Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The chemist who took a trip

Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann died. He was 102. Mr. Hofmann invented lysergic acid diethylamide in 1938 & took his first trip a few years later. There will be much written about him over the next few days.

L.S.D. became a common hallucinogenic street drug in the Sixties, which meant you didn't know what you were getting, how strong it was, or what would happen when you ingested it. I took LSD maybe five times. It would be a big stretch to say those experiences were pleasurable. Mine were nightmarish. It was chemical-induced psychosis. A trip lasted for at least 8 hours plus a decompression preiod, & one was trapped for the duration. It was frightening & dangerous to take in uncontrolled conditions, & control implies the potential for manipulation. Synthetic mescaline was more to my taste, a much softer & more reality-based hallucinogen which left you enough presence of mind to "get yourself together" as unforeseen circumstances might require, like encountering police in a county park, but it was difficult to obtain. If the Sixties make you think of young longhairs tossing Frisbees & laughing over nothing, activities I enjoyed, that's not LSD. It was just how we said, "Go fuck yourself" to adults. My like-minded neighbor Anne & I took occasional frisbee breaks well into our thirties without using drugs.

The people claiming to have gained great spiritual insight from LSD were generally egomaniacs who made those claims anyway, a Sixties counter culture elite with the same hubris you get from the types in every era. By the end of the Sixties, many of those cultural celebrities were disliked & distrusted, few made the cut for the next decade. The excesses of punk & disco finished them off. In his poems, Allen Ginsberg never disguised the terror he felt when he took LSD. He couldn't narrow his visions to peace, love, & wearing flowers in his hair. The supposed LSD "masterpiece" of the time, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, now sounds like British pothead whimsy. Recordings of Grateful Dead jams are as boring as they always were. Among the famous bands, Led Zep's "Whole Lotta Love" is one of the few enduring acid songs. Anyway, much of the music we think of as LSD-inspired was actually helped along with copious quantities of heroin & Johnnie Walker - they were musicians, not mystical visionaries.

To Dr. Hofmann's credit, he recognized that psychotropic drug experiences are treated as serious spiritual matters in non-western cultures, not as casual recreation. But we wanted instant enlightenment in America, spirituality without the committments of religion. Maybe that's what I learned from LSD; that if the fabric of this level of existence - the one we all assume we share - rips open like it did for Ezekiel, Teresa of Ávila, & Bahá'u'lláh, it will likely occur at an unexpected & inconvenient moment, & place extraordinary demands upon the person having the experience. I was only taking an illegal drug & going crazy on Saturday night.

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I didn't take drugs as a teenager during the 1960's but I did them after I was over the age of 25, in the late 1970's. I liked acid, when taken, as you said, in a controlled environment. It was a one way trip, which you could not stop mid way, so you needed to have the day planned out when taking it, and have no pressure and no expectations. Like being at the beach for the afternoon. Although I took it once with a bunch of friends on Thanksgiving, and we all went out to eat (we all were not attending family functions that year) and pretty much just laughed our way through dinner! I once took it by mistake (don't ask) when I was moving ... that had the potential for being a bad trip, but fortunately, I was able to call a few friends who helped round up my furniture for me. I couldn't remember, though, where I was moving to, so all my friends took the furniture and belongings to their place until I could figure it out. I found my new place toward the end of the day, and the end of the trip, but it still took almost two weeks to round up all my furniture!

My favorite trip was in northern San Diego county area. We happened upon this really cool tree house that was fully equipped with electricity and a phone line! We just climbed up the tree, introduced ourselves, said we were "tripping" and could we come in and hang out. We were, of course, totally invited in.

Later in the 1970's we switched from LSD to MDA. It didn't last as long, nor was it as intense, but the gritting of the teeth was something new, kind of like when you take speed.

I always believed one should take acid at least once a year, to clear out the cobwebs of one's brain!
You probably got a better quality of the drug on the West Coast. Around New York it was laced with all kinds of shit. At some point the drunmer in my band came into a large quantity of excellent mild mescaline in orange capsules, which was poetic & sexy & highly entertaining, always knew where one was, & it was great for the boardwalk. Of course, one can get a similar good feeling simply by drinking two martinis. But that was it for me & acid trips.
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