillers which shut off the person's feeling of pain, but it occurs with the use of other drugs as well. Emotions are suppressed with drug use, and perceptions become altered or shut off. A person often becomes less aware of things and people around him and so becomes less considerate and responsible, less active, less capable and less bright. The person factually becomes less conscious of what is happening in the present. One does not have to have been a heavy narcotics addict to experience a lessening of alertness, fogginess or other effects as a result of drug use.
["Purification Program: Mental and Spiritual Factors" - <>]

In a piece called "Drugs and Their Effects on the Mind", Hubbard explains in more detail the mechanism by which this supposedly happens. A cornerstone of Scientology belief is the proposition that a person consists of three distinct entities - a mind, a body and a spiritual being called a "thetan". The mind is merely a communication system between the thetan and the outside world. It also stores "mental image pictures" of past events, which have the mass in the same way as physical objects:

In Scientology it has been discovered that mental energy is simply a finer, higher level of physical energy. The test of this is conclusive in that a thetan "mocking up" (creating) mental image pictures and thrusting them into the body can increase the body mass and by casting them away again can decrease the body mass. This test has actually been made and an increase of as much as thirty pounds, actually measured on scales, has been added to, and subtracted from, a body by creating "mental energy." Energy is energy. Matter is condensed energy.
[Hubbard, Understanding the E-Meter, p.50]

"Mental image pictures" are stored in an area called the "reactive mind". This is what causes the harmful mental effects of drugs:

A person who has taken drugs, in addition to the physical factors involved, retains mental image pictures of those drugs and their effects. Mental image pictures are three-dimensional color pictures with sound and smell and all other perceptions, plus the conclusions or speculations of the individual. They are mental copies of one's perceptions sometime in the past, although in cases of unconsciousness or lessened consciousness they exist below the individual's awareness. For example, a person who had taken LSD would retain "pictures" of that experience in his mind, complete with recordings of the sights, physical sensations, smells, sounds, etc., that occurred while he was under the influence of LSD.

Let us say an individual took LSD one day while at a fairground with some friends, and the day's experiences included feeling nauseated and dizzy, getting into an argument with a friend, feeling an emotion of sadness, and later feeling very tired. He would have mental image pictures of that entire incident.

At a later time, if this person's environment were to contain enough similarities to the elements in that past incident, he may experience a reactivation of that incident. As a result he could feel nauseated, dizzy, sad and very tired — all for no apparent reason. This is known as restimulation: the reactivation of a past memory due to similar circumstances in the present approximating circumstances of the past.
[Hubbard, "Drugs and Their Effects on the Mind", <>]

As a result, the drug user becomes desynchronised from "present time", reacting arbitrarily to flashbacks from mental image pictures recorded earlier on the "time track". The effect is for the drug user to manifest bizarre behaviour patterns:

For example, a drug user may be sure he is helping one repair a floor that needs fixing, but in fact he is hindering the actual operation in progress which consists of cleaning the floor. So when he "helps one" mop the floor, he introduces chaos into the activity. Since he is repairing the floor, a request to "give me the mop" has to be reinterpreted as "hand me the hammer." But the mop handle is longer than a hammer handle so the bucket gets upset.
[Hubbard, "Drugs and Their Effects on the Mind",]

It is not just "recreational" drugs that have this damaging effect; Hubbard warns that "This is true not only of illegal street drugs but also of medical drugs that are supposed to help people."

This belief in "mental image pictures" is pure Scientology. It appears in no other belief system (save Scientology's various spin-offs and breakaway groups) and is wholly unsupported by science - indeed, some of the claims made for "mental image pictures", such as that they possess measurable mass, are physically impossible. Yet despite Narconon's claim that it is secular, it promotes exactly the same beliefs. ["How Drugs Affect The Mind", <>]

Touch Assists back to top

During the initial Drug-Free Withdrawal stage of the Narconon programme, "assists are also incorporated to help get the individual oriented with his/her environment, to get them in communication with the body's natural healing processes and to deliver the person from the constant obsession to use that is common in the withdrawing drug addict." [see <>] Touch assists were first developed by L. Ron Hubbard in the 1950s as an form of "laying on hands". The theory behind their use is, unfortunately, gibberish as far as scientific accuracy is concerned.

According to Hubbard [in "Touch Assists - Correct Ones", Board Technical Bulletin of 7 April 1972, revised 23 June 1974], nerve impulses "travel at 10 ft a second" (in fact, it is closer to 600ft/sec - cf. Curtis & Barnes, Biology, 1989). The brain itself is "a shock cushion, that is all" (a meaningless statement). When an injury or other physical pain is inflicted, "the energy from a shock will make a standing wave in the body" (untrue). The purpose of a "touch assist" is to "unlock the standing waves that are small electronic ridges of nervous energy that is not flowing as it should" (since there are no such things as "small electronic ridges of nervous energy", a meaningless statement). To cushion the impact of a shock, "the wave is slowed down as it goes through body, like at each joint. There are brain cells at each joint absorbing the shock." (Brain cells outside the brain?) A nerve can be overloaded by heavy use during an acute shock, leading to pain being bottled up in a particular place: "when enough heavy charge goes through a nerve it stops passing the charge through and just builds it up. A touch assist will bring the flow back and the suspended pain, cold, electrical charges end muscle command will blow through." (Untrue; nerves transmit pain, rather than storing it).

According to the Scientology Handbook,

Every single physical illness stems from a failure of the being to communicate with the thing or area that is ill. Prolongation of a chronic injury occurs in the absence of physical communication with the affected area or with the location of the spot of injury in the physical universe.

When attention is withdrawn from injured or ill body areas, so are circulation, nerve flows and energy. This limits nutrition to the area and prevents the drain of waste products.

A Touch Assist helps handle the factors of time and location when a person has been injured. Part of his attention is stuck in the past moment and place of the impact. The assist restores the person to the present and thus permits healing to occur.
["Touch Assist - Assists for Illnesses and Injuries", <>]

Significantly, Scientologists are required to administer touch assists before physical healing is given:

Where a person has been injured, your objective should be to get to him and give him a Touch Assist before anyone gives him a painkiller. If the body has been very badly damaged, the person may still be in agony after your assist, but you will have gotten some of the shock off. At this point a medical doctor could administer a painkiller and repair the physical damage. Of course, if the person needs immediate treatment for excessive pain, you would not prevent it from being administered and would then deliver the Touch Assist when the person was more comfortable.
["Touch Assist - Assists for Illnesses and Injuries", <>]

Touch assists and the theory behind them are found only in Scientology, and have no medical foundation whatsoever. Again, as with theories on drug effects, Narconon is wholly reliant on a fringe religious dogma rather than hard science.

Niacin back to top

Some of Hubbard's most egregious medical blunders are apparent in his statements on niacin, the vitamin compound used in the Narconon and Scientology detoxification/purification procedures. His "research" on the subject went back to the mid-1950s, when he developed an interest in the effects of radiation (see below for more on this topic). Niacin is supposed to "run out" radiation stored in the body; one of the characteristic side-effects of taking large amounts of it is a reddish flush or rash usually on the face, arms, and chest, which appears rapidly and can be painful. This is caused by the dilation of blood vessels (vasodilation), prompted by the release of histamine from skin cells, so producing the same kind of reddening and itchiness as seen in rashes and allergies. Over time, the reaction decreases with repeated doses of niacin as the cells' stores of histamine are reduced.

Hubbard, characteristically, completely misinterpreted this. He appears to have been misled by the reports of those who underwent his detoxification/purification procedures that the niacin flush highlights old areas of sun tan. This is easily explained - skin that has been subjected to sun exposure develops a greater amount of colouration and, in the case of sunburn, damaged skin capillaries. These heal into a slightly different structure from non-burned skin, causing a different appearance when the skin flushes. Hubbard instead jumped to the conclusion that because the flush looked like sunburn and revealed old sunburn marks, it actually was sunburn. This led him to declare that "Niacin ... starts to immediately run out sunburn or radiation." [Hubbard, "The Purification Rundown Replaces the Sweat Program", HCO Bulletin of 6 February 1978] He also completely misunderstood why continued large doses of niacin produce less of a reaction over time:

The interesting part of it is that it comes to a point where it doesn't turn on a flush. This doesn't happen by conditioning of the body, that is not what occurs. It runs something out.

What does it run out? We knew, from 1950, that it ran out sunburn, which is a radiation burn. And in 1956 the symptoms those on the research program were experiencing - the nausea, vomiting, skin irritations, colitis and nasal disturbances which accompany radiation sickness - were also discharging with the administration of niacin.

Niacin in 1956 was no longer just running out sunburn. It was running out something which exactly paralleled radiation sickness.

On the Purification program, because quantities of niacin are taken and because of the heat of the sauna, it is possible that it can have the effect of discharging a certain amount, possibly not all, of the accumulated radiation in people.
[Hubbard, Clear Body Clear Mind, p.37-38]

In fact, the real reason is the exhaustion of the cells' stock of histamine, a fact of which Hubbard appears to have been unaware. Despite this being proven and experimentally demonstrable (for instance, taking an antihistamine prior to a large niacin dose will reduce the flush, demonstrating the presence of histamine), Narconon relies on Hubbard's bad science rather than the findings of genuine medical research.

In recommending niacin overdoses, Hubbard actually intended to produce the flush side effect. Niacinamide, another form of niacin which occurs naturally in the body, does not produce a flush and so is rejected by Hubbard as "worthless":

What the medical profession didn't realize was that niacin itself doesn't turn on a flush - the flush is caused by the fact that sunburn or radiation is being run out. Niacinamide is worthless for the purpose of running out radiation.
[Hubbard, All About Radiation, 1989 ed., p.181]

In other words, Hubbard mistook a symptom of toxicity for a desirable result.

Hubbard also made fundamental mistakes about the nature of niacin. The vitamin is supposed to stimulate the release of fat into the bloodstream in order to flush out "stored" drugs. In fact, large doses of niacin actually block the release of fat from fat cells; as an antilipidemic, it is probably the last substance one would use for Hubbard's declared purpose. He also claimed that niacin could protect individuals from radiation, enabling them to "function in areas experiencing heavy atomic fallout in an atomic war". Ionizing radiation causes highly reactive free radicals to form within the body. Their reactivity means that do not accumulate, so cannot be flushed out, instead reacting with the molecules around them and so causing cellular damage. (This is the origin of radiation sickness.) An antioxidant substance might in theory help to increase the body's ability to absorb free radicals, but niacin would be no use at all in this role, as it is not an antioxidant.

Drugs and Fats back to top

Hubbard's detoxification methods rely on the proposition that drugs and radiation are water-soluble and so can be stored in the body's fatty tissue. If they are "restimulated" at a later stage, they can - supposedly - "turn on" and produce fresh drug flashbacks continuing over periods of years, even decades. This is deemed to be true of all drugs, even medical ones. It is not entirely clear how Hubbard "discovered" that drugs are stored in fat over long periods of time, as his research papers have never been published, but there are clues from his published writings. The detoxification / purification programme was preceded in the mid-1970s by an even more arduous regime called the Sweat Program, which involved vigorous exercise in a vinyl suit - not surprisingly, an unpleasant experience. It apparently produced unexpected results. Hubbard writes that

persons on the research program were reporting the apparent exudations of substances other than just street drugs - substances smelling or tasting or feeling like medicines, anesthetics, diet pills, food preservatives, pesticides and any number of other chemical preparations in common use!

The list included not only LSD, heroin, cocaine, marijuana and “angel dust,” but many other biochemical substances - medicinal and pharmaceutical drugs such as aspirin and codeine, as well as commercial and agricultural and industrial chemicals.

These same persons were also experiencing, in mild form, some of the sensations of old sunburns, past illnesses and injuries and other past conditions, both physical and emotional.

Thus it seems that residues of any or all of these hostile biochemical substances apparently have the potential of remaining in the system, getting caught up in the tissues and remaining there, unsuspected, even after they have supposedly been eliminated from the body years earlier.

Their accumulation, unhandled, probably disarranges the biochemistry and fluid balance of the body.
[Hubbard, Clear Body Clear Mind, p.11-12 - see also <>]

There is no indication that Hubbard actually tested these "exudations" to analyse their composition and so determine if they were, in fact, "hostile biochemical substances". He seems instead to have relied entirely on the proposition that because an "exudation" smelled or tasted or felt like such a substance, it actually was that substance. This confusion between the subjective and the objective was a systematic error which he made throughout Scientology - a subjective experience of past lives in ancient extraterrestrial civilizations such as the "little pipsqueak interplanetary nation called Helatrobus" (sic) was taken by Hubbard to be objective proof that such experiences were based on fact.

Having decided that his test subjects' subjective experiences were proof of objective phenomena, Hubbard faced the small problem of biochemistry. Unfortunately, he appears to have had difficulty with even the fundamentals, asserting blithely that "there is no such thing as a fat cell" [Hubbard, "The Purification Rundown Replaces The Sweat Program", HCO Bulletin 6 February 1978, re-issued 31 July 1985]. In fact, there is. The body stores fat molecules in stored in "brown cells"; where there are large numbers of such cells, that is referred to as "fatty tissue". It is certainly true that some toxins lodge in fatty tissue for significant periods - PCBs are the most notorious example, making it unsafe to eat fish from some polluted localities - but not all toxins are fat-soluble. (Hubbard appears to have been unaware of this fact, or ignored it.) Many drugs do tend to be fat-soluble, but they do not remain in the body for anything like as long as Hubbard claimed. For instance, the "active" ingredient of marijuana is a fat-soluble chemical called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is stored in the body for some time after a joint is smoked. According to the best medical evidence, half of the THC leaves the body within the first 72 hours and it takes about 3 weeks for it to disappear completely. [Office of Attorney General, Pennsylvania - <>] According to Narconon and the Church of Scientology, however, THC "takes several months for the body to get rid of it so it no longer affects the person." ["The Truth About Joints", Church of Scientology International, 2000]

Hubbard also claims, in defiance of known medical science, that non-fat-soluble drugs and toxins can also be stored in and released from fatty tissue. The most glaring example is of alcohol, a water-soluble drug which is flushed out of the body in a matter of hours (as anyone who has done a bar crawl will have discovered when their bladder begins to complain). It is physically impossible for alcohol to be stored in body fat. Despite this, Hubbard still refers to "people have [who] reported re-experiencing various effects of past drugs, medicine, alcohol or other stimulants or sedatives." This is a perfect example of Hubbard's sloppy and unscientific research - because people reported re-experiencing the effects of alcohol, it must actually be alcohol that they were re-experiencing, despite the awkward fact that alcohol is not stored in the body.

With the "war on drugs" still raging, the issue of drug residues has acquired major importance as drug detection has become a major industry - in the United States, those subjected to compulsory random drugs testing range from students, to prisoners, to military personnel and even welfare recipients. The length of time that drugs remain in the body is thus now of major social and economic importance, and tests are increasingly sensitive - amounts as small as a couple of nanograms (a billionth of a gram) can be detected in blood. The figures for drug detection times in urine are as follows, indicating with a fair degree of reliability how long the drugs remain in the body in measurable proportions:

Drug / Drug Group Time Range
Alcohol 24 hours or less
Amphetamines 1 to 4 days
Barbiturates Short-acting: 1 to 3 days
Long-acting (Barbital, Phenobarbital): 1 to 3 weeks
Benzodiazepines Short-term Therapeutic Use: 1 to 3 days
Long-term / Chronic Use: 1 to 3 weeks
Cocaine 1 to 4 days
LSD 1 to 2 days
Marijuana (THC)

Casual Use: 1 to 7 days
Long-Term / Chronic Use: 1 to 4 weeks

(In chronic and physically inactive users, THC may accumulate in fatty tissues faster than it can be eliminated. This accumulation leads to longer detection periods for these individuals. Also, users with a high percentage of body fat in relation to total body mass are prone to longer drug detection periods for marijuana.)

MDMA (Ecstasy) 1 to 4 days
Methadone 1 to 4 days
Methamphetamines 1 to 4 days
Opiates 1 to 5 days
PCP (Phencyclidine)

Casual Use: 1 to 7 days
Long-Term / Chronic Use: 1 to 4 weeks

(In chronic and physically inactive users, PCP may accumulate in fatty tissues faster than it can be eliminated. This accumulation leads to longer detection periods for these individuals. Also, users with a high percentage of body fat in relation to total body mass are prone to longer drug detection periods for PCP.)

["Drug Detection Times", Unitect, Inc - <>]

This differs radically from Hubbard's contention that such substances can be retained in the body for years or even decades. Another major difficulty with that contention is that body fat is itself not retained for such long periods of time: regular exercise causes fat to be consumed by the muscles. When engaged in long duration moderate intensity exercise, muscles burn about 25% fat within the muscle (triglycerides) and 25% fat from the diet or released from storage in adipose tissue. This is essentially the process by which drugs stored in fatty tissue are excreted - whatever quantities are left are likely to be clinically insignificant.

Flushing Out Toxins back to top

The Purification Rundown and New Life Detoxification Program both rely on the same fundamental principle - that the body can be purified of toxins stored in body fat, by flushing out the toxins and excreting them from the skin. The first element of the programme, running, is intended to "get the blood circulating deeper into the tissues where toxic residuals are lodged and thus act to loosen and release the accumulated harmful deposits and get them moving." Immediately afterwards, four or five hours of sauna time is used to "flush out the accumulations which have now been dislodged", with the toxins sweated out through the skin. At the same time, "megavitamins and mineral dosages and extra quantities of oil" are used to help the body to "flush out toxins and to repair and rebuild the areas that have been affected by drugs and other toxic residuals." [Quotes from "About the Purification Program" - <>]

This, however, falls foul of the problem that sweating simply is not a major route for excreting toxins. Most abused drugs are eliminated from the body by detoxification through the liver, the kidney, or occasionally the lungs. Even if Hubbard's therapy did manage to flush toxins out of fat tissue and into the bloodstream, they would pass through the kidneys and so be excreted in urine. They would have no chance to enter the sweat glands en masse. This point is usually glossed over by Narconon's handful of medical supporters. Although they state correctly that drug residues can be detected in sweat, this is irrelevant, since all compounds present in the blood stream can be detected in other body fluids including sweat. The key issue is whether the quantity of drug residues is clinically significant. Narconon claims that it is, but the medical evidence is that it is not. When Narconon was examined in 1996 by Professor Folke Sjoqvist on behalf of the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare, he commented that

[O]ne may from a pharmacological point of view strongly question the idea of using enforced sweating to expel drugs from the body ...

[Narconon's] does not contain any quantitative discussions about how large are the amounts of various drugs that can be excreted in sweat. To make such estimates would require full metabolic studies and every drug has to be studied separately, as their pharmacokinetic properties such as distribution volume, half-life, metabolism, etc. vary. It is thus impossible to generalize.
[Prof. Folke Sjokvist, "Expert advice on Narconon given to the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare", 26 November 1996]

Dr. Mark Palmer has put it more pithily, commenting that "Although minute quantities of some drugs may appear in the sweat it is such a small fraction of drug elimination that no matter how much a patient were made to sweat it could not significantly increase his clearing of most drugs" [letter to R.W. Lobsinger, 14 August 1989]. The point is reiterated in the definitive book on the subject, Goodman & Gilman's Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics, which states baldly (on page 20 of the 8th edition) that "Excretion of drugs into sweat, saliva and tears is quantitatively unimportant."

Another key point is that Hubbard confuses drugs with drug residues, or metabolites - in other words, the compounds formed after drugs have been metabolised by the body. The two are, quite obviously, not the same. After a drug has been ingested by the body, it is metabolised into a variety of substances with different properties from the original. The metabolites for cocaine and diazepam, for instance, are inactive. Although the Hubbard therapy aims to accelerate the excretion of such substances, it does not particularly matter whether they are excreted quickly or otherwise, as they do not affect the body anyway.

LSD and Drug Flashbacks back to top

According to Hubbard, drugs stored in the body can be "restimulated" at a later time, causing flashbacks and the reappearance of past "mental image pictures" created by drug use:

Such mental image pictures can be reactivated by drug residuals, as the presence of these drugs in the tissues of the body can simulate the earlier drug experiences. This is known as restimulation: the reactivation of a past memory due to similar circumstances in the present approximating circumstances of the past.

Using the above example of the person who took LSD, sometime later - perhaps years afterward - the residuals of the drug that are still in his body tissues can cause a restimulation of that LSD incident.
[Hubbard, Clear Body Clear Mind, p. 15]

In a typically inaccurate rhetorical flourish, Hubbard claimed to have personally discovered the phenomenon of LSD flashbacks during the 1970s:

In the 1970s, working with cases of individuals who had been drug users, and in a study of their physical symptoms and behavioral patterns, I made a startling discovery. People who had been on LSD at some earlier time sometimes had reactions which appeared to act as if they had just taken more LSD!

As it has been stated that it takes only one millionth of an ounce of LSD to produce a drugged condition and because it is basically rusty wheat which simply cuts off circulation, my original thinking on this was that LSD must remain in the body.

In other words: LSD apparently stays in the system, lodging in the tissues, and mainly the fatty tissues of the body, and is liable to go into action again - giving the person unpredictable “trips” - even years after the person has come off LSD.

This was an observable phenomenon - dramatically so!
[Hubbard, Clear Body Clear Mind, pp. 9-10 - also at <>]

Hubbard was wrong on all counts. Numerous reports of flashbacks exist in the medical literature of the 1960s, with Dr. M.J Horowitz estimating in 1969 that about 5% of all LSD users experienced them [see Edward M. Brecher, "The Consumers Union Report on Licit and Illicit Drugs", 1972 -], so they were hardly a new discovery when they came to Hubbard's attention in the 1970s. LSD does not "cut off circulation" at all - it does not significantly affect the output of blood from the heart, nor the passage of blood through the body:

The physical effects of taking LSD are very slight. The user will normally experience a dilation of the pupils of the eyes, the raising of their blood sugar levels, together with a small increase in blood pressure and pulse rate.

It is the psychological effects that the user is seeking. LSD has a powerful effect on the brain which becomes apparent about 30 to 40 minutes after taking the drug.
[Emmett and Nice, Understanding Drugs (1996), p. 106]

Hubbard refers, somewhat confusingly, to "rusty wheat". He appear to be referring to wheat rust, the fungus Claviceps purpurea from which lysergic acid diethylamide, the active ingredient of LSD, is extracted. The Church of Scientology has evidently recognised Hubbard's error, as it has quietly altered Hubbard's words in recent publications so that he now refers to "wheat rust" rather than "rusty wheat" [see <>].

Clear Body Clear Mind includes a couple of rather amateurish illustrations purporting to show "LSD crystals" being lodged in between fat cells in the body (see right). This is physically impossible: LSD is water-soluble, causing it to be excreted quickly (typically, between 24-48 hours) via urine. In fact, the claim that LSD leaves crystals in the body is a long-running "urban legend" which has been debunked on numerous occasions. As usual, Hubbard provides no source for his contention and no indication of how he found that LSD crystals lodge in fatty tissue. (Did he try extracting it, examining it under a microscope, subjecting it to chemical analysis? There is no indication of any such research.)

Hubbard's explanation of LSD flashbacks is also clearly wrong. If it is physically impossible for LSD to be stored in the body, logic dictates that it is also physically impossible for its re-emergence to be the cause of later flashbacks. The most widely accepted explanation of LSD flashbacks is that they are a form of post-traumatic stress. It is well known that intense emotional experiences can produce flashbacks much later, when a sight, sound or smell brings to mind the experience, and the condition has been extremely well documented in victims of disasters, violence and war. It came to particular attention during the Vietnam War, which may help to explain a curious fact about LSD flashbacks: prior to 1967, only 11 cases of flashbacks were reported in the medical literature. In 1960, Dr. Sidney Cohen's otherwise exhaustive study of the side effects of LSD ("Lysergic Acid Diethylamide: Side Effects and Complications," Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 130 (January, 1960): 39) did not report a single instance of flashback. The relative silence on the subject ended after the hazard of flashbacks was widely publicised by the media in 1967, prompting a flood of reports of the phenomenon. It was, of course, not the case that nobody had experienced flashbacks before 1967, but rather that LSD users do not appear to have regarded it as a hazard before the media highlighted the issue. [Edward M. Brecher, "The Consumers Union Report on Licit and Illicit Drugs", 1972 -] Even after the adverse publicity, many LSD users did not regard flashbacks as being wholly bad. In a 1972 survey of 235 LSD users, Murray P. Naditch and Sheridan Fenwick found that 28 percent had flashbacks, of whom 43% found them somewhat or very frightening while 57% found them somewhat or very pleasant. Another study, by William H. McGlothlin and David O. Arnold in 1971, found that only one out of 36 LSD users who had experienced flashbacks had a seriously disturbing occurrence.

Given all of the above, Hubbard's method of "removing" LSD from the body is clearly a fantasy. He writes:

Taken in sufficient quantities niacin appears to break up and unleash LSD, marijuana and other drugs and poisons from the tissues and cells. It can rapidly release LSD crystals into the system and send a person who has taken LSD on a “trip.” (One fellow who had done the earlier Sweat Program for a period of months, and who believed he had no more LSD in his system, took 100 milligrams of niacin and promptly turned on a restimulation of a full-blown LSD experience.)
[Hubbard, Clear Body Clear Mind, p. 38 - also <>]

Niacin actually inhibits the release of fat and LSD does not form crystals in the body, making this "therapy" physically impossible. Hubbard gives no details of this case of "restimulation", other than the bare assertion that it happened. As there are numerous examples in his writings of facts simply being made up (see, for instance, his claims to have been a nuclear physicist) his word cannot be taken on trust - reliance on unsupported assertions is, in any case, not compatible with scientific methods.

Hubbard's seemingly endless catalogue of errors is particularly embarrassing when one considers that LSD is one of the most highly studied of all abused drugs, thanks to its unique effects; there are many reputable medical studies on the subject, It would appear that Hubbard relied entirely on his own suppositions and faulty inferences, rather than bothering to check the known medical facts.

Radiation And Its Effects back to top

Nowhere else is Hubbard's slapdash approach to science more visible than in his views on radiation. To call them unscientific is putting it mildly; he makes mistakes that would shame a high school student, making it particularly laughable that he should have claimed to have been a nuclear physicist. He became interested in the effects of radiation in the mid-1950s - a highly topic issue at the time, when open-air atomic bomb tests at the Nevada testing range (only a few hundred miles from Hubbard's headquarters in Arizona) were at their peak. In a series of lectures, now available as a boxed set of ten tapes under the title of "Radiation and Your Survival" [Bridge Publications - <>] and in an abbreviated format as the book All About Radiation [Bridge Publications - <>], he told Scientologists of his views on radiation and how to overcome its hazards. In the process, Hubbard demonstrated his scientific illiteracy with numerous statements of scientific fact that are hopelessly wrong; for instance:

Radiation is either a particle or wavelength - these things become the fad or fashion .... One moment everybody says it is a wavelength and the next they say it is a particle. This has been going on since 1932.
[Hubbard, "Radiation and the Scientologist", lecture of 13 April 1957]

Probably not coincidentally, 1932 was the year he dropped out of college.

Today we throw a few rays at somebody and tomorrow we throw a few rays at the same man ... and all of a sudden he dies - as though he had been shot with a bullet. In other words, the effect of radiation is cumulative ... With gamma ... you get 300 Roentgen and then you get another 300 Roentgen and it doesn't matter if they're a year apart or three days apart - they add!
[Hubbard, "Radiation and the Scientologist", lecture of 13 April 1957]

This is an extremely garbled take on the fact that long-term exposure to radiation can be dangerous - not because it is stored in the body, but because it does more and more damage over time.

You know, [radiation] kills the human body very, very dead, but it'll go through a sixteen foot wall! A gamma ray'll go through a wall, very easily. How does this hurt the body? Nobody can tell you. A wall can't stop a gamma ray, but a body can. And we get down to our number one medical question. Gamma rays go through walls but don't go through bodies ... I can tell you, fortunately, what is happening here. Resistance! The wall doesn't resist and the body does. The gamma ray does not really settle in the body. It goes on through, but its passage creates some kind of sensation which, if too recurrent, is resisted on the part of the cells of the body.
[Hubbard, "Radiation and the Scientologist", lecture of 13 April 1957]
In fact, most radiation is stopped by sixteen foot walls but goes straight through human bodies, causing genetic and cellular damage en route.

Now, all America sits in front of television sets and those television sets exude, I am sorry to say, a considerable amount of radioactive material. It's not huge, you know, but it's enough so that people who have made a habit of watching TV ... get the TV radiation.
[Hubbard, "The Scale of Havingness", lecture of 29 Nov 1959]

According to the U.S. Government, most TV sets have been found not to give off any measurable level of radiation, and there is no evidence that radiation from TV sets has resulted in human injury. Radiation is, in any case, not the same as "radioactive material" - a phrase which suggests TV sets dribbling plutonium onto the carpet.

In my basic physics textbooks, to show you how opinions have changed, when I was at modern high school, they used to teach that the sun was combusting on hydrogen. There was an inexhaustible supply of hydrogen and they calculated the length of life of the sun on hydrogen, and this was very, very nice but it didn't work. Because if its length of life was calculated on hydrogen, then you would get a difference in the heat of the sun from day to day because it was burning out. This didn't happen, so the theory was eventually abandoned and people finally owned up and said that they didn't know why the sun kept on burning. It was only when nuclear physics became dominant in men's thinking that they've explained sunlight, and sunlight is occasioned by a continuous fission going on, on a sphere called the sun.
[Hubbard, "Radiation and Scientology", lecture of 13 April 1957]

Actually, the sun does burn hydrogen, converting it into helium via continuous nuclear fusion. This had been known since the 1930s, so there was no excuse for Hubbard to get it wrong. (The Scientologists apparently agree, as "fission" has been changed to "fusion" in the official transcript of this lecture even though Hubbard clearly says "fission" on the tape.)  

This is only a small sample of the inane mistakes made by Hubbard throughout his lectures on radiation - mistakes which, in almost all cases, remain part of official Scientology doctrine despite having been pointed out on numerous occasions since the 1950s.

All of this would normally amount only to mildly amusing crankery if it were not for the fact that, in the 1950s and again in the 1980s through to the present day, Hubbard used his "knowledge" as the basis for offering miracle cures and even prevention for radiation poisoning:

We are today the only people whose processes will actually cure or handle, in any way, shape or form, atomic energy burns ... you get some guy's case in order, and then you can cure his radiation burns with fair rapidity. More work has to be done on this, but I can tell you right now that it is the one thing that does something about it. Gives us a monopoly. More importantly, it gives us this interesting position. Just being able to cure this makes us the only civil defense agency on the face of Earth today. Think of that for a minute. Because no other agency has the knowledge or equipment to even vaguely handle it.

Now, our researches are going out at once in the direction of proofing human beings against being affected by atomic radiation, which of course makes nothing out of the bomb ... We can put a being, a thetan, into a position where he cannot be affected by atomic radiation.

We're trying to go further than that, much further than that because that has no salability. That's pie in the sky as far as the public is concerned. But proofing a body against atomic radiation is quite another problem. And that problem is under study at this moment. And we have gone so far in this program that we're already establishing the exact format, and so forth, of the publications to be called "Radiation Burns, Their Danger and Treatment," published by the organization saying, "See your professional Scientologist and if you can't see him at least go to a group and get some Group Processing. If you can't do that, why, God help you."
[Hubbard, "Aims and Goals of Scientology", lecture of 14 February 1956]

This got him into serious trouble. In 1957, he began to promote a compound which he had devised and named "Dianazene" (after his daughter), which was supposed to "run out" radiation stored in the body, protect against future radiation exposure and even cure cancer:

Dianazene runs out radiation - or what appears to be radiation. It also proofs a person against radiation to some degree. It also turns on and runs out incipient cancer. I have seen it run out skin cancer. A man who didn't have much liability to skin cancer (only had a few moles) took Dianazene. His whole jaw turned into a raw mass of cancer. He kept on taking Dianazene and it disappeared after a while. I was looking at a case of cancer that might have happened.
[Hubbard, "Radiation and Scientology", lecture of 13 April 1957]

The United States Food and Drugs Administration took a dim view of Dianazene and raided the Distribution Center Inc, a Scientology company in Washington. 21,000 Dianazene tablets were seized and eventually destroyed by the FDA on the undeniable grounds that they were falsely labeled as a preventative treatment for radiation sickness.

The FDA fiasco did not cause Hubbard to renounce his views on radiation, but it did at least deter him from offering "radiation cures" for a while. He did not return in a serious way to the issue of radiation until just after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, when nuclear war threatened more directly than at any time since the Cuban missile crisis. In early January 1980, Scientologists were summoned to Church of Scientology organisations the world over to hear Hubbard's ominous warning of the dangers of an atomic war. He announced that "I want Scientologists to live through World War III", informing his followers that the use of niacin in the Scientology Purification Rundown could "run out" radiation, "lessening the consequences of future radiation exposure". This led to the interesting consequences that "those who have had a full and competent Purification Rundown will survive where others not so fortunate won't" and "only Scientologists will be functioning in areas experiencing heavy fallout in an Atomic War." The problem of widespread contamination would not be insurmountable, as "they'll know how to recover from a new exposure - another short use of Niacin. And a bit of auditing of course." [Hubbard, "The Purification Rundown and Atomic War", HCO Bulletin of 3 January 1980] Hubbard's 1956-57 lectures on radiation were reissued in a new edition of All About Radiation, and the programme's supposed value in radiation "detoxification" was - and still is - intensively promoted to Scientologists and the general public alike. In 1997, the author observed Scientologists handing out copies of Hubbard's bulletin on atomic war to bemused shoppers on Toronto's Yonge Street.

Significantly, there is hard evidence that Narconon subscribes to the same beliefs. One of Narconon's training courses, the "New Life Detoxification Program In-Charge Course", includes a number of items on radiation including "The New Life Detoxification Program and Atomic War". This is almost certainly a slightly modified adaptation of Hubbard's bulletin of 3 January 1980, as the course requires the trainee to demonstrate "What is meant by the cumulative effect of radiation and how ridding a body of radiation lessens the effect of any future exposure to it."

So how exactly is niacin supposed to affect radiation poisoning? According to Hubbard, radiation can actually be sweated out of the body:

On the Purification program, findings seem to bear out that there is a factor related to radiation that produces the greatest exudation of it and that is the sweating itself.

Radiation is apparently enormously water-soluble as well as water removable. According to researchers, one merely has to take a hose to a building surface or a road to wash the radiation off of it. This factor is well known to defense trained personnel.
[Hubbard, Clear Body Clear Mind, p. 20]

This well illustrates Hubbard's acute confusion about the nature of radiation. It appears that he misinterpreted what is meant by "radiation poisoning", believing that there is actually a physical substance called "radiation" which settles in the body and can be washed away or excreted, as if it were a liquid. He confused three distinct phenomena: radioactive substances which cause contamination (which is what he was referring to in the quote above), radiated particles (as in the case of cosmic rays, or alpha and beta radiation from the decay of radioactives) or electromagnetic radiation (in other words, x-rays, gamma rays and suchlike). All three do significantly different things. Radioactive substances can indeed be absorbed into the body, and can be toxic in their own right as well as causing harm through the radiation given off as they decay. Alpha and beta radiation are directly damaging, as they consist of relatively massive particles which can penetrate the body, colliding with and harming cells. Electromagnetic radiation is the most dangerous of all, as it is pure energy: it can pass straight through the body but can ionise molecules en route, forming highly reactive free radicals which "scavenge" other molecules. This can damage many of the body's processes as well as causing genetic damage, causing the effects of radiation exposure to be felt down the generations. The higher the wavelength of the radiation, the more energy it can transmit into - and through - the body. Hence the body is opaque at the relatively low energies of visual light, partially transparent to more energetic X-rays and effectively almost totally transparent to high-energy gamma rays.

It is quite plain that Hubbard understood none of this; he makes no mention of free radicals and constantly mingles all three phenomena. On all three fronts, his supposed "cure", niacin, is completely useless for its claimed purpose. Radioactive contaminants may be absorbed into the body, but niacin does not have any effect in removing them. The radioactive forms (radionuclides) of substances such as caesium, calcium, strontium, iodine and radium tend to be fairly insoluble and are mostly stored in calcified tissues (i.e. bones and teeth). Getting rid of them, or even preventing them from being absorbed in the first place, is very difficult. During the 1950s and 1960s, numerous experiments into the substitution of radioactive isotopes with analogous non-radioactive isotopes proved mostly unsuccessful. The only practical prophylactic is the well known use of iodine pills, which saturates the thyroid gland with non-radioactive iodine and so blocks the take-up of the radioactive form. That protects against only one radionuclide, so anyone exposed to a range of radionuclides will still have problems even if he is taking iodine pills. The body will eliminate radionuclides over time, but in the meantime the toxic and radioactive damage will still be done. Niacin has absolutely no effect in speeding up the elimination of radionuclides, as even Narconon's scientific supporters have had to admit. A report on the Purification Rundown prepared by the Foundation for Advancements in Science and Education (a group with close links to Scientology) reported that

Rates computed from [our] measurements were compared to elimination rates expected from routine physical processes. While Cesium-137 was reliably detected in the sweat of all the patients, an evident acceleration of Cesium-137 elimination was not found.
["Rehabilitation of a Chernobyl Affected Population Using a Detoxification Method", A.F. Tsyb, E.M. Parshkov, J. Barnes, V.V. Yarzutkin, N.V. Vorontsov, V.I. Dedov - <>]

The fact that caesium-137 was detected in sweat is of no clinical importance, as any substance detectable in urine would also be detectable in other body fluids, such as blood or saliva. In other words, all that the FASE team detected was the normal excretion of caesium-137, unchanged by the effects of the Purification Rundown.

Niacin is equally useless in dealing with electromagnetic radiation. Broadly speaking, Hubbard attempts to tackle two distinct kinds of radiation (although of course, there is no sign that Hubbard recognised the differences). Supposedly, radiation accumulates in the body until it reaches a critical point:

Today we throw a few rays at somebody and tomorrow we throw a few rays at the same man ... and all of a sudden he dies - as though he had been shot with a bullet. In other words, the effect of radiation is cumulative ... With gamma ... you get 300 Roentgen and then you get another 300 Roentgen and it doesn't matter if they're a year apart or three days apart - they add!
[L. Ron Hubbard, Radiation and the Scientologist, lecture of 13 April 1957]

By "flushing" the radiation, his theory goes, a person can drastically reduce his radiation level and so prevent himself from reaching the critical point. Assume that the critical point is 600 Roentgen, as in Hubbard's example above; a person who had not undergone Hubbard's therapy would have a background radiation level of 300 Roentgen, which could be lowered to 100 Roentgen by "sweating out" the radiation. (These figures are imaginary - they are purely for the sake of the argument.) If there is then a nuclear war or disaster, a dose of another 300 Roentgen is delivered, with dramatically different consequences for the "purified" and the "impure". The purified individual will now have a cumulative dose of 400 Roentgen, which is well below the critical point, so he will not be too badly inconvenienced, and future iterations of the Purification process can take him back down to a low level again. However, the impure individual will have passed the critical point of 600 Roentgen, causing him to die or be disabled. Hence Hubbard's claim that ""those who have had a full and competent Purification Rundown will survive where others not so fortunate won't".

It is hard to imagine a more fundamental misunderstanding of the process of radiation exposure. There is, in fact, no safe limit for radiation exposure; any ionizing ray has the same risk of causing damage. The risk does not change for increasing amounts of radiation, but the number of times the risk is taken increases with dosage. To use an analogy, if you roll a die once you are unlikely to roll a six - your odds are only one in six. If you roll the same die a hundred times, your odds are still only one in six that an individual roll will produce a six, but your odds overall are now 1-(5/6)^100 - equal to a 99.9999999% probability that you will roll at least one six. In a similar vein, the more often one is exposed to ionising radiation, the more likely it is that damage will result. There is, for instance, evidence to suggest that airline crew suffer a higher rate of radiation-induced cancers than the population at large, presumably because their altitude makes them more vulnerable to cosmic rays that are otherwise blocked by the earth's atmosphere. This makes a nonsense of Hubbard's claim that radiation is cumulative. The damage caused by radiation is cumulative over time, but any exposure to radiation can - and does - have lethal consequences, such as the instigation of cancers.

The nature of this damage makes an equal nonsense of Hubbard's "treatment", niacin overdoses. Free radicals are so reactive, and do their business so rapidly, that it is physically impossible to store them and thus to eliminate them from the body. The creation of a free radical and the damage it does to body cells happens in an unimaginably small space of time, as little as a few picoseconds (one picosecond is a trillionth of a second). Niacin does not in any way prevent the creation of free radicals, and it obviously cannot flush them out of the body. Nor can it flush out or repair the damage they cause - for instance, killing cancerous cells or repairing damaged DNA. In any case, Hubbard does not suggest any mechanism by which niacin could affect radiation damage; he simply says that it "seems to have a catalytic effect on running out radiation exposure" without elaborating on how exactly it does this.

Even Narconon's medical supporters appear to have a problem with this, as the very small number of studies on the effects of Hubbard's methods avoid the crucial issue of how the process works in removing radionuclides. One paper, on the supposed effects of the programme in dealing with Chernobyl contamination, claims success but adds at the end that "The specific physical processes induced by the detoxification method have not been fully examined at this
time." ["Rehabilitation of a Chernobyl Affected Population Using a Detoxification Method", A.F. Tsyb, E.M. Parshkov, J. Barnes, V.V. Yarzutkin, N.V. Vorontsov, V.I. Dedov - <>] None of Narconon's medical supporters appear to have spoken up in public to support Hubbard's claims on radiation - not entirely surprising, considering that those claims contradict virtually everything that is known about radiation physics and health effects.

Hubbard & Science | The "Nuclear Physicist" | Hubbard & Medicine
Scientology versus Medicine | Hubbard's Junk Science


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