Friday, January 11, 2013

LSD and me


Quite simply, I found my way to opera and, then, to Wagner through LSD.  And, through opera and Wagner, I found my way to a much greater appreciation and enjoyment of LSD.  Together and intertwined, they constitute the most profound, joyous and transcendent experiences of my life, which is why I am willing to “come out” as a user. But before I launch into the opera/Wagner/LSD experience, I want to set the scene, both about LSD in general and my use in specific. 

I remember the day I learned about acid.  I was watching General Hospital, something I did regularly in the Nurse Jesse Brewer/ Dr. Steve Hardy days, and there was a guy on who had used this drug.  This was 1965, when I was 11. I became intrigued, but I certainly wasn't precocious when it came to drugs.

When I was 16, I went to Altamont, the infamous free Rolling Stones concert in which a man was killed (and I was really near him, and Mick, for that matter—see photo below.) 

The guy circled is the guy the Hell's Angels killed; I am the first person on the right.  You know Mick.

We arrived the evening before and I spent the night snuggling in a sleeping bag with some guy I met there (no sex, really). Now that would have been a place to score LSD, but I hadn't yet had one sip of alcohol or one marijuana puff in my life, so I didn't even consider it. I went to sleep to the sounds of drug barkers roaming the crowds offering “Acid. Mescaline. Grass.”  (Gee, I wonder why mom didn't want me to go?)  

Later on in my high school years, I went to a concert at the Fillmore with a leftist airman that I was sort-of-dating who dropped the drug that night and asked me to do it with him; I declined to partake.

In college, I still wasn't a drinker—I only started drinking in my late 20s—and I hated pot then and now, but I decided to give LSD a try.  I did it stupidly, following none of the sensible guidelines that I advance here.  While it was a mixed experience—at one point, everyone I saw had drooping faces, like Dali clocks, with blood streaming from them—I was very glad I had tried it. (And, by the way, I did know those drooping, bloody faces were hallucinations and it didn't really freak me out, but I still found them unpleasant). I felt a lot like Dorothy did after her visit to Oz:  “Some of it was wasn't very nice, but most of it was beautiful.” Every once in a while over the next 20 years, I would do it when someone offered a hit and I had a day to spare, but it wasn't ever a big thing with me until acid met opera.  But that story will have to wait for a later post.

When acid first became well-known to the general populace, after being used primarily in therapeutic settings for the decades since its discovery in 1938, there was a lot of stupid fear-mongering such as this amusing video, but also a lot of stupid people using the drug carelessly with occasional tragic results.  The result was knee-jerk anti-LSD laws that were rather draconian and stopped fruitful research for many decades. 

I have read and thought a lot about LSD and absolutely advocate that the law be changed so that it can be used therapeutically and for life-enhancement.  Some regulation would be welcome, but prohibition is depriving people who could really use the drug from its help, and preventing its use by people like me who want the self-enhancement the drug clearly can deliver.   We are lucky in Santa Cruz to be home to MAPS, whose vision is “a world where psychedelics and marijuana are safely and legally available for beneficial uses, and where research is governed by rigorous scientific evaluation of their risks and benefits.”  To this end, the institute does research and advocacy. I plan to volunteer for this organization when I return from Hilo in June.

I've always thought that most people with any sort of adventurous spirit—again, see here for exceptions— should take acid at least once in life as it gives you very heightened, and enhanced, senses and a new window to view the world.  It truly is a trip to a place you can't get otherwise—or at least easily.

Through both formal research and real-world use of LSD, the consensus is that the drug experience, and the user’s personal safety, is related to three factors:  set, setting and drug purity/dosage.  See for example—and for detailed information about creating a good set and setting— here

“Set” refers to factors within the user, such as expectations, personality, life history, mental stability, etc. “Setting” refers to factors outside the user, such as the place the person takes the drugs, the atmosphere, the people there, etc.  As for drug purity/dosage, generally, it is wise to get it from someone you know who can vouch for it, and then you try it in a small dose first, to test the strength.  

Historically, those who report “bad trips” tend to take the drug carelessly in uncontrolled situations with unfamiliar or, even, hostile people.   Check out this anti-LSD PSA from the ’60s.  While it is funny watching the representation of the murdered hot dog, I believe that it is a true story.  That said, the woman in the PSA was completely unprepared for the drug. Until you are familiar with LSD and yourself on it, it is very important to take all reasonable precautions.

The reason, by the way, that I put “good trip” and “bad trip” in quotes is because many trips can't be so easily categorized.  In my twenties, when I wasn't careful at all about the setting, I often had bad parts of a trip—in particular, feelings of confusion, fear, paranoia and insecurity.  I found that in interacting with people, I often couldn't judge their intent.  They would have an expression that might have been benign or might have indicated “you are such a stupid jerk.”  If I tried to voice my feelings or clarify my fears, it would lead to weird interactions that made me more paranoid. My confusion would lead to shame.  You know that feeling that one gets when caught doing something shameful?  One writer describes it thusly:  

The typical shame response is a heightened degree of arousal and self consciousness. The person in emotional pain averts his eyes and his head goes down. New information is blocked. There is intense discomfort and muscular tension. The body collapses inward to protect the self and there is a shrinking of body energy. The skin may become flushed with embarrassment. There are feelings of inadequacy and the fear of self exposure. The person wants to shrink, hide or even die to get away from the painful feelings of mortification.

Yeah, that description pretty much covers it.  Anyway,  I would get that feeling easily and frequently when I dropped acid. Not fun.

Though many relish interactions with people when high, I discovered that was very hard for me. For a long time, I decided to cut out all confusing human interaction and to just take acid by myself.  I now do take acid with trusted others, but if I ever get that feeling, I just throw on my headphones and listen to music and I am in heaven.

The effects of LSD

The types of effects it has are well-known to users:

·      Our natural tendency to screen out peripheral information is greatly reduced: the sound of a car horn in the distance, a bird chirping, neighbors talking, light coming through a plant highlighting a spider web out of the corner of your eye—all demand or grab your attention in random ways. 
·      On the other hand, you can really focus if you wish.  I wasted some time playing Tetris to test this, and learned two things—I can easily surpass my high score, and playing Testris is a truly stupid way to pass the time on acid.  The most famous example of someone surpassing his previous ability at a game or sport was the no-hitter pitched by Dock Ellis on acid (and, according to this short animated documentary narrated by Dock, he had also popped bennies). 
·      Emotions are greatly heightened, which is one of the most problematic aspects of the drug if the emotion is not a good one. But, of course, it is enthralling if it is a feeling of ecstasy or even merely happiness.
·      All senses are heightened: colors seem more vivid, sounds and sight are more detailed.  When you look at anything it seems to have a greater depth of field, and patterns jump out at you.  Objects undulate, shift around slightly. (The film Waking Life, which is about lucid dreaming, captures this quality better than any other representation I have seen.)  If you think you see things in the clouds when you are in your normal state, you will become an expert on acid.  I especially love looking at wood or stone, particularly as light plays upon them, as whole movies will play out with the changing light. Generally, when you aren't high, you can still see what you saw while high, but not as dynamically as they were before. In the book The Varieties of PsychedelicExperience (you can read the whole book at this link), one person put it this way:  “[one gets] a wonderful awareness of the almost infinite detail that objects will yield up if only one will give them one's attentions.”  (Within the same book, for a particularly good recapitulation of the LSD experience, read pages 11-12, particularly from “Along with this there were torrents of ideas.” The above quote is within those pages.)
·      The relationship to time seems to alter; our internal clock is just not the same.  For instance, a dramatic pause in music seems to last so much longer than it does when I am normally listening. On the other hand, time sometimes seems to speed by. 
·      Aurally, the sound does not distort in the way that it does visually while high, or at least, so it seems.  But in listening to a beloved piece of music, you will have an enlightening experience—the emotional impact is increased as is the ability to hear, and appreciate, complexity.  Here is an article describing the whys of this, again for those who like to know the science.  It is hard to put into words, but you become one with the tempo and the music and, if it's an opera, the drama.

The NIH has issued this explaining the science behind the effects for those interested.

Posted (near) simultaneously: My idiosyncratic LSD rules

Next post: LSD and Opera


  1. OMG, the hotdog face was a troll doll! That truly IS terrifying!

  2. Fascinating post! Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to more--and the opera connection.

  3. It was great to see you on this picture! And thanks for the informations