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On Acid

On Acid

By: Paris McGhee

A brightly coloured splatter of a window into another dimension, how could this be? I’m staring through the looking glass into another world, a radiant, tie-dyed world…

In reality I had just returned from an illegal acid rave at an industrial building site in Acton. I was standing on my driveway screaming into a pool of vomit, likely caused by the combination of ecstasy pills and LSD I took earlier. Clearly the LSD had kicked in.

LSD, or acid, or lysergic acid diethylamide, is one of the most powerful drugs ever created and is often paired with stigma and misconception. Overall, it’s relatively safe. An LSD overdose, for instance, is truly rare. Most LSD-related issues are a function of individual differences, and hallucinogens just don’t mix with everybody. As with any drug, there is always potential for “I’m not of sound mind” horrendous decision-making.

Acid is back on the map thanks to one of the hottest trends among hipsters and the Silicon Valley tech crowd: microdosing. Microdosing LSD means ingesting amounts small enough to remain under the perceptual threshold. The goal of microdosing is to increase productivity, focus, creativity, and decrease stress, anxiety, and even to treat ailments such as depression and cluster headaches. Dr. Albert Hofmann, a Swiss chemist who was first to synthesise LSD in 1938, championed this concept. Hofmann lived to be 102 years old, continued giving lectures until he was 100, and famously microdosed for the last few decades of his life. Francis Crick, Nobel Prize winner and father of modern genetics, was a regular user of LSD and admitted to his biographer that he often used LSD in small doses to jump-start his thinking from the 1950s onwards.

Dr. James Fadiman has been leading the research into microdosing hallucinogens since the 1960s. He wrote the rulebook, The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide, outlining safe therapeutic psychedelic drug experiences. Arguably, Fadiman’s most groundbreaking study took place in 1966, when he set out to determine if psychedelic drugs could help solve difficult scientific problems. There were 27 volunteers consisting of scientists, engineers and mathematicians who had all been struggling with a conundrum for at least three months. Each participant was given a high dose of mescaline and put to work on their various problems. Amazingly out of the 44 problems initially presented, there were 40 significant breakthroughs or part solutions.

LSD consumed recreationally, for therapeutic, academic, or general health reasons can be a game changer. And there is a paradigm shift of sorts. On one side, a revival of the 60s Cultural Revolution revamped by the ‘counterculture’ millennial to incorporate tech to maximise the brain’s potential. And on the other side, a long-awaited capitulation by draconian policy-makers to finally allow modern research into hallucinogens. Slowly but surely they are meeting in the middle, with research beginning to catch up to, and to provide empirical rationale for, LSD use in the modern world.

LSD users often experience visual hallucinations, laughter, a sense of oneness with nature, and ego dissolution (a loss of personal identity). Likely LSD users often hail from various creative industries, musicians, writers, artists etc. Successful imbibers include Jimi Hendrix, who famously performed with several tabs of LSD in the lining of his head bandana – my goodness could he shred a guitar – or Aldous Huxley, exploring the depths of human consciousness. Maybe LSD can foster a creative genius. But then it’s wise to remember Sid Barrett, musical genius and founding member of Pink Floyd, fried his brain with too much acid.

My friend Steven comes to mind when I recall LSD horror stories. Steven was a veteran druggo, knew his stuff. One fateful summer evening Steven acquired a vial of highly potent black acid. Steven waited until Hyde Park closed, climbed over the locked gates and found a place to settle in for a long one. A few hours in and, “Oh Fuck”, bright flashing lights and shouting, “Here come the pigs”. Steven had a fairly lengthy criminal record given his age and wealthy upbringing. He was forced into a decision. Shall I dump the acid and just take the public disorder and/or trespassing offence, or do I hide it and hope to retrieve it later? Unwilling to dump it or risk not finding it again, Steven decided to consume the entire vial and make a run for it. His trip didn’t end well. Steven came to about a month later in a mental health facility sectioned under the Mental Health Act. It took him several more weeks to prove to attending physicians that he had returned to sound mind.

Which brings me to Dan. Dan is one of my most interesting friends; I gravitate towards oddballs so that’s quite a commendation. Dan is in his late 70s, a former U.S Marine Sergeant in charge of biochemical weapon research during the Vietnam War. Pretty terrifying job title, right? Dan enjoys long sunset walks on the beach… not really – Dan lives for live comedy, Asian prostitutes and weed.

After his time in the Marines, Dan got a job as head of biochemical research at a University in California. They were his happiest years. When he reminisces about that time, the stories go something like, “Oh yea I would drop a heavy dose of acid in the late afternoon, put on a centrifuge, go party for 10 hours, then stop by the lab on my way home to collect the data.” Dan is pretty unique; I wouldn’t recommend trying that at home unless the data you are looking for is gibberish.

Other than dealing with his research fellow work, Dan was free to investigate nearly anything chemical. Not all of his projects were university approved, most notably his manufacturing of windowpane. Windowpane is LSD inside a small thin square of gelatin, strong stuff. It is called windowpane because it looks like a pane of glass (window). Dan invented this method of delivery. I was in true awe of Dan when I discovered this. My mother, another veteran druggo, grew up in southern California and if you say LSD to her she says, “Windowpane.”

A recent study carried out via The Beckley Foundation, a UK-based think-tank and pioneer of drug reform, investigated the impact of LSD on the brain. Brain imaging techniques were used to measure blood flow, functional connections within and between networks, and brain waves. Scans showed participants experiencing images through multiple brain regions, not solely the visual cortex. Brain regions that normally operate independently of each other were now communicating.

On LSD, brain networks responsible for vision, hearing, attention, and movement become significantly more connected, creating a more “unified brain”. Conversely, scans suggest a loss of connections between the parahippocampus and the retrosplenial cortex; hence the altered state of consciousness associated with LSD. Looking at the scans, it’s as though LSD galvanises the brain into true awaken-ness. Perhaps this provides a scientific rationale for the popular use of hallucinogens in religious and ceremonial settings.

I reckon there is something to be gained from temporarily reversing our perceptually-restricted adult thinking. The Beckley researchers believe their work could pave the way for exploring the use of LSD in treatment of addiction and depression. These claims are exciting and well-founded: I have used LSD therapeutically, in times of depression, and found that it has a special way of recalibrating me. I find that LSD breaks down my brain’s perceptual barriers and allows me to see and evaluate life challenges differently, often with more calm and creativity, mapping a powerful journey towards personal growth. But sometimes it’s just a fine, fun way of getting high.