I realize that there’s nothing straight people like better than to listen to a druggie talk about how high he got, complete with details about all the stupid things he did, so I’m here to oblige.
I grew up in rural Mississippi during the ‘50s and ‘60s. This was before marijuana arrived and before teenagers realized that every cow pasture contained mushrooms that would make a person have visions. I occasionally heard tales about the ass-kicking power of Valium, Methadrine, Percodan, or Queludes, but I never knew anybody who had any, and there weren’t any drug dealers in my area, only bootleggers. All that my generation had to get wasted on was liquor, and, since Mississippi was still under Prohibition, liquor was abundant and any kid could buy it. I don’t know why the frequent teenage driving fatalities (I started driving while drunk as soon as I got my license at age 15) didn’t cause public alarm, but people seemed to assume that there was just something about teenagers that made them get drunk, flip cars, hit bridge abutments, and get runover by trains, and there was really nothing anyone could do to stop it. This was before MADD convinced the nation that drunk driving should be taken seriously, and during which drunkenness was portrayed as funny on prime time family television.
In 1970, I was a senior in college, and I still hadn’t seen any marijuana. Then one night, my friend, Ed, and I were hitchhiking, and two girls from a school in Virginia picked us up. They had driven all the way to Mexico to buy pot, and were on their way home with several pounds. After they told us this, Ed whispered to me that we should rob them. I said no, so Ed spent the rest of the ride sulking. When we got out of the car, he was so mad that he threatened to push me off an I-20 overpass, so we continued our journey separately. These girls had given us a couple of joints to smoke later, but I don’t remember smoking them, although I’m sure I did. In any event, I smoked a lot of pot over the next twenty years, the quantity being limited by cost, availability, and the fact that I didn’t enjoy getting high everyday because doing that makes the drug work more like a downer than a hallucinogen. My assumption is that most potheads like the downer effect, but feeling sleepy and looking stupid never appealed to me.
I knew that some shrinks and college professors from New York and California had become excited about the consciousness expanding effects of hallucinogenics, and claimed that such drugs gave them insights that led them to, “Turn on, tune in, and drop out.” Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert (who became Ram Dass), and Alan Watts (an Episcopal priest) were the three I remember best. Then came Carlos Castaneda, an anthropologist who wrote a series of books about his apprenticeship with a Yaqui Indian medicine man who relied heavily upon a large number of hallucinogenics. I found it impossible to believe half of what Casteneda wrote, but I was impressed to think that even the remaining half might be true. In any event, Castaneda was one of the highly educated and respected people who believed in drugs so strongly that they jeopardized their careers by endorsing substances that, they believed, had the power to alter one’s consciousness for the better.
During this period, I was very distressed about the excruciatingly prolonged loss of my religious faith, and my hope was that drugs would give me a way of looking at life that was superior to what I had found thus far. I had heard that other people had seen God while on drugs, and I thought, well, why not me? Of course, I knew that some of these drugs could also induce lasting insanity. At the time, there was a famous daytime TV personality named Art Linkletter, whose twenty year old daughter Diane often appeared on his show. One day in 1969, Diane dropped acid and a few days later jumped from a skyscraper to her death. Art Linkletter, sweet and gentle man that he was, threatened to kill Timothy Leary because he blamed Leary for making drugs seem desirable to the kind of sensitive and searching people—like his daughter—who were the least equipped to handle them.
I personally witnessed two other incidents that made me take drugs seriously. I drove an ambulance at the time, and one night while I was in the ER, two hippies came in with a friend who was having such a bad trip that he didn’t know where he was. While the staff ignored him, two guards roughed him up for no reason that I could see other than that he was on drugs. After that, I realized that no matter how bad a trip might get, I would never go to a hospital for help. In the other incident, my best friend actually did see the Holy Spirit while on marijuana. Afterwards, he would look at me as if from the far side of the ocean and ask, “What’s it all about?” over and over and over. I was the one who finally drove him to a mental institution. He lost his job, his house, and his family, and never did regain his sanity.
In the interest of caution, I started taking half doses of whatever new drugs came my way and working up from there. After I experienced ten continuous hours of full scale visual hallucinations on marijuana while partying with people for whom I felt no rapport, I concluded that I needed to do more than simply start with half doses, so I resolved to go easy on drugs in the following situations: at night, at parties, in cold weather, in strange places, with people I didn’t trust, when I didn’t feel well, or late in the day (how hallucinogenics affect a person is closely tied to his or her surroundings), although I didn’t always stick to my resolve. I eventually experimented with psilocybin, meth, cocaine, LSD, hashish, ecstasy, angel dust, nitrous oxide, and a half dozen narcotics. I also mailed off for exotic drugs like lobelia and kava kava, drugs that the government hadn’t gotten around to outlawing, plus I ate morning glory seeds, smoked cloves, hops, and catnip, and experimented with other drugs that I no longer remember by name.
I even took one drug that was so good that I wish I could feel that way forever. The drug was called ecstasy for good reason. Think of how you feel when your heart is overcome with sweetness for everything and everyone, and that’s what ecstasy is like several times over, or at least it was for me. The second time I had some, I shared it with a woman friend while visiting her and her husband. A half hour later, she became panicky, and her eyes started darting rapidly from side to side. I assumed she was having a seizure. Naturally, her husband was concerned, maybe the moreso because she was a nurse, and would lose her license if he took her to a hospital. Because I too was on ecstasy, I had every confidence that I could follow my friend into the depths of wherever the drug was taking her, and bring her right back out. And I did. First, I radiated love like the sun radiates light and warmth. Then, I held both of her hands in mine, looked into her darting eyes, and told her with complete certainty that she needn’t worry at all, because everything was going to be just fine. Because I believed this, she believed it too, and everything was just fine.
Ecstasy is a very long-lasting drug, and the day after this incident, I was sitting on a city bus looking at passing cars when I noticed that their wheels were spinning backwards. In another hallucination (while on meth and marijuana), I heard the best music of my life coming from a toilet that had been flushed. I’ve also seen demons, heard angels, watched my face turn into the face of a turtle without knowing I was hallucinating, spent hours happily watching rapidly changing psychedelic patterns, felt intimately connected to angry red wasps, and watched trees dance.
Two years ago, I got a marijuana card, and now I have a supply of marijuana that is far stronger than anything that was available in the old days. Twice, I’ve eaten too much (I “capture” the THC in butter and bake it into cookies). On the first of those occasions. I became extremely nauseous, could only move isolated muscles with sustained effort, and found that walking, crawling, or holding anything in my hands was impossible. On the second, I had visual and auditory hallucinations. No one gets that high on purpose—not more than once anyway—but it’s very hard to get a standardized dosage on cookies that are so strong that I limit myself to one-eighth of one small cookie and even that can sometimes be too much.
I’ve come so far in my ability to handle drugs, that hallucinations no longer scare me—not much anyway. What I’ve learned is that if a hallucination is troubling, I can turn my head away in order to either stop it or, if I’m lucky, find one that I enjoy. For example, the last scary one I had was when I looked at a wooden Santa, and saw it looking back at me with fiery eyes filled with hatred. There was a time when my eyes would have become stuck in his, but I immediately turned away, at which point I heard voices in the air above me, but they weren’t scary like Santa’s eyes, so I was sorry when they roared off into the distance.
Despite the risks, I don’t understand non-psychotic people who don’t experiment with drugs. I’ve known quite a few, but, “I’m not interested in drugs,” or, “I like myself the way I am,” only makes them seem, well, ignorant in that they have no way to know they’re uninterested in a given drug until they try it, drugs being so unlike other experiences and so unlike one another. As for liking oneself without drugs, the most interesting drugs (the hallucinogenics) don’t cause you to like yourself—they show you other ways of looking at reality. As the parlance goes, they take you on a trip, and you come back tired. As I see it, how could anyone NOT want to explore altered states of consciousness. To me, the desirability of it is so obvious that one doesn’t need a reason to justify doing it but rather to justify not doing it. You will grow from certain drugs if only because you experience heightened creativity and come to see “normal” reality as but one possibility and that, as desirable as “normal” is, other realities have a lot to recommend them.
Of course, I would agree that a person should evaluate the risk posed by a particular drug, and that some drugs really are so bad that one might reasonably choose to avoid them altogether. Meth, for instance. Bad stuff, meth (Just do a search for “meth before and after pictures”). But why avoid every psychoactive drug in the world because some of them are bad? I would also agree that a lot of drug users behave in ways that give drugs a bad name, yet I would offer in defense that a great many drug users are immature and troubled people who use them inappropriately. The fact that drugs will fuck you up doesn’t mean that this is all they will do (or even what they will do if you don’t overdose), but that’s all a lot of users get from them because that’s all they bring to them. The only drug that I have regrets about is alcohol, and it’s the only one that’s legal.
The Doors’ drug-inspired music captured a taste of what hallucinogenics sometimes feel like. Along with people like Leary, they and other bands inspired much of the drug use of the era.