A google search for ‘drugs and education’ offers a fair snapshot of the dominant discourse, which generally focuses on drugs and educational failure (delinquency), or educational programmes that promote abstinence.
I am currently writing an autoethnography that proposes and explores a connection between psychedelic experience and personal educational development. While there is literature aplenty on the role of psychedelics in psychiatric therapy (an area of research that is currently enjoying a renaissance), research explicitly exploring non-clinical applications (e.g. creativity and problem-solving) is less common, with only a steady trickle of studies and papers emerging since the 1960s. A new study is due to start in the UK in January (see right), with the call for participation directed at psychedelic-naïve academics (although I consider myself relatively naïve, I’m pretty sure I won’t meet the requirements, sadly).
Last summer, on stumbling across an online account of ‘The Truth about LSD’ (http://www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/lsd.html), I felt the need to write a response to it, which – along with a lot of my writing – I have kept private until now. I have since read published descriptions of the psychedelic experience (Huxley 1954, Sessa 2012) that accord with my own while being much more eloquent and scientifically better informed, and there are entire community websites devoted to sharing and comparing the psychedelic experience. Those familiar with this body of literature will probably find my account – my ‘truth’ – both dull and naïve. Those who aren’t may find it outrageous. I think that’s interesting in itself 😉
NB I wrote this before I considered any connection between my experiences with LSD and my doctoral studies. My autoethnography will consider more explicitly the educational aspects and influences of my experience.
The Truth about LSD?
“The effects of LSD are unpredictable. They depend on the amount taken, the person’s mood and personality, and the surroundings in which the drug is used. It is a roll of the dice—a racing, distorted high or a severe, paranoid low.”
I have found LSD to be highly predictable in its effects. The intensity depends on the dose, which can vary. I have taken LSD in both microdot and paper form, and my most intense trip resulted from a microdot, which was unexpected but by no means unwelcome. I have never experienced paranoia; at times I have felt concerned that I have not been able to sustain normal social interaction and therefore that others weren’t enjoying my company as much as they might otherwise, but this is probably a reasonable assessment of the situation. I have learned when is not an appropriate situation to be tripping (when entertaining people at your own home, for example, especially if preparing food), and in what situations it is most enjoyable (when social responsibility, demand and expectation are lowest; e.g. on a day off, in the park, with one’s closest friends).
“Normally, the first effects of LSD are experienced thirty to ninety minutes after taking the drug. Often, the pupils become dilated. The body temperature can become higher or lower, while the blood pressure and heart rate either increase or decrease. Sweating or chills are not uncommon. LSD users often experience loss of appetite, sleeplessness, dry mouth and tremors.”
I have noticed dilation of the pupils, but generally no noticeable effect on body temperature and heart rate, particularly when compared with the effects of MDMA, which I often find a little unpleasant (and I suspect are largely down to impurities in the drug). On MDMA I can feel my heart racing, my hands and sometimes a shaking or twitching of the lower jaw or eyeballs (a condition called nystagmus). The only significant physiological side effect I experience from LSD is a significant increase in the speed of digestive transit, which I have learned to counteract with a dose or two of loperamide (immodium). This is not a common response among my friends, but I do tend to have quite a reactive gut 😉
I love my food. I often experience a loss of appetite on LSD, but tend to ignore it and eat anyway. Not even the classic MDMA dry mouth will stop me eating; I simply opt for something wet and tasty. Food generally tastes even better on acid; my last meal on LSD was a box of gooey, salty sweet potato fries with gravy and melted cheese, and it was utterly delightful. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.
“Visual changes are among the more common effects—the user can become fixated on the intensity of certain colors.”
This is a key aspect of the LSD high. Colours are more intense and I am able to see more detail; on a sunny day I can see the dust particles moving around people, which I find incredibly beautiful and unexpectedly uplifting. I think my emotional response to something so seemingly simple is very interesting; we rarely perceive the impact we have on the world around us and I find being confronted with it somehow reassuring. It gives me a strong sense of the social world being part of the natural world rather than separate from it.
My interpretation of the visual effects of LSD are not as hallucinations in the dominant sense (i.e that I am seeing things that are not real), but as an opening of the sensory channels to include details that would normally be filtered out. It’s presumably not in our interest as a species to be aware of this much detail all the time; it is rather distracting!
Incidentally, an etymological search for the word ‘hallucination’ suggests that it arose in the mid 17th century (in the sense ‘be deceived, have illusions’) via the Latin hallucinari- ‘ to go astray in thought’, from the Greek alussein ‘be uneasy or distraught’.
I commonly experience an opening of the other senses too; my hearing becomes sharper and more detailed; I may be able to hear with extreme clarity the conversations around me, for example, even during a loud music performance (and how banal those conversations seem!). During more intense trips I have experienced synaesthesia; for example touching or seeing a metal object and sensing a metallic taste in the mouth.
“Extreme changes in mood, anywhere from a spaced-out “bliss” to intense terror, are also experienced. The worst part is that the LSD user is unable to tell which sensations are created by the drug and which are part of reality. Some LSD users experience an intense bliss they mistake for “enlightenment.”
This is completely counter to my own experience, which I would describe as typically blissful, often chilled out, frequently hysterically funny and always entertaining. When I am not being hilarious myself, I often like to sit in contented silence and reflect on the sensations that the drug has created, and on the nature of reality. I get a great deal of pleasure from this activity. ‘Enlightenment’ is certainly a word I have entertained on these occasions. I like to make a careful mental note of certain ‘epiphanies’ I encounter, and to return to them in the days following the trip.
“Not only do they disassociate from their usual activities in life, but they also feel the urge to keep taking more of the drug in order to re-experience the same sensation.”
A normal dose of LSD lasts from 8-12 hours. This is usually plenty long enough for me, especially if the trip is more intense. On a less intense trip, and if the night is still young, I may take an extra half a tab as the effects from the first begin to fade.
Disassociation from normal activities is, for me, very much the point of taking the drug in the first place. Some believe the word ‘trip’ references the tryptamine group of chemicals (of which LSD is one), but the more common understanding is as a metaphor; when we take a trip (e.g. to the beach, or a National Trust property) we take a break from our day-to-day routines.
“…Others experience severe, terrifying thoughts and feelings, fear of losing control, fear of insanity and death, and despair while using LSD. Once it starts, there is often no stopping a “bad trip,” which can go on for up to twelve hours. In fact, some people never recover from an acid-induced psychosis.”
At the onset of more intense trips I have sometimes experienced a feeling that could be described as apprehension. Typically I have felt free to interpret this sensation positively; for example as an opportunity to develop my ability to cope with a perceived loss of control. This fluidity of interpretation of sensations; the agency to register them as positive rather than negative, has been a noteworthy aspect of my own psychedelic experience. I always take a benzodiazapine (e.g. Valium or Zoplicone) in order to sleep after a trip, and on subsequent nights to prevent night terrors, tapering off within a week.
“Taken in a large enough dose, LSD produces delusions and visual hallucinations. The user’s sense of time and self changes. Sizes and shapes of objects become distorted, as do movements, colors and sounds. Even one’s sense of touch and the normal bodily sensations turn into something strange and bizarre. Sensations may seem to “cross over,” giving the user the feeling of hearing colors and seeing sounds. These changes can be frightening and can cause panic.”
I have never felt panicked or frightened on LSD. I enjoy feeling my brain working differently.
“The ability to make sensible judgments and see common dangers is impaired. An LSD user might try to step out a window to get a “closer look” at the ground. He might consider it fun to admire the sunset, blissfully unaware that he is standing in the middle of a busy intersection.”
I have never felt concerned about changes in judgement while on LSD; I feel more sensitive to context and situation, not less, particularly the social context.
“Many LSD users experience flashbacks, or a recurrence of the LSD trip, often without warning, long after taking LSD.”
I wouldn’t call them ‘flashbacks’ – that suggests an abrupt regression of some kind. I have enjoyed retaining heightened sensory ability and fluidity of mind in the weeks following a trip. Colours remain a little more intense, the trees on a sunny day retain a hint of stunning detail, and my mind feels a little sharper. If I go for a long, fast run the day after a trip, these effects become temporarily very marked. I assume this must be because there is a small amount of the drug left in my body and the vigorous exercise triggers its release into the bloodstream.
“Bad trips and flashbacks are only part of the risks of LSD use. LSD users may manifest relatively long-lasting psychoses or severe depression.”
I do often feel a little unfocused for a few days after a trip. This is surely to be expected, as the drug closes down key day-to-day neural pathways. It’s not a side-effect – it *is* the effect! It’s not particularly useful when one has work to do, but it’s what one signs up for. I certainly don’t ever feel low after LSD like I often do 2-3 days after taking MDMA, and I believe LSD has been a positive influence on my general mental health.
“Because LSD accumulates in the body, users develop a tolerance for the drug. In other words, some repeat users have to take it in increasingly higher doses to achieve a “high.” This increases the physical effects and also the risk of a bad trip that could cause psychosis.”
Crumbs… who takes LSD all the time? When would you get any work done? I probably take it no more than once a month in the summer, sometimes for 2-3 days in a row if I’m at a nice festival and the weather is consistently good. I do have friends who take it more often, and I would be happy to indulge more often, but I also like getting things done…