Monday, 18 June 2018

The Secret

Something I saw recently in the paper:
Two books – Lauren Slater’s The Drugs That Changed Our Minds and Michael Pollan’s How to Change Your Mind: the New Science of Psychedelics – that have been published this year, and have both received wonderful reviews, suggest that taking hallucinogenic drugs may help people suffering from depression. The science appears fairly conclusive but, much as I would like greater relief from the feelings of anxiety and depression that have punctuated much of my adult life, I find myself an extremely reluctant guinea pig. Over the course of about a year in the mid 1970s, I took LSD at least once or twice every week. At first it was fun – having a laugh as people melted before my eyes – but towards the end I began to feel as if I was going mad. My last trip was a 14-hour nightmare which I only got through by staring at a wall and telling myself that it had to end at some point if I could just sit it out. That did it for me. More than 40 years on, I can still vividly recall the sheer terror of the experience. I know that what Pollen and Slater are suggesting is somewhat different – micro-doses of hallucinogens rather than the full-on psychedelic experience – but even the thought of a partially distorted reality makes me feel anxious. I’m just not ready to lose my mind in the hope of regaining it.
John Crace, Digested Week, Guardian, 18 May 2018
Let's just remind ourselves that John Crace is the Guardian's Parliamentary sketch writer, as well as an acute parodist of novelists. It's interesting, how many similar confessions Pollan's book, in particular, has stimulated in the press recently. There's clearly a need out there among the media-types to out themselves as sometime acid-heads. Does it give them more or less credibility? It's hard to say. That John Crace's experience of Prime Minister's Questions might sometimes be a grotesque flashback is moot: how could you possibly tell? This urge to confess is not new, however, and neither is it confined to left-leaning scribes. Consider the case of Paul Staines, better known as the ultra-conservative blogger Guido Fawkes:
His politics, however, could hardly be described as toeing the Party line. In an article published by the Libertarian Alliance in 1991, Mr Staines wrote enthusiastically of his experiences with LSD and ecstasy, saying: "I have fond memories of taking LSD and pure MDMA, trance-dancing and thinking that I had turned into a psychedelic, orgiastic wisp of smoke – it was the most staggeringly enjoyable, mind-warping experience I have ever had. The only word to describe it is WOW!"
  He suggested that many Tories "would benefit from taking drugs, particularly Thatcherites", adding: "Couldn't we put acid in the punch at the Young Conservatives ball and then really have a party?"
  As a father of two daughters aged four and two, he has since changed his views, admitting: "I don't want my daughters to do that kind of stuff."
From an article in the Daily Telegraph, 19/4/2009
That was a decade ago, and what's more, in the Daily Telegraph. The Daily Telegraph! But, "WOW"? Really? I have to say, I think the more typical experience of the undisciplined intake of street-sourced psychedelics (pretty much a mandatory rite of passage around 1972) is far better summed up by Crace's observation above, i.e. "My last trip was a 14-hour nightmare which I only got through by staring at a wall and telling myself that it had to end at some point if I could just sit it out". As a friend once revealed to me while he was deep in that exact same, peak-panic, wall-staring phase, the profound secret revealed by LSD is this: How incredibly grateful you will be – grateful in a desperate, quasi-religious sense, like a trapped caver or falling climber praying for rescue – just to emerge intact, to continue to be just the same as you were before, and never have to experience this ever again. In other words, the primary, paradoxical revelation of LSD is that you should never take LSD, just as you should never descend into dark caves or climb steep rockfaces, you idiot. Anyone who tells you different is either a liar, very lucky, or addicted to risk.

So just say NO, kids. Listen to Mr. Crace. Unless you are Young Conservatives, of course, in which case, why not take two? What harm can it possibly do?

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