LSD The Problem-Solving Psychedelic
P.G. Stafford and B.H. Golightly
Chapter II. What the Drug Does
IN APRIL, 1943, Dr. Albert Hofmann, a research chemist at Sandoz
Laboratories in Basle, Switzerland, accidentally inhaled or ingested
a minute quantity of a tasteless, colorless and odorless compound
he had synthesized five years earlier from the rye fungus, ergot.
This synthesized substance was called d-lysergic acid diethylamide
tartrate, and it was known in the lab as LSD-25 because it
had been discovered during the twenty-fifth experiment of a series
of tests with ergot.
After Dr. Hofmann's "accident," unnoticed at the time
it happened, he began to feel strangely lightheaded and restless,
and he decided to leave work. "I experienced fantastic images,"
Dr. Hofmann later stated, "of an extraordinary plasticity.
They were associated with an intense kaleidoscopic play of colors.
After two hours this condition disappeared." Hofmann puzzled
about this experience for several days and then decided to swallow
250 micrograms of the substance to see if this had been what had
caused his peculiar sensations. The experience which followed
confirmed the potency of LSD, and thus Dr. Hofmann became the
first of at least a million people to know firsthand the bizarre
effects of the most powerful drug yet known to man.
When Dr. Hofmann's account of this incident was published, it
stirred great interest in scientific and medical circles. Early
researchers who worked with LSD believed that it could temporarily
reproduce an exact facsimile of schizophrenia, and they undertook
hundreds of studies. This was due to the fact that the drug did
much more than produce "fantastic images." It seemed
to create madness, disassociation and other radical mental disturbances,
and the effect from a standard dose lasted for eight to twelve
hourslong enough to thoroughly explore the result. Although
the hypothesis that LSD mimicked madness haswith a few exceptionssince
been discarded, academic interest had been stimulated and continued.
In the fifties, investigators from a great number of scientific
disciplines began to use LSD as a research tool in other areas.
Some psychologists began to report that LSD could greatly facilitate
the processes of psychotherapy, while others declared that it
was of no positive use whatsoever and was, in fact, dangerous.
The controversy raged, but the teapot was small and most of the
general public never heard about it.
All of this changed in 1963, and by 1966 the teapot had become
a cauldron, of preposterous dimensions. The runaway growth of
interest in the subject of LSD came about when Harvard University
dismissed two faculty members on charges which thinly disguised
its deep concern and dismay over experiments the pair were conducting
with LSD. "LSD is more important than Harvard," one
of them said, and both began proselytizing for widespread LSD
use. Thus began the highly publicized adventures of Dr. Timothy
Leary and, to a lesser extent, those of Dr. Richard Alpert.
In March of 1966, Dr. Leary's fortunes took on even more color
and serious complexity: he received a thirty-year sentence for
carrying less than half an ounce of marijuana while going through
customs at the Mexican border. This brought him to national attention,
on an even larger scale than previously, due to three things.
his former association with Harvard; his outspoken advocacy of
LSD; and the extraordinarily harsh sentence imposed on him for
a rather common felony.
It was at this point that the public became aware of the remarkable
enthusiasm for LSD in countless "underground" circles.
The indiscriminate use of LSD immediately became the subject of
thousands of newspaper and magazine articles all over the Western
world but, curiously, the true properties of the chemical and
its effects are as little understood now as then, both in the
academic world and among the public.
General Effects of LSD:
It is impossible to describe what a typical experience is, for
the experience depends upon a large number of variables. This
explains why psychiatrists who have worked a great deal with LSD
seem unable to comprehend each other's work.
This statement was made by Dr. Abram Hoffer, a Canadian expert
in the use of LSD in the treatment of alcoholism, and it sums
up what researchers in general have found to be true. Anyone who
proposes to describe the over-all effects of LSD faces a sizable
One way to penetrate the density of this dilemma is to describe
the accepted "usual" effects the chemical produces in
a "normal" session. The LSD subject, for example, will
find that all of his senses are simultaneously "more sensitive."
His mental and emotional processes will feel retarded and dulled,
but at the same time heightened and accelerated. He will feel
child-like, trusting, simple and literal-mindedyet his thoughts
will often seem enormously complex and of untold depth. Tears
and laughter, loneliness and great intimacy, clarity and confusion,
love and hate, delicacy and grossness, ecstasy and despairall
these may co-exist, throbbing and weaving back and forth, all
engaged upon some cryptic but definite process.
The above states are considered typical, but because they come
rolling out, seemingly all bound together, some sorting may be
useful. To break it down, the following describes major characteristic
Physical Sensations and Changes: Anywhere from twenty minutes
to an hour after taking LSD, the chemical may cause one, a few
or all of the following physical sensations: slight chill; dilation
of the pupils; vague physical unease concentrated in the muscles
or throat; tenseness; queasy stomach; tingling in the extremities;
drowsiness. When the person who is experiencing the drug is asked,
"How do you feel?" his initial answer is likely to be,
"I don't know," or, "Different." If asked
if he feels all right, he will probably say that he is not sure,
for the physical sensations which accompany LSD, although minor,
are indescribably intricate. While they may bear a similarity
to previous physical feelings, they are unique to the psychedelic
drug experience and cannot accurately be likened to any collective
sensations ever felt previously. This is true of all physical
reactions experienced under the influence of LSD. As time passes,
many of these early sensations may disappear, although in some
instances they persist.
What Happens to the Five Major Senses: The hearing, seeing,
smelling, touching and tasting senses begin to "slip"
out of their normal confines and to wander. They range into infinity;
they diminish into the microcosmic. They ascend and scale peaks
of untold height; they fall into silent and void crevasses. Thus
objects and stimuli are greatly transformed, so that at times
they are even unrecognizable. This elemental unleashing of the
senses may seem unbelievable, but the intense reality experienced
by the person under LSD is often overwhelming. Here, for example,
is the way Aldous Huxley reacted to an everyday object:
Confronted by a chair which looked like the Last Judgmentor,
to be more accurate, by a Last Judgment which, after a long time
and with considerable difficulty, I recognized as a chairI
found myself all at once on the brink of panic. This, I suddenly
felt, was going too far. Too far, even though the going was into
intenser beauty, deeper significance.
The LSD literature is richly textured by such firsthand accounts
of sensory reactions, usually coupled, as in Huxley's case, with
events or people or objects remembered from history or personal
One LSD subject "heard" mathematics while listening
to a recording of Mozart's Requiem; another smelled the
fire and brimstone of the Apocalypse (a pet cat had defecated
in the room at the time); a man "tasted" the agonies
felt when the lamb, from which he was eating an otherwise delicious
chop, was slaughtered; the touching of a cold metal object, such
as a silver bowl, can seem like touching dry ice.
The sensory changes which occur are so dynamic and vivid that
were they to remain static throughout the session, they would
probably become as commonplace and acceptable as "normal"
reality. But the transformations shift, both of their own accord
and with the application of some concentrated thought or will
power. Huxley's chair can give up its Biblical and/or artistic
connotation and go back to being a mere piece of furniture, or
perhaps become something else; the Requiem can resume its
form as music, or turn into a fireplace; the Apocalyptic odors
can be accepted for what they are, or become a flower garden;
the death of the lamb and the taste sensations can change into
more or less appetizing channels; the fire-cold of the silver
bowl can feel warm to the touch, and the heaviness of the object
can inexplicably seem airily light.
The Thought Processes. The changes induced in the mind
per se, in the conscious-thinking apparatus, are the most diverse,
radical and remarkable of all. It is in this area of the chemical's
effect that most serious research interest lies. The mind and
the emotions rather than physical and sensory feelingsinextricably
though they are entwinedpromise the greatest potential for
LSD's beneficial use and have so far rendered the most rewarding
results, as well as the most confusing.
Time Sense. As with the sensory reactions, the sense of
time slides about and up and down, reverses and sometimes disappearsvery
rarely does it retain its normal properties to the person who
is under the influence of LSD. Centuries can go by which, measured
by the clock, were seconds; time can stand as still as eternity.
However, time's distortion, whether fast, slow, reversed or non-existent,
seldom holds more importance for the LSD subject than the time
sense of his dreams in sleep.
Speed of the Mind. One of the most striking effects of
LSD is its ability to activate the leisurely pace of conventional
consciousness. Thoughts seem to race, carelessly tossing off extraordinary
by-products of subsidiary thoughts. In LSD terminology, this aspect
of the mental process is sometimes referred to as 'Sights of thought."
Suggestibility, Vulnerability. In the kaleidoscopic whirling
of sensations, thoughts and emotions, to which the LSD subject
is hyper-attuned, he feels himself completely fragmented, totally
helpless, yet masterfully in control. He reacts to literally everything
that comes within his range of senses. He is highly suggestible
and responds in some way to all stimuli, whether it is through
auto-suggestion, by some movement or remark made by his guide,*
or by what is going on in the room. Because
he is so "opened up," he is indeed vulnerable.
Therefore, it is extremely important that disruptive and disturbing
factors be avoided as much as possible and that the guide be on
the qui vive and keenly receptive. If conditions
are not harmonious, smooth, and at the same time "natural,"
the person under the influence of the drug can easily have paranoid
reactions to alland everyonearound him and this can lead
to untold terror. Normally, however, he will be more at ease and
freer with others and his surroundings than he has ever before
found himself to be in his everyday associations.
Memory and the Sense of the Self. The "flight of thoughts"
quite often flushes a large covey of personal memories from the
deep recesses of the subject's mind. They may be trivial, joyous,
painful, ludicrousanythingbut they will probably be more
alive than any recalled previously, except perhaps in dreams;
and, as in the dream state, they will seem to be happening in
the "now," with the subject violently participating
at one moment and standing aside in the next. It is as if he has
a second self superimposed on the one he brought to the session.
He may find himself examining the "selves" he has conjured
and react with guilt, pride, pleasure, regret or a multitude of
Insight, Judgment, Concentration. Unburied memories often
produce the conviction that the subject is seeing himself for
the first time as he really iswith all mental blocks and defenses
down. His findings will strike him as absolutely astounding; his
insights so sharp, his judgments so valid, that only a miracle
could have occurred to change him into such a genius.
His excitement over this transformation may make him want to laugh
and cry at the same time, for he may feel he has at last hit upon
the way to know everything to its fullest: ecstasy, sorrow, radiance,
serenity, happiness, poignancy, wisdom, patience. He will wantand
be ableto concentrate on any "staggering discovery"
of his choice. He may find that all life and its secrets, all
mankind and himself, are concentrated in the ear of corn he is
holding in his hand, and he may contemplate it and stare at it
for long moments, even hours.
Philosophic, Religious, Mystical Sense. The subject will
want to employ his new abilities in exploration. During this time,
he may have a deep and moving religious experience in which he
understands the pattern of all life and with awe, gratitude and
total understanding, accepts the "Divine Being" responsible
for it all. He may also reach philosophic conclusions of rare
profundity and of "absolute truth," perhaps in areas
completely foreign or little known to him previously. Since he
feels he has been metamorphosed into an incredible being with
gigantic gifts, it will probably not surprise him at all that
he can see into the future and the past with equal ease, make
predictions and exhume long-interred historical secrets. Also,
he may find it no trouble at all to "read minds" of
people present or elsewhere.
Sense of the Past. As said before, a}most anything from
staring at a painting to a fleeting thought can trigger the so-called
"sense of the past," with seeming total historical recall.
Archetypal memories from the vast mass unconscious, in the Jungian
sense, would appear to be aroused and activated. For an observer
sitting in on a session, this portion of the experience can be
the most interesting if the subject is communicative and reasonably
Comments: Eight to ten hoursperhaps longerafter
all this strenuous activity, the LSD subject "comes down,"
the apex of the experience probably having been reached in the
fourth hour. The coming down is usually a thoughtful, sober-minded,
reflective process without the explosions of mirth, joy, surprise,
and intense pain that accompanied the "going up." The
subject will realize with equanimity and sensible acceptance that
some of his insights and conclusions were absurd and ridiculously
funny; he will wonder about others. In any case, once down, he
will find himself restored intact to "normal" reality,
just as he left it, if the session has been a successful one.
However, the chances are that he himself will feel unaccountably
changedwiser, more tolerant and more aware of the world around
him. One LSD experimenter has called the drug a "psychic
broom"; for indeed it does seem to sweep out the cobwebs
and bring alive those senses so little used that they are all
But the judgments formed and the long-term results of the drug's
action, and how it all happens, are matters which have caused
endless scientific controversy and heated debate among private
individuals. As yet, nobody fully knows.
Several investigators have come up with theories about the drug's
efficacy and believe that the progress of its effects can be mapped
in some detail. One such theory says that there are five phases,
or stagesdistinct plateausthat occur in the experience of
LSD subjects who have normal sessions. In this scheme, such stages
are listed as 1) sensory changes, 2) personal memories, 3) "transformation
of figures," 4) spatial changes and 5 ) cosmic experience.
(A number of researchers who hold with such theories in general
nonetheless disagree on specific points, such as the order of
stages or whether all of them are reached. )
In some circles of serious research into the drug's effect, it
is thought that LSD is possibly the clue that will lead to the
discovery and disclosure of man's unconscious, its meaning and
function. Whether LSD can serve this purpose and put the unconscious
to surface use for the first time in over two million years of
human experience remains to be seen. However, the drug has already
proved itself to have vital purpose in related areas: LSD has
had phenomenal success in helping individuals attain long-sought
solutions to specific creative and technical problems.
* Under the influence of LSD, the subject
turns inward and explores vast areas which are hardly mapped.
Thus, though he may not leave the room in which he takes the drug,
he is far removed from the external world and needs the assistance
of someone who can provide him with "soundings" and
act more or less as a lifebuoy. Securing a guide who can be trusted
is an essential prerequisite for an LSD session. (See Chapter
VIII for a detailed account of the function of a guide.) (back)