October 13, 2017

The Return of LSD

According to a recent New York Times article, LSD, along with psilocybin, is making a comeback, as a treatment for depression.

This brings to mind the time when AA co-founder Bill Wilson took LSD, in the hopes of alleviating his own depression. And due to the drug’s hallucinogenic properties, Wilson thought that LSD might help suffering alcoholics achieve spiritual awakenings that would make them get sober.

Wilson took LSD during supervised experiments with Betty Eisner, an American psychologist who thought that the drug, along with other hallucinogens, could be used as add-ons to psychotherapy. Besides Eisner, Los Angeles psychiatrist, Sidney Cohen conducted the trials.   Author Aldous Huxley participated in the research along with Wilson, since both men were close friends.

While Wilson was searching for a cure for his depression, as well as means of helping other alcoholics, Huxley had his own motive for taking LSD.

Huxley, who is best known for his dystopian novel, Brave New World, was searching for a drug that could help him escape from his inner self. But Huxley wanted the drug to be harmless, and legal, and in the 1950’s, LSD (also known as acid) was indeed legal, and many thought it safe.

Besides Brave New World, Huxley wrote The Doors of Perception, which detailed his mind-altering experiences with mescaline, another hallucinogen. Interestingly, enough Jim Morrison, lead singer of the The Doors, was inspired to name the band after the book’s title.

Oddly enough, when Huxley was dying of laryngeal cancer at the age of 69, he asked his wife to inject him with LSD, so that his death could be an intensive divine experience.

Was his death a spiritual happening?

We will never know.

But Cohen, who was a leading expert on mood-altering drugs, warned about the damaging side effects of LSD, which was first synthesized in 1938 by Albert Hoffman, in Switzerland.

The experiments that Huxley and Wilson participated in were just a small percentage of 116 government-funded experiments revolving around LSD, and other hallucinogens. Even Hoffman, who thought LSD was “medicine for the soul” gave away large quantities of the drug to research.

There were many participants in the acid experiments including individuals suffering from mental health disorders, as well as alcoholics and even children of alcoholics. Theology students, who thought acid would connect them with God, volunteered to take LSD, as did artists who felt, like Huxley, that acid could help them find inner freedom, and connect with their Muses.

During the late 1960s, acid made its way into mainstream culture, and who can imagine the hippy era without acidhead Dr. Timothy Leary? Leary was the most prominent LSD researcher, and its aficionado. In the 1960’s, he was a lecturer in psychology at Harvard University.  During his residency, he not only experimented with the drug by self-ingestion, he used several students as guinea pigs.

Needless to say, Harvard was not happy.

He was fired.

Besides Leary, acid affected other famous people, including musicians. Many rock bands like the Grateful Dead, the Beatles, the Doors, guitarist Jimi Hendrix, and the Jefferson Airplane experimented with acid. After the Beatles song, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds was released there was hearsay that the song, of which several words from the title form the acronym for LSD, was about an acid trip.  However, John Lennon who wrote the song denied the allegations, but Lennon, and his fellow Beatles popped a lot of acid during the late sixties.

LSD has gained a unique reputation as being the drug for artistes, as well as a drug that has the potential to help depression, and other disorders.

The truth is that acid is a dangerous and potent drug.

Why?

Because an acid trip takes the user to a life-threatening destination, where he or she becomes completely disconnected from reality.

Acid comes in the form of a small piece of paper, capsules, or gelatin squares. Besides acid, other LSD street names include blotter, California sunshine, boomers, dots, hippie, yellow sunshine and ironically, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.

An acid trip can last up to 12 hours or longer, and the “trip” can cause the user to be in heaven or hell, or a combination of heaven and hell.

As a person who once took acid, I must say that my “trip” was horrifying. Not only did I undergo terrifying thoughts and feelings, but also I felt like I was losing control of my sanity. At one point, I thought there were rodents trapped between my ribs and eating me up alive, underneath my skin while David Bowie singing Space Oddity sounded like a demon chanting. And that is quite freaky because I love David Bowie’s music.

Towards the end of my “trip,” God granted me mercy. Somehow I saw a bunch of dried purple flowers that were in a vase on top of an end table. I find myself walking over to the flowers, and stood like the hunchback of Notre Dame, staring at the purple colors. Once in a while I found myself talking to the vase.

I remained in that position for hours.

That acid trip served no artistic purpose whatsoever, except to give me flashbacks, and a weird affinity for purple flowers. Acid flashbacks are experiences where a person has a short-lived psychotic episode, and even though I did acid once, I had flashbacks.

And while acid is under study, as a potential antidote for depression, the risks are too great. Short-term effects of taking LSD include dilated pupils, higher body temperature, sweating, tremors, and loss of appetite. And addicts who abuse LSD are at risk for psychosis, suicide, harming themselves or other people, and believe it or not, chronic depression. After prolonged LSD use, a tolerance is developed, and addicts ingest more blotters to get the same effects that they used to have when they just took one microdot.

The bottom line is that acid does not lead to actual enlightenment.

Most addicts and alcoholics who achieve spirituality have often become clean and sober, and have worked their steps, and are of service to others.

While Wilson was intrigued by the “spiritual potential of LSD,” other AA members were not too keen on the fact that the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous was tripping out on acid. But in defense of Wilson, the drug was legal then, and I think that his motives were altruistic. When he detoxed in Towns Hospital in New York City, he had a spiritual awakening, which his physician, Dr. Silkworth confirmed to be real. Dr. Silkworth ascertained that those occurrences could cure alcoholics.

So that was one reason why Wilson took acid.

He wanted to help other alcoholics obtain spiritual awakenings, and as a result, achieve sobriety.

But when Wilson had his spiritual awakening, he was not under the influence of LSD. And the best way that he could help alcoholics was through an accomplishment that he, along with Dr. Bob had already achieved, which was the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous.

The bottom line is that spirituality occurs by working the 12 steps of AA, and by healing the mind from substance abuse, as well as co-occurring disorders through clinical, evidence-based treatment. And the physical body needs to heal, by proper nourishment and exercise.

At Cycles of Change, we offer a holistic approach by treating the mind, body and spirit. Our clinical evidence-based treatment, along with a comprehensive 12-step program is designed to help clients learn that true inner freedom comes from recovery.

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