What Is MKUltra? 'Stranger Things' Season 1 Mentions The Real CIA Experiments

Ad failed to load

Stranger Things Season 2 returns to Hawkins, Indiana, in only a few short weeks, including the peculiar goings on at the "Department of Energy" building just outside of town. But before we return to the weird secret government experiments of Season 2, let's review one of the major ones of Season 1 that was kind of glossed over. What is Project MKUltra? Was this something just made up for the series?

One of the best parts about Stranger Things is that even though it is a fantastical premise, with mirror worlds and gates between dimensions and scary monsters right out of the Dungeons & Dragons monster manuals and playbooks, it is also very realistic. The world of Hawkins in the early 1980s feels very true-to-life, not just in the technology, but in the lives of the parents and the kids.

Joyce Byers, for instance, is a poor single mother who lives paycheck to paycheck, purchasing something as simple as a phone is enough to set her back. One of the reasons Will is the one to fall into the Upside Down is because they can't afford to live in town, they're on the outskirts, very near to the gated government lab.

Ad failed to load

MKUltra Was Real


Project MKUltra really was the name of a government program. It was also known as the CIA's mind control program. It ran from the early 1950s through the mid 1970s, growing out of programs that were started after WWII, some of which included hiring former Nazi scientists.

Ad failed to load

There really were tests all through the cold war, where the government convinced high school grads and college kids, all of whom needed money, to basically take hallucinogenic drugs for cash so the government could use them as guinea pigs.

As Terry Ives' sister tells Hopper, MKUltra was something she voluntarily signed up to do. It was "take drugs, change the world" kind of stuff. She just didn't know she was pregnant.

A Short History of MKUltra

Ad failed to load

Officially, the program was sanctioned in 1953. According to all records, it was halted completely by 1973. But during that 20-year time period, the government used it to conduct many illegal experiments on U.S. and Canadian citizens, a lot of times not telling them they would be exposed to mind-altering drugs including (but not limited to) LSD.

According to Wikipedia, it also was known for experimenting with "hypnosis, sensory deprivation, isolation and verbal abuse," all in the name of learning new and more effective ways to conduct interrogations and torture techniques.

The CIA used dozens of different institutions as fronts for these experiments, including colleges, hospitals, and prisons. So, the idea that a building technically considered the "Department of Energy," but operating as a front for the CIA, is not actually all that far fetched.

Ad failed to load

What Happened To The Program?


Many of the files for Project MKUltra were destroyed under the Nixon administration in 1973 as impeachment loomed, and anti-government sentiment swept the country. In 1975, President Gerald Ford ordered a complete investigation into the possible atrocities that some claimed they had undergone, with most of the details of the program being released to the public in 1977.

Ad failed to load

Lawsuits still ensued over the concept of "informed consent" to patients. (The result of which is why those undergoing certain medical treatments have to sign boatloads of paperwork nowadays.) One even made it all the way to the Supreme Court in 1987.

Could MKUltra's Offshoot Happen In The 1980s?

Ad failed to load

Is it realistic that MKUltra in the 1970s could have spawned a child (or multiple children) who were taken from hospitals and raised in government labs run by the CIA in the early '80s? To be honest, chances are if they had done something like that, it would have come out long ago. In July 2001, much of the documents that had not been released before were declassified.

But, since most of the documents from the original program were destroyed.... the world may never know. We'll have to see how Eleven's return plays out in Season 2, now that her oddly German-looking "Papa," Dr. Brenner, is gone.

Ad failed to load

Must Reads

5 Trends From The '90s Are Making A Serious Comeback, So Somebody Page Cher Horowitz

I was born in the '90s and my childhood was one Caboodles train case packed with scrunchies and butterfly clips after another. If you could believe it, early '90s fashion is already considered vintage (I officially feel old AF) and according to sprin…
By Stephanie Montes

This New Snapchat Feature Is Going To Make Your Stories Look Even Better

Giphy is officially taking over social media, and I'm not upset about it. After invading Instagram stories with funny animated stickers, the company partnered with Snapchat — and now, we're finally able to fill our Snaps with hilarious GIFs. In other…
By Amanda Fama

Your Weekly Horoscope Is Here & Luckily, It's All Good Things

Pat yourself on the back because you survived not only one but two major eclipses. The last few weeks have been one obstacle after another but you made it. You dealt with the pain, held it together, and prevailed. Now, your February 19, 2018 weekly h…
By Roya Backlund

6 Subtle Red Flags That Could Mean You’re Sleeping Way Too Much

Have you ever woken up after an unusually long night of sleep and felt, well, kind of awful? Whether you roll out of bed feeling super dehydrated, nursing a throbbing a headache, or you simply feel stiff as a board, there are reasons why your body mi…
By Annakeara Stinson

These 6 Workouts Can Be Done Right On Your Couch, & Yes, They Do Count As Exercise

Ever have that feeling when you're watching the Olympics like you should be working out, or at least stretching, but in reality you're just laying around eating chips? Yeah, me neither. But if you do ever feel that pull to work out when you're just l…
By Annakeara Stinson

10 Things You Should Say To Your Partner Every Day To Keep The Love Alive

When it coms to love, falling into it is a lot easier than maintaining it. There’s a reason, after all, that it's called "falling" in love, because it's mostly out of your control — the heart just takes over. Because those emotions come so easily and…
By Rachel Shatto

Science Says These 8 Foods Can Help You Live Longer, So Eat Up

If you're looking to live forever, or at least for an appropriately long amount of time, then the best way to get started on your journey toward immortality is to think about what you're putting into your body for fuel. Think of your diet as the batt…
By Caroline Burke

I Live In London & When Guys Find Out I'm American, They Only See Me As A Fling

I first entered the world of dating apps during a semester abroad in London, and I had zero idea what I was getting myself into. I was 21, had only ever dated boys I'd met through work, school, or mutual friends, and my appreciation for romantic come…
By Genevieve Wheeler

Here's Exactly How You'll Fall In Love, Based On Your Astrological Sign

One of my favorite things about learning about my zodiac sign and others' is learning patterns about my behavior that I can acknowledge and use to my advantage. As a Scorpio sun sign, I know I'm typically described as mysterious, drawn to loyal peopl…
By Elana Rubin

These 8 Red Flags Might Mean You're Pushing Yourself Too Hard In Your Workouts

If you live by the motto "no pain, no gain," or you frequently exclaim that your HIIT circuits "hurt so good," you're probably the type of person who challenges yourself to the max during your workouts. And while this isn't necessarily a bad thing, i…
By Georgina Berbari

I Tried Vegan "Spacepaste" & It Looks Like Straight-Up LED Lights On Your Face

As you might have noticed, 2018 is the year for glitter. So many brands have been releasing shining, shimmering formulations like they're going out of style. We're not even halfway through February, and Lemonhead LA has already launched the best glit…
By Kim Carpluk

These "Awkward" Proposal Stories Show There's No One Perfect Way To Get Engaged

There are a few adjectives people use to describe proposal stories that tend to be a bit more common than the rest. You know what I mean. How many times have you heard someone describe their marriage proposal as "magical" or "romantic" or — my person…
By Candice Jalili

This $20 Toy Simulates Pimple Popping, So You Can Save Your Face (But Still Lose Your Dignity)

As a self-proclaimed popaholic, I am not ashamed to admit that I love watching pimple popping and blackhead extraction videos. Call me gross, but I find it immensely therapeutic and satisfying. To all of my fellow weirdos, we’ve been blessed with a n…
By Ariana Marsh

Everyone Is So Thirsty Over This “Photo” Of Obama With Facial Hair

It's been a hot minute since President Barack Obama left the Oval office (though it feels like ages), and a lot of us miss him dearly. After leaving the White House, the 44th president remained out of the public eye for a little while, decompressing …
By Daniella Bondar

Meghan Markle Uses This $13 Natural Wonder To Grow Her Eyebrows Back & You Can Too

Meghan Markle is the world's new go-to celebrity for all things fashion and beauty — she's marrying a prince after all, so she must have some tricks up her sleeve. Meghan Markle's beauty routine is just as intricate as mine, because that's how real s…
By Alison Turka

7 Foolproof Things To Do Every Day If You're Tired Of Being Lazy AF

Being lazy can be oh-so-lovely. Until you start letting life pass you by, and not living to your full potential, then suddenly, it's not so good anymore. Don't get me wrong, I love my weekends when I can stay snuggled up in bed just a bit longer. Hit…
By Marisa Casciano

This Is How Long Most People Wait To Say "I Love You," Science Says

If I had to choose one word to describe saying "I love you" to your partner for the first time, I'd have to go with... hmm, exciting? Nope. Thrilling? Hardly. Terrifying? YES. Exactly. Saying "I love you" for the first time is terrifying. What makes …
By Candice Jalili

6 Reasons To Travel Abroad With Your Boyfriend Or Girlfriend In Your 20s

Traveling can be many things: hectic, expensive, and definitely stressful. But with the right people or person beside you, all those troubles kind of just melt away. That's why there are some solid reasons to travel abroad with your boyfriend or girl…
By Alani Vargas