Tuesday 21 June 2011

My Bad Acid Trip Flashbacks

I went through high school in the late sixties, early seventies; a period in North America of much experimentation with drugs as part of the hippie movement. Like a lot of my peers, I had the opportunity to try the forbidden fruit; however I was very much a weekend warrior as opposed to being a full-blown freakster. Over about two years I smoked some marijuana and hash, took what was called mescaline three times and LSD a total of six times.

My recollection of weed and hash is pleasant; a lot of hysterical laughter and the munchies, the typical scenarios that have been milked for humour in a number of movies from Cheech and Chong to Hangover. President Bill Clinton was quoted as saying that he tried marijuana but he didn't inhale. I've joked over the years that the two of us are similar except unlike the president, I didn't exhale. I have to roll my eyes in writing this thinking of myself and others who attempted to hold in a toke for the maximum effect only to end up coughing our heads off. I was never a smoker of cigarettes so smoking weed seemed a little contradictory. Then again, I always wondered why anybody would waste their time smoking cigarettes because what was the point. You didn't get high!

The three times I tried mescaline were enjoyable experiences. My "trips" seemed to be more visual than a head trip as my thinking didn't seem to be altered, although I sure it was. It all seemed more like I was sitting back watching a light show. I'm not talking about full blown hallucinations like seeing things that weren't there; it was more of a distortion of reality. These were pretty much good experiences. As a sidebar, yes, I read The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley.

Finally, somebody offered me LSD. Of course, I had heard of the drug and I'm sure everybody knew the name Timothy Leary. Like anybody, I was curious and I did it in the company of friends so I felt I was in a comfortable environment.

I had what is commonly known as a bad trip. However, out of the 6 to 8 hours I was under the effect of the drug, I would say that only about two hours were unpleasant. Now how to describe "bad"? A group of us all dropped a tab and went to a rather large club where several bands were playing. When I say large club, I think this venue could hold a thousand people. Sometime during the middle of a performance as I'm watching the band, I became, well, confused. The one phrase I remember running through my head was that there was something I didn't understand. I knew I was in a club. I knew I and everybody else was watching the band. But I started questioning everything. Why were people listening to this band? Was the music good? Did people like it? Did I like it? Why was I staying and why didn't I go home?

I remember that at some point - and this is the best description I can come up with - I felt a cold chill come over me. It was that and this incessant questioning buzzing in my head that took over my attention. I don't remember if I said anything to my friends but I walked out of the club. I remember my friends rushing after me asking me where I was going and my response was that I felt I had to leave and go home. I couldn't give a specific reason; it was just that I had an unpleasant feeling but I couldn't describe about what. I may have said it to my friends that there was something I didn't understand; I don't remember. I now know this was something of a disconnect from reality. It was bordering on panic, but panic about what? Intellectually I knew exactly what was going on, where I was, who my friends were, etc. but there was something - I never found out what - that I didn't understand.

I got all my friends to leave the club early before the show was over and go home. After a couple of hours I seem to have come down from the peak of the trip and felt okay and enjoyed the rest of the stone. I don't remember discussing this with anybody in any great depth - maybe I did but I've forgotten - but the more experienced drug users were friendly and helpful and provided me a safe and calming environment during my period of distress. I wonder now if they didn't think much of anybody having a bad trip but only considered it part of the territory.

As I said, I took acid a total of six times and each and every time I had a bad trip. Now bad meant that the peak of the trip, usually around two hours had me in this odd confused state saying over and over again that there was something I didn't understand. I remember other times where I would be holed up at somebody's house or one time in a motel room where I spent the two hours with a friend who was also stoned trying to explain what I didn't understand as I would pace up and down wringing my hands in some sort of fit of anxiety. This proved to be a fruitless exercise as I myself didn't know what I was talking about.

The last time I tried LSD was in 1972; my sixth and final time. Now anybody would ask, quite rightly, if I was having a bad time why would I continue to take the drug? Well, I guess six times were necessary to conclude conclusively that I definitely couldn't handle it and shouldn't be doing it. Yes, others carried on in the stoner

My First Flashback
Seven years later in 1979, I was hung over to beat the band after drinking too much the night before. I felt ill and I was super tired. I don't remember what exactly preceded this, but all of a sudden I was in a full-blown acid flashback of my bad trip. The cold chill came over me, I felt this disconnect from reality and became somewhat confused saying to myself that there was something I didn't understand. This first time scared the s**t out of me as I hadn't taken LSD in seven years. How could this happen? I even asked myself if somebody had slipped me some drug in a drink or something. - I would say this happened to me several times over the next two years.I had heard of flashbacks and tried to work out on my own what was going on. What I am going to say isn't a question of what is right or wrong; it's a question of what I did to deal with this.

Cutting your finger
Probably just about everyone has at some point had the unfortunate experience of cutting themselves with a knife or a razor blade or even an Xacto. You think about it a week later and you get this strong mental image of the blade going into your own flesh. The image is so strong, you literally shiver. "Whoa!"

I theorised that my bad trip was like cutting my finger. The memory was vivid, so strong, that when I did recall it, it came back to me with an overwhelming force except instead of shivering, I felt the same feelings I had felt when I experienced it for the first time. What happens when I think about cutting my finger? I think about other things, more pleasant things, and I stop thinking about my finger. I stop shivering; I calm down; I move on. That was the logic I applied to my flashback. If it came over me or if I felt it coming on, I would force myself to think of other things.

Smoking weed
I have heard all sorts of tales of weed being dipped in other drugs like acid to supposedly jack up the stone. Whether the couple of times I smoked this was the case, I don't know. I do know however that I experienced a flashback of my bad trip. Yes, I just smoked some weed but that stone triggered a flashback. That did it for me, I never smoked again.

Wikipedia's write-up
The on-line encyclopaedia gives a good account of what I was feeling:

A multitude of reactions can occur during a psychedelic crisis. Some users may experience a general sense of fear or an anxiety attack. A user may be overwhelmed with the disconnection many psychedelics cause, and fear that they are going insane or will never return to reality. This can cause the user to fall into a depressive mood. Other reactions include an amplification of nameless fears; that is, fears that are unfounded and are usually not encountered in normality.

When does this happen
If I am very, very tired, I know that I may be susceptible to an episode. While drinking, a depressant, doesn't seem to be linked to a flashback, being hung over and tired certainly is. Other drugs may trigger an episode even something as supposedly innocuous as weed.

I have not taken any drugs in over 30 years and have not have a drink in over 23. Nevertheless, I still get tired once in a while foolishly burning the candle at both ends but normally, this entire period of my life is tuned out so I just don't think about it. I have, unfortunately, been going through a divorce in the past year which has proven to be one of the most stressful things I've ever lived through. I have had some mild bad trip flashbacks a few times. Forcing myself to think of other things, go for walk, etc. brought things under control.

I have heard some compare bad trips and flashbacks to this mental condition. I have heard some say that the mere fact somebody has a bad trip indicates an underlying mental condition as normal people have normal trips. I have no idea what is fact and what is fiction as the purpose of this posting is to merely describe my experiences. I will leave it to the professional researchers to find out what's what and to those who take the drug without any problem to ask whether or not I'm not just nuts to start with. Who knows? Maybe they're right.

Will I ever make it back?
In researching this posting, I read in Wikipedia: A user may be overwhelmed with the disconnection many psychedelics cause, and fear that they are going insane or will never return to reality. I can identify with that statement. I have felt that fear and at times have wondered whether I someday flip out and not come back. It may seem dumb but considering that my last experience with LSD dates back 40 years I have to wonder sometimes. Yes, imagine, this all happened 40 years ago!

No professional consultation?
Nope. Was I going to discuss doing what was essentially illegal with somebody who is part of the establishment? First of all, I was certain your garden variety G.P. would have no idea of what I was talking about. Secondly, it wasn't like I had this happening to me every day. Finally, after I figured out the cutting your finger analogy and knew how to deal with a flashback, what exactly was the point? Would a G.P. give me a prescription for gawd only knows what to use, well, when exactly? It can come on suddenly and some mental focusing can turn it off just as quickly so what's the point of taking some prescription drug?

Mental focusing? Ha! I remember years ago reading that somebody, for the sake of science, got some Buddhist monk to take some acid to see what kind of effect a psychedelic drug would have on a mind which had spent years training in meditation. I remember the monk reporting it gave him a headache.

Final Word
Over the years, I've met some friends from my high school years and we've exchanged stories about some of our funny moments together doin' dope. Anybody listening to us laugh might mistakenly think we remain advocates of drugs. Nothing could be further from the truth.

My advice to anybody, any young person would be to never do drugs. Why? Why waste your time. I don't drink and while I wouldn't go so far as to say not do it, I would hope anybody would minimize their use because when you get down to it, altering your state of consciousness only goes so far. But to be paradoxical about it, I would vote for the decriminalization of pot and would think society's approach to dealing with drugs in general has been ineffective and needs to be reviewed. Then again, I guess it's not paradoxical. I'm an alcoholic - sober 23 years - but I in no way advocate everybody stop drinking. Just because I have a problem doesn't mean others can't enjoy themselves. For me, it's the same with drugs. Of course, a little weed seems innocuous; I certainly wouldn't advocate shooting up heroin!

To those who do take drugs, I have to speculate on the quality of the product you buy. Unlike what you get in a pharmacy, what you buy in the street doesn't necessarily go through any stringent quality testing so just what the heck are you swallowing? Seems like a bit of a crap shoot. I still remember an outdoor concert in the summer of 1972 when in the middle of the first act, the M.C. comes out, stops the music then announces to the crowd to not drop the orange something or other as it was bad acid. How many people ended up in the hospital tent that day? Gee, how many people end up there even today at an Ecstasy rave?

As odd as it may sound, I have had a couple of difficult moments in writing this posting. I sat asking myself, "What did it feel like?" and in the process of recalling the feeling, I started to feel, well, that feeling. I mean the feeling of apprehension, the feeling of mild panic, this disconnect from reality. I didn't like it and had to force myself to think of something else.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not having bad trip flashbacks left, right and center. Sometimes years go by without anything happening at all. I just know that fatigue and stress are two things which may throw my thinking off kilter so I should be a good boy and avoid those two things. Of course, those are two things that all of us run into from time to time and for the most part, I am so focused on what I'm doing my attention never turns to my 1972 trips to the dark side. Consequently, there's nothing to worry about. But it's there. It's always there. Just imagine that writing this posting is enough to get me thinking about it and thinking about it is not something I like to do, want to do, or should be doing.

Years ago, I read an interview with David Carradine, the actor who rose to fame in the television series Kung Fu. He claimed to have dropped acid over five hundred times. Holy c**p. I think six times for me was six times too many. The mescaline I remember as being fun but acid? No way!

The hippie era was a great era: peace, love and understanding. It's just for me, right now, it's turned into a drug-free zone. I'm not prescribing anything to anybody; I'm only saying where I'm at. Good luck in your world.


Wikipedia: Mescaline
Mescaline or 3,4,5-trimethoxyphenethylamine is a naturally-occurring psychedelic alkaloid of the phenethylamine class used mainly as an entheogen. It occurs naturally in the peyote cactus (Lophophora williamsii), the San Pedro cactus (Echinopsis pachanoi) and the Peruvian Torch cactus (Echinopsis peruviana), and in a number of other members of the Cactaceae plant family. It is also found in small amounts in certain members of the Fabaceae (bean) family, including Acacia berlandieri. Mescaline was first isolated and identified in 1897 by the German Arthur Heffter and first synthesized in 1919 by Ernst Späth.

Wikipedia: Lysergic acid diethylamide
Lysergic acid diethylamide, abbreviated LSD or LSD-25, also known as lysergide and colloquially as acid, is a semisynthetic psychedelic drug of the ergoline family, well known for its psychological effects which can include altered thinking processes, closed and open eye visuals, synaesthesia, an altered sense of time and spiritual experiences, as well as for its key role in 1960s counterculture. It is used mainly as an entheogen, recreational drug, and as an agent in psychedelic therapy. LSD is non-addictive, is not known to cause brain damage, and has extremely low toxicity relative to dose, although adverse psychiatric reactions such as anxiety or delusions are possible even at low doses.

Wikipedia: Lysergic acid diethylamide: Flashbacks and HPPD
"Flashbacks" are a reported psychological phenomenon in which an individual experiences an episode of some of LSD's subjective effects long after the drug has worn off, usually in the days after typical doses. In some rarer cases, flashbacks have lasted longer, but are generally short-lived and mild compared to the actual LSD "trip". Flashbacks can incorporate both positive and negative aspects of LSD trips, and are typically elicited by triggers such as alcohol or cannabis use, stress, caffeine, or sleepiness. Flashbacks have proven difficult to study and are no longer officially recognized as a psychiatric syndrome. However, colloquial usage of the term persists and usually refers to any drug-free experience reminiscent of psychedelic drug effects, with the typical connotation that the episodes are of short duration.

Wikipedia: Hallucinogen persisting perception disorder
Hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD) is a disorder characterized by a continual presence of visual disturbances that are reminiscent of those generated by the ingestion of hallucinogenic substances. Previous use of hallucinogens by the person is needed, though not sufficient, for diagnosing someone with the disorder. For an individual to be diagnosed with HPPD, the symptoms cannot be due to another medical condition. HPPD is distinct from flashbacks by reason of its relative permanence; while flashbacks are transient, HPPD is persistent. HPPD is a DSM-IV diagnosis with diagnostic code 292.89.

Wikipedia: Bad trip
Bad trip (or psychedelic crisis) is a disturbing experience sometimes associated with use of a psychedelic drug such as LSD, Salvinorin A, DXM, mescaline, psilocybin or DMT. The manifestations can range from feelings of vague anxiety and alienation to profoundly disturbing states of unrelieved terror, ultimate entrapment, or cosmic annihilation. Psychedelic specialists in the therapeutic community do not necessarily consider unpleasant experiences as threatening or negative, focusing instead on their potential to be highly beneficial to the user when properly resolved. They can be exacerbated by the inexperience or irresponsibility of the user or the lack of proper preparation and environment for the trip, and are reflective of unresolved psychological tensions triggered during the course of the experience.

Wikipedia Timothy Leary
Timothy Francis Leary (October 22, 1920 – May 31, 1996) was a highly influential American psychologist and writer, known in later life for advocating advanced research into the therapeutic benefits of psychedelic drugs. A hugely controversial figure during the 1960s and 1970s, he defended the use of the drug LSD for its therapeutic, emotional and spiritual benefits, and believed it showed incredible potential in the field of psychiatry. Leary also popularized the phrase "Turn on, tune in, drop out". Both proved to be hugely influential on the 1960s counterculture. Largely due to his influence in this field, he was attacked by conservative figures in the United States, and described as "the most dangerous man in America" by President Richard Nixon.

Wikipedia: The Doors of Perception
The Doors of Perception is a 1954 book by Aldous Huxley detailing his experiences when taking mescaline. The book takes the form of Huxley’s recollection of a mescaline trip which took place over the course of an afternoon, and takes its title from William Blake's poem The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Huxley recalls the insights he experienced, which range from the "purely aesthetic" to "sacramental vision". He also incorporates later reflections on the experience and its meaning for art and religion.

Wikipedia: The Doors
The Doors were an American rock band formed in 1965 in Los Angeles, California, with vocalist Jim Morrison, keyboardist Ray Manzarek, drummer John Densmore, and guitarist Robby Krieger. The band took its name from Aldous Huxley's book The Doors of Perception, the title of which was a reference to a William Blake quotation: "If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite."

Open Salon - May 25/2011
My (Potentially) Life Altering Party Foul by Beth Ingalls
[I have been mulling over writing about my bad acid trips for some time now; however, it was this article which set me to work on it. The author describes how she accidentally snorted the equivalent of 100 tabs of acid. At once. I read this and said you'd be scrapping me off the ceiling. 100 tabs? At once? O...M...G! Of course, the technique she used to get herself through this seems very familiar to me. Singular purpose, focus, distraction with some good friends and anybody might be able to weather any storm.]

The Straight Dope - Feb 25/1999
Cutting dope with strychnine by Cecil Adams
[For as long as I can remember, I heard stories about drugs being cut with strychnine. What? That's a poison! - So, I finally looked it up and it seems the whole thing is an urban myth. Good to know.]


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1 comment:

BigLittleWolf said...

This has been a fascinating read, Mr. Belle. While a mere "youth" myself, I nonetheless have a vague recollection of the late sixties / early seventies (tra la), and many around me were doing drugs of various sorts.

Strangely (or not), I always politely declined. Largely because I was terrified of any prospect of any of the sort of things you've described here.

That said, I am sorry that the stress of a divorce is bringing back episodes of this sort, although you seem to be able to handle them based on what I read here.

May I add, however, that even for those of us who have never inhaled (or exhaled), or dropped anything (other than our groceries or our pretensions) - divorce and its proceedings can cause terror in some of us. Panic attacks are not uncommon. Bad ones. And for some years after.

Perhaps that is of some comfort. I hope so.