The Current

93-year-old former psychiatric patient and nurse on lessons from LSD

Kay Parley was a psychiatric patient turned psychiatric nurse. Now at the age of 93, she shares her reflections from both sides of the gurney from the then-called Weyburn Mental Institution and speaks to her experience with the therapeutic use of LSD.
Kay Parley on the grounds of the then-called Weyburn Hospital during the second year of her training, 1957. (Courtesy of Kay Parley)

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Kay Parley, a former patient of the then-Weyburn Mental Hospital in Weyburn, Sask., remembers her time there as the best thing that ever happened to her.

"To this day I feel that was home. I liked it in the big hospital, once you got used to the place - all those people around that you knew," she tells The Current's host Anna Maria Tremonti.

Kay Parley on graduation day, April 24, 1959.
 Parley went on to become a psychiatric nurse witnessing that same hospital transform itself from a regimented institution to a facility at the forefront of mental health research.

"The old psychiatric model pushed patients to do things. The medical model says, we'll cure you, we'll look after you. And I think that was a bad change," Parley said.

The institution is known for its cutting edge research on the therapeutic use of LSD.

For Parley, she saw how LSD helped staff connect with patients. "I noticed when I worked with nurses who had had LSD - they always seemed to understand their patients better."

Francis Huxley, nephew of Aldous Huxley and researcher at the then-Weyburn Hospital, gave Kay Parley her first dose of LSD. (Courtesy of Kay Parley)

Parley took took LSD, with Francis Huxley, nephew of Aldous Huxley and tells Anna Maria Tremonti about that encounter. "He asked me if I'd like a cup of tea and I said, ok thanks. He said, would you rather have LSD. That was a bit of a surprise," she said.

"LSD upset your perception so badly — what it was like when you weren't hearing and seeing things realistically. And I think the staff who tried it got a lot more empathy for patients." 

Parley is 93-years-old now and her story from both sides of the gurney is in her book, Inside The Mental: Silence, Stigma, Psychiatry and LSD.

This segment was produced by The Current's Karin Marley.