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Pont-Saint-Esprit Affair

Pont-Saint-Esprit Town | Pont-Saint-Esprit Affair |

Cursed bread (pain maudit), CIA LSD plot or rare and unique food poisoning?

On a summer August morning in 1951, an outbreak of poisoning with acute psychotic episodes occurred in Pont-Saint-Esprit.

The symptoms began on 16 August with 20 some people coming down with nausea, vomiting, heat flashes and other digestive ailments. In the following days, the number of victims and number of symptoms increased, with frothing at the mouth and extreme hallucinations. By the 24th, the situation was described as the "night of the apocalypse". The psychotic effects lasted for several months, ending finally near the end of October.

A local postman came down with nausea and hallucinations of shrinking and of fire and serpents coiling around his arms. He, and scores of other victims, ended up in a straightjacket, with others chained to their beds. In all, there were over a dozen deaths and 50 or 60 people interned in asylums.

Other symptoms included a man thinking he was a plane and launching himself from a third-story window; an 11-year-old kid trying to strangle his mother; a man thinking he was eating snakes; a man climbing along the girders of a bridge, thinking he was a circus tightrope walker.

The source of the poisoning was apparently narrowed to bread from the Roch Briand bakery in the town.

Natural Cause.

The most widely held innocent cause is ergot poisoning, from a fungus that infects the cereals used to make the bread. Some of the other natural causes put fourth are mercury poisoning, used to treat grains and seed, or nitrogen trichloride, used to bleach flour (illegally). An argument against these causes is that they would have had a much wider effect than on (apparently) a single bakery in a single town on a single day.

Evil CIA Experiment.

Journalist Hank P. Albarelli Jr, in his 2009 book A Terrible Mistake claims the cause was a CIA field test of LSD, in the midst of the Cold War and the Korean War, part of the CIA's MKULTRA biological weapons program. Although this has been dismissed as conspiracy theory, there seems to be more than just circumstantial evidence to support the possibility.

M. Albarelli revealed a CIA document labeled: "Re: Pont-Saint-Esprit and F.Olson Files. SO Span/France Operation file, inclusive Olson. Intel files. Hand carry to Belin - tell him to see to it that these are buried."

Albarelli later got access to a CIA report from 1954, about a meeting between a CIA agent and a representative of the Sandoz Chemical company in Switzerland, the only place where LSD was being produced in 1951. The agent reported that the Sandoz person stated: "The Pont-Saint-Esprit 'secret' is that it was not the bread at all... It was not grain ergot."

Sources: Wikipedia, Lepoint July 2012, BBC August 2010, other online sources (of questionable reliability).

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