The concept of psychedelics has intrigued me since I first heard "The White Album." I just thought to myself, how does one compose "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill" without drugs? Then it dawned on me that there were, in fact, drugs involved.
LSD, mushrooms, and marijuana have aided in some of the greatest musical and literary compositions in history. Of course, not every great piece of writing is the result of drug use. The misinformed often believe that drugs played a role in creating the eccentric music of Pink Floyd and Frank Zappa, but they famously went without touching the stuff. The point is, certain substances can enhance one's creativity, but they are not necessary to achieve it.
I recently interviewed my niece, who is oddly older than me, about some questions I had about LSD. She's experimented in the past, so I wanted to see how her experiences compared to that of Matt McCormick's and the ayahuasca ceremonies he attends. She moved out to Denver this past year, so coming from rural Ohio and growing up in the mountains of Tennessee, I'm sure it was a culture shock for her. Here is that conversation:
***I'm not condoning drug use by any means; just read this and consider the facts before doing anything stupid***
How’s Colorado treating you?
Colorado is beautiful. The city life of Denver is crazy, like nothing I've ever experienced. I’m surprised at how much I enjoy the city life; I’ve hardly visited the mountains since I've been here. It's cold up there now, though. Some parts of the mountains are illegal to go to if you don't have chains on your tires.
Well, I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself! So, how do you wanna go about this? Do you want your actual name in here so our family can judge even more? Or do you want me to refer to you as an anonymous psychonaut?
You can use my name. Maybe they'll be proud of my openness. I doubt it but I'll take on the consequences regardless.
Just so you know, I've been listening to Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band to get into the right mindset for this interview. Are you a Beefheart fan? It's some crazy shit.
I don't even think I've heard of Beefheart but if it's psychedelic, I'll have to check it out.
Be careful going through that realm. I hardly came back. So, there's obviously a stigma behind LSD: it's a Schedule I drug that, per the DEA, has no medical use and a potential for abuse. What's your take on that?
Just by calling something illegal gives those who cannot discern the difference a reason to believe it ‘must be bad.’ Honestly, there's a lot to be said on the subject that I don't know how to go about thoroughly within a quick interview. So, it was being experimented with by psychologists, philosophers, biochemists, etc. up until the 60s. It seemed to be this tool for 'opening the mind, giving one the opportunity to observe the world and themselves from new perspectives' - that kind of stuff. And when a person does that, whether via psychedelics or otherwise, they kind of start doing their own thing and fall out of the 'American system.’ I can elaborate, but essentially I believe that stigma comes from propaganda during a time in our country that needed the system to stay the same, as far as the government officials were concerned. Too much mind change at once from a mass of people could be dangerous to corporate greed, war, etc.
Together we stand, divided we fall, I believe is the phrase. So, are you a frequent user or is it just an occasional thing?
I have been a frequent user. Now, it’s more of just when I come across it.
Tell me about your first experience on acid. What influenced you to do it?
Woah, way back. So, I was 16, had only ever smoked weed. A group of ten or so decided to drop and go to the Castalia Quarry. I had been interested before, but it wasn't a totally planned thing. More like right place, right time. I remember being in the car on the way, feeling a little anxious. As the L started to hit, I felt that anxiety in my stomach melt into a tickle. By the time we got to the quarry, I was in a new land. The clouds waved, the trees breathed. I looked at my friends and felt that they were right there with me. I couldn't stop laughing. From there, it was reminiscent of that scene in Across the Universe, right after they get off the bus and are running through the fields laughing and skipping. We literally did that for hours. A very naïve, child-like experience. There was a new sense of wonder and beauty to everything. I remember being amazed by the intricacy of a spider web that I probably never would’ve noticed before that day. When you notice things you've never noticed, it's hard not to from then on. I was super into counterculture and the Beatles at the time. I don't want to give them all the credit, but they definitely had a lot to do with my interest. The art, the music, the literature that was inspired by those psychedelic experiences are among my favorite. I had to know what that was all about.
How is it now as compared to the first time?
Hmm.. I think I used to use it to 'have a fun experience.’ Now it’s more for the psychedelic experience. Not that it isn't fun anymore, but I've also had scary, crazy, overwhelming trips that have been just as valuable to me. It's a great tool for experiencing your senses differently. You can take that with you after the trip and use it to see from other points of view.
Obviously, there are some benefits to it. Yeah, people can use it to see things materialize before their eyes that aren't there. And, as you said, overwhelming experiences can occur if not used properly. Are there any certain things you want to accomplish while taking acid? For answers, a gateway to a higher power, etc.
I don't think there's anything wrong with an overwhelming or scary experience while on LSD, or not on it. Reality is scary! It's hard to wrap our heads around how insignificant humans are as far as the universe is concerned or how space is huge or that we killed that spider in our bathroom the other day and humans share a common ancestor. These are the kinds of thoughts that may or may not get us feeling weird on psychedelics. In my experience, the thoughts that may give us 'bad trips' are the ones that we try not to think about. And that just doesn't work when you're on LSD. It's not a happy drug; it's an honest one. If you were mean to your mom that day, you're going to feel like an asshole. We don't like feeling like an asshole; we want to believe we have it all figured out already, but we just don't. And if you let yourself be humbled by that, that is where any chance of realization and growth can come from. You must let yourself get there, though. Just because an idea is scary doesn't mean you should hide from it; that’s essentially what I'm saying. That's how humanity has ever learned about anything - choosing curiosity over our natural reaction to fear. To answer your question, I want to come out of a trip feeling like I learned something.
Not to backtrack, but so many people say that if it wasn’t for LSD and marijuana, we wouldn’t have the music we have today. I think, for the most part, that’s true. A lot of experimental 60s stuff influenced so many musicians – The Beatles’ later stuff, Velvet Underground, The Doors – and we all know the origins behind some of those songs. But, even people like Frank Zappa, who famously went without drugs or alcohol, created some of the weirdest tracks in recording history. How does it work for your creative drive?
For me, psychedelics help me connect with my 'weird.’ The whimsical, bizarre part of my mind that I had let be suppressed by social nonsense, the in-the-box-type thinking. So, it encourages me to break down mental barriers and play in my imagination. Frank Zappa probably connected with his weird just fine without it.
Do you think it’s for everyone?
Hard to say. The chemical lysergic acid diethylamide is not physically dangerous, but a lot of what is being sold as 'LSD' are research chemicals that will make you trip but works with your body chemistry differently and can be very dangerous. So, if you're experimenting with psychedelics, I recommend buying a test kit so you know for certain that you are taking LSD. I think it is for everyone who is willing to be open to changing their mind. Not that LSD is this magic elixir that you take and suddenly you see the world for what it is, but you will sense things differently. It will prompt you to ask new questions that conflict with your current understanding. If you can handle that, LSD might be for you. If you are content with believing what you've always believed and you can't even handle when someone outside of you questions your beliefs, then you probably couldn't handle questioning yourself in the way that LSD would cause you to.