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  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 hours—long enough to thoroughly explore the result. Although the hypothesis that LSD mimicked madness has—with a few exceptions—since 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 semantic predicament.
    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-minded—yet 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 despair—all 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 reactions:
    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 Judgment—or, to be more accurate, by a Last Judgment which, after a long time and with considerable difficulty, I recognized as a chair—I 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 life.
    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 feelings—inextricably though they are entwined—promise 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 disappears—very 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 all—and everyone—around 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, ludicrous—anything—but 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 other emotions.
    Insight, Judgment, Concentration. Unburied memories often produce the conviction that the subject is seeing himself for the first time as he really is—with 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 want—and be able—to 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 articulate.
    Comments: Eight to ten hours—perhaps longer—after 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 changed—wiser, 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 atrophied.
    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 stages—distinct plateaus—that 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)

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