It was the winter of 1960-61 and Clare Boothe Luce, leading spokeswoman of American conservatism in the mid-20th century, was writing her thoughts as 100 micrograms of lysergic acid diethylamide seeped into her world-famous brain.

"Capture green bug for future reference," wrote the playwright turned congresswoman turned ambassador. Earlier this month, portions of her LSD diaries were made public by the Library of Congress. Luce, who left her papers to the library upon her death in 1987, had stipulated that they remain private for 10 years.

The newly revealed records consist of undated, handwritten accounts of three "acid trips" that Luce took in the early 1960s. They capture a moment when the drug counterculture was beginning to alter the consciousness of the American Establishment.

Luce and her husband, Henry, were, in a '90s cliche, a power couple. He was founder and editor in chief of Time, Life and Fortune, the great public magazines of the days before TV. She had parlayed her experience as a war correspondent into a political career in which she served two terms in Congress, then was U.S. ambassador in Rome from 1953 to 1956. She had the implacable anti-communist will of a Ronald Reagan with the articulation of a Jeane Kirkpatrick. She could hold an elegant dinner party and afterward write checks to Cuban guerrillas who promised to kill Fidel Castro.

In the late 1950s, LSD "was all the rage" in Luce's social set, according to author Gore Vidal. LSD had been known to doctors and psychiatrists since its discovery by a Swiss chemist in 1938. Vidal says Luce told him that she and Henry were taking the drug "under medical supervision.

"That's the sort of thing that public figures say privately," Vidal observes.

In fact, it was true. The Luces were introduced to the drug by doctor and medical researcher Sidney Cohen, according to Martin Lee and Bruce Shlain's "Acid Dreams," a social history of LSD in America. Cohen, who described himself to Luce as a "left-handed left-winger from left field," would go on to become a clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA and director of the division of narcotics addiction and drug abuse at the National Institutes of Health. In the late 1950s, Cohen began doing a government-sponsored research project into therapeutic uses for LSD and asked the Luces to participate.

Luce agreed and she and Henry became friends with Cohen. Clare "was always interested in new experiences, whether physical, mental or spiritual, and in exploring her many talents," says Sylvia Jukes Morris, who has completed the first volume of a planned two-volume Luce biography, "Rage for Fame."

"She went to Bermuda in 1957 to swim and that became a series of articles for Sports Illustrated. She took up making mosaics at this time. It was her post-Catholic phase. She had been a fervent convert to Catholicism in 1946 but as her religious enthusiasm waned, she was perhaps looking for a new mystical experience. LSD provided this to some extent because she usually had enjoyable and illuminating trips."

Morris says Luce's notes indicate that she indulged in the psychedelic drug at a rented vacation home on the Mediterranean island of Majorca off Spain in August 1962. She was accompanied by two friends: Gerald Heard, a mystic philosopher whose spell she fell under briefly, and his companion Michael Barrie, who later became a monk.

"Taking notes was pure Clare," Vidal says. "She was nothing if not a barbouilleur. She would record everything."

One of the events Luce recorded in Majorca was a classic '60s moment: a bad acid trip.

About an hour after taking LSD, Luce's notes show, she found herself confronting sensations of fear, nonexistence, bloodiness and meaninglessness, while feeling the effects of a wicked bout of colitis, a disease she suffered throughout her life. The combination of frequent trips to the bathroom and the hallucinations made her morbid.

"Feel all true paths of glory lead but to the grave -- an almost shattering fact," she wrote. "The futility of the search to be someone. Do you hear the drum?"

Actually someone was knocking on the door.

For a famously self-important person like Luce, the drug opened up an existential abyss. She stood at the bar, perhaps fingering a drink, and looking out the window at the Mediterranean sky, transfixed by the clouds. Suddenly she found herself embroiled in a "bloody, boiling brutal battle" in which her very sanity was at stake.

"Oh, I'll never quit of it and be free of it."

Soon she was holding her head in her hands, weeping.

"I've paid the debt now I can rest," she scrawled. "I've paid enough."

"I am quite gone," she noted bleakly.

And so on.

As the effects of the drug wore off, Luce recovered her humor and began to psychoanalyze herself.

"This is the first time I ever fought a battle that I didn't look around to see who was going to fight with me," she decided.

She also reflected on the experience of being a woman in this Cold War of the soul.

"I wonder if Sid {Cohen} would find anything odd in my saying that in this battle I should be a man?"

Cohen's reaction to Luce's bad trip is not known. He seems never to have publicly acknowledged his relationship with his famous patient. He did write a couple of guides to psychoactive drugs in the 1970s, directed mainly at concerned parents.

"The LSD experience is an enormous event for those who can integrate it into their subsequent existence," Cohen wrote in 1976, "but those who are unprepared may be fragmented by it. And the majority remain unaffected." Luce was certainly one of those who were able to integrate the experience.

Vidal suggests Luce tripped on LSD both out of curiosity and as a way of avoiding alcohol.

"I saw her on more than one occasion fairly tight at a party," he recalled from his home in Italy. "For somebody that controlled and that interested in maintaining a sharp image, it was a sign that she did have certain problems in her family." Vidal thinks Luce turned to LSD "just to see what else was out there."

In the decade after Luce's experiments, the popularity of LSD in America exploded. What had been a chemical indulgence of a few introspective upper-class adventurers became the plaything of millions of American youths; in the siren song of Timothy Leary, "Turn on, tune in, drop out," the drug came to embody the rejection of the status quo.

"The fact that she quite liked and enjoyed {LSD} personally was not something she could say publicly," according to Sylvia Morris. "She didn't want to say anything approving."

Luce does have more to say about LSD -- but not just yet. In accordance with her wishes, the only person who has access to the rest of her writings on the subject is Morris. So the rest of the story of Luce and LSD will have to wait for the second volume of her biography. CAPTION: Clare Boothe Luce: The mid-century voice of conservatism experimented with LSD. CAPTION: In the sky with diamonds: Luce in 1972 at her home in Honolulu.