LSD is enjoying a renaissance period right now – here’s our highway code helping you navigate the intricacies of hallucinogenics
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Just like an alcoholic remembers his first drink, my first dose of information on the classic psychedelic LSD-25 remains clear in my mind, despite having been administered over half a lifetime ago. I was 11, and a former heroin addict was explaining to a packed school hall that his permanent limp came from jumping out of a window at a party on acid. Towards the end, he asked which drug we were now most afraid of trying, and although we’d mostly been subjected to the horrors of poverty-stricken heroin dependency, to me the answer was clear – LSD. Why?
I was blown away by the thought of “seeing things that aren’t there” and the total destruction of objective reality that hallucinations seemed to represent. In hindsight, it was the first sign that something in me was powerfully drawn to these experiences. A couple of trips produced real hardships in my inner life for a time, others are truly some of the best days or nights I’ve ever spent. I’d argue that none really represented the “escape from reality” that detractors scornfully dismiss.
These days we’re a long way from “just say no”, with harm reduction being given greater weight. As this year’s Global Drug Survey illustrates, LSD’s popularity is booming – possibly due to the emergence of the darknet – and its “highway code” is focused on providing would-be users with recommendations for using it safely, as suggested by the users who responded. Every one of the eleven points is helpful, and each is accompanied by a figure indicating the percentage of users who follow their own advice, as well as the perceived impact on pleasure. It’s interesting to note that, for psychedelics, there’s a far higher percentage adhering to the guidelines and a generally lower-resulting impact on enjoyment than for other drug groups.
The problem with taking these guidelines from a survey is that they are unavoidably general, and tend to focus on the circumstances of tripping rather than the nature of the experience itself . So, some of the advice that follows is life-learned advice on how to have a good time tripping and how to avoid the things that may “fuck you up”.
KNOW YOUR PLACE
“Set and Setting” are watchwords popularised by the first wave of acid counter-culture – be in a decent frame of mind and a suitably conducive location. You won’t find a head who disagrees, but what constitutes a “suitable” place is very open to interpretation. The great thing about modern methods of drug acquisition is that you don’t have to go to a psytrance event to pick up some acid, so I’d skip clubbing at least for the first few times – but if you feel comfortable then you can enjoy tripping in places that really no responsible guide would recommend. My favourite “inappropriate setting” comes from a group of friends who took it on holiday in Eastern Europe; they ended up jumping on buses simply because they had the same numbers as ones they used to take to school in the UK.
Outside in nature is a favourite for many people, preferably camping so you can set aside a full day for the trip and don't get bogged down in the logistics of travelling. For me, there’s nothing better than an already beautiful vista undulating with the cartoonish welcome of a medium dose of acid. Hikers are unlikely to find much unusual about people just laughing and looking at the scenery, so forget the suspicion that everyone can tell you’re tripping and soak it up. Sometimes the challenge of holding it together around sober people can be fun, but it's worth having an escape route if you start feeling uncomfortable – breaking into uncontrollable giggles at the bar of a countryside pub is liberating until a gang of pissed post-rugby meatheads piles in.
When prioritising safety and control something of a bunker mentality can set in, but I’ve had trips in my living room far harder to balance than ones in the great outdoors. One of the classic hurdles to an enjoyable experience is the thought loop, an inability to move away from some internal discomfort that has started to niggle. In many ways it's akin to getting on the bus and wondering if you've locked your front door, but since acid is such a psychological magnifier it can be much harder to disperse, and the unlocked door in this case might be some unpleasant memory or current insecurity that becomes a heavy and unavoidable distraction.
The crucial thing is to move on, and that often requires literally moving and finding a new stimulus to engage with. The outdoors is full of new things, your flat is full of shit you look at every day, sometimes with mixed connotations. If you are going to be indoors, be mindful of this need to have new scenes to move into – set up different rooms if possible, if not then have some lights, drawing materials, instruments maybe, something physical to do. Run a bath like an adult. Make a den like a kid. Crucial thing is, recognise you need a break from the current feeling. It’s hard to leave the loop, but in 5 minutes when you're delightedly stroking a fuzzy blanket, you'll be glad you did.
WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE
Some moments of a trip can be wonderfully serene, others hysterical. Language acquires the kind of creative potency that weed used to give you in your teens, before over-smoking and increasingly strong skunk sent that all down the shitter. Describing scenes to each other can change or consolidate group hallucinations, the banal can become mind-blowingly profound, riffs on a joke re-emerge at unexpected times and angles.
Occasionally, things can acquire a manic tinge. Your words run away from you, carrying unintended resonances that send you tumbling into apologies and intended clarifications, taking you away from the present and into your head. It’s the thought loop out loud, a communication jam that can cut you off from your fellow wanderers quicker than you can say “never mind, sorry, am I being mad? Sorry if I'm being mad” ad infinitum. It’s why I often don't like talking too much during peak – clear and meaningful thoughts somehow don’t make it out of your mouth alive, and the spell is broken. Catch it, breathe, and let go.
Conversely, if someone you're with dives into the muddle puddle, for the love of an-unnameable-cosmic-order don't start trying to psychoanalyse them. Yes, psychedelics have a promising future in different types of therapy, but they’re not best applied by spangled, untrained you in the middle of a field while your friend is vulnerable. Take some tender actions to redirect their attention and reinforce a good group dynamic.
My partner and I have developed a kind of safe word for when we think things might be about to go astray – if one of us feels it coming on, we might try and imagine something we can see having a similarly rough time. It might be a rock that’s lost its mates, a tree that looks like it’s shit itself, a sheep that wonders if it likes grass, or just likes the idea of liking grass. A little bit of effort and balance can be restored in no time.
MIND YOUR HEAD
If you’ve been paying attention to the “set” part of set and setting, you should know not to be diving in while in the grip of any serious issues. A bit of existential boredom is fine, fertile ground even, but your self-esteem and relationships with other voyagers should be in decent shape. Beyond this hopefully common sense advice, there are other ways to ensure that your mind is in a suitably receptive, uncluttered state. Be well rested. Plan so that you won't need to be around screens too much – make a playlist or you’ll be dragged into the internet, bring a camera so you’re not tempted to use your phone. Texts, social media, your usual websites, it kills it. You don’t have to meditate for hours in silence beforehand unless you really want to, but you don’t want to remember that dreadful assignment or work email as you’re coming up either, so get that out of the way the day before.
For me, the big insights LSD is famed for don’t need to be hunted down in the heat of a trip. Sure, sometimes a realisation will just hit you, but often they unfurl in their own time. In fact, although it's physically gone from your system pretty quickly, I find that acid somehow hangs around, bending my thinking for a week or so – this is the time to take something from it that you can apply to straight life, what people call integrating the experience. How you do that is up to you – writing it up can be a good way to get started thinking on it, drawing is popular too – but it’s worth reflecting. Not only does it help fix the memories in your head, it gives them lasting meaning and value, and a respect for the substance is cultivated that quells the temptation to dive back in every weekend. Sure, the risks of acid have really been oversold in the past, but doing it all the time still isn’t a good idea – at best, you’ll just get bored of tripping. Keep it infrequent and consequently, special.