Drug-Users at Harvard Explain their Views About Pot and LSD
Though I know the evening’s empire has returned into sand
Vanished from my hand
Left me blindly here to stand but still not sleeping.
Take me on a trip upon your magic swirling ship
My senses have been stripped
My hands can’t feel to grip
My toes too numb to step
Wait only for my boot heels to be following.
Take me disappearing down the smoke rings of my mind
Down the foggy ruins of time.
Let me forget about today until tomorrow. Bob Dylan, Mr. Tambourine Man
Harvard has long been a prime target of reactionary politically it has been called a haven for egg-heads, pinkos and idealists. Socially it has become, in some circles, a symbol of the libertine and the degenerate, boasting both sex orgies and drug rings. For this reason it is particularly important to preface any discussion of drugs with specific limitations in order to avoid exaggeration.
Forty-five students interviewed for this study are sophomores and juniors between the ages of 18 and 20. On the street you could not distinguish them from other students, and they have little in common except that they have all taken marijuana or LSD during their last two years at Harvard. I chose to single out pot and LSD because they seem to define the extremes of the spectrum of drug experiences at Harvard–from dabbler to hed.
Harvard are no longer reserved for the beatniks or the alienated, but are used, in varying degrees, by a wide variety and unknown number of students. They approach drugs on different levels of maturity, for a myriad of reasons. “You ask me why I smoke pot,” queried one boy. “It’s like asking people why they make love or suck another boy simply commented, “It makes me feel good. I laugh a lot when I’m high and have good other students it’s of sense of missing something by leading a routine college life that prompts them to take drugs. “With drugs you can go into your own mind, explore it, and find things you’d never have dreamed were true about yourself.” Still other students use pot as an alcoholic escape or stimulant such as the boy who said he “blew grass” occasionally because it made him less inhibited to relax and enjoy himself.
During the interviews I was struck by the high degree of intelligence and lucidity with which most students answered my questions. It reflected a tendency among most of them to think and talk a great deal about taking drugs, and unconsciously construct arguments to defend their habit against the legal and social bans imposed by society. Obtaining drugs is a positive act which goes against the inertia of legal constraints–to ignore the restrictions requires some internal debate. Having decided that drugs were worth it, the students interviewed took particular pains to describe drug-induced sensations which defy verbal cliches. To the majority, pot manifests itself through dizzy spells and then painful awakenings; it made all of them thirsty and many nauseous. In addition there is an intense distortion of the sense of time which can be seen by extrordinary gaps in “high” convesations. The time lag does not, however, interrupt the continuity of thought.
Everyone noted a change in perspective, although some called it a distortion while others were inclined to say it was simply a sharpening of the senses. Things took on an extraordinary importance when they were high. “I became fascinated with objects. Where things began and ended, where they converged and came to an edge or a point, where there was a gap, a hole, a void, I seemed to be drawn to it and could stare at it for long periods of time.” To many, colors became more vivid and jazz more intelligible.
LSD More Violent
The same phenomenon carries over into their descriptions of LSD highs, except that the distortions become more violent–“anything which is crumpled or quilted comes alive and starts to crawl.” Along with this fixation and concentration on objects, LSD users express a greater intellectual appreciation for the “total meaning” of the object. One student explained that with LSD words break down as tools in attempts to describe the sensation. Instead of thinking about things one experiences them. He continued to explain that this was why it was difficult to translate what insight had been gained into every day use.
As an example of understanding an object as a whole, the student said that when he looked at a newspaper on an LSD high, he not only saw the object which lay on his doorstep every morning, but also single letters put together to form words, words combined to make phrases; he saw people working hard to write the articles and printers sweating over their type; he saw thousands reading it, ignoring it, or folding it into paper planes.
In descriptions of heightened or distorted senses, a number of students spoke of sexual intercourse as being “unbelievably beautiful” while both mates are under the influence of either pot or LSD. “It’s not only that your senses and appetites are sharpened, and that one become uninhabited, but one feels a special sense of community and understanding which makes the act so much more enjoyable.” Another student mentioned that he became particularly aware of conflicting drives while he was on LSD, especially the sexual drive. As he described it in Freudian terms: “the id surfaced and discharged its libido.”
One scientifically-minded student described the effects of pot in terms of what our eyes allow themselves to see. “Normally the eyes are distracted by hundreds of different lights and objects, but only single out the important ones for consideration by the intellect. Pot removes this selectivity, and our eyes send indiscriminate signals to the brain. The result is that we perceive things in a completely novel fashion.”
Besides distortions of objects and other people, some of the interviewed said they would often look down at their hand, while on LSD, and see an ugly, clumsy mass which didn’t seem to belong to them. Other students said that LSD actually wiped out their identity until they could fade into a knot on the wall and watch humanity pass, performing its insignificant tasks. “LSD,” one student said, “is an excuse to sit back and let your imagination go berserk.”
But where do Harvard students buy these drugs? Almost all local drugs come from New York; locally they are usually obtained from friends who give or sell drugs as a favor, and not for pecuniary benefit. There are, however, occasional student pushers who buy large quantities of drugs on the New York market and bring them up to college to sell at an enormous profit, sometimes enough to pay tuition. But these are the exception and not the rule. Many students buy their drugs from friends at home and bring them up to school, yet almost everyone I interviewed agreed that it was easier to buy pot here than in any of the big cities.
Paranoia a Password
Paranoia about drug-taking was a password with the group, but it is interesting to note that they all recognized their fears and called it by its name. Some felt that paranoia was the worst part of taking drugs while others explained that it was a safety device, or an animal instinct of survival which the drug had not been able to eradicate. All of those I talked to had their doubts about talking to me at first, and many later pleaded that no article be printed for fear that it would turn the heat on them. But most of them were primarily concerned with having their views explained and recognized by the community. They wanted to communicate; they just didn’t want to get “busted.”
In fact, most of the students interviewed felt that the Harvard community was more tolerant than most towards drugs, and only occasionally did they report peers who would shun them because they took drugs. One of the boys said that the most reactionary responses to his taking had come from Freshmen who “hadn’t had time to acclimatize to the new morality.”
The students agreed almost unanimously that while on a high, traditions and social customs appear nothing more than a cruel hoax which society has used to limit the true potential of individuals. “Society and its customs have put blinders on us all, and pot takes them off. Instead of thinking the same thoughts in the neat manner that we have grown accustomed to, drugs allow the mind to wander and form free associations that hardly seemed possible without them. From the summit of a high one can see what trivia our anxieties are made of.”
But to show that they weren’t just repeating cliches, some of the students admitted that although drugs allow the mind to escape its habitual cage of civilization, they trap it immediately into a new set of thinking patterns and customs; a new social order with its own stylized mores. These traditions usually grow around a small group of friends who are in the habit of smoking together. The same comments, the same gestures, the same conversations, are repeated within pot cliques and grow into a ritual built around the great god Pot.
Most students are not asking for a Ginsbergian revolution. Although there were a few students who ranted on about how wonderful it felt when you reached the threshold of a high and how, for the exquisite sensation alone, pot should be legalized, most of the sample was more cautious. In general they advanced a defensible argument that society wasn’t ready for legalized pot yet, but that in comparison with the evils of liquor and cigarettes, pot was virtually harmless. “While a high sharpens your senses, liquor makes you dull and uncomfortable–especially the morning after.” Many of the students felt that pot had unjustly been given a stigma, “but that’s because people will never know about drugs until they’ve tried them. Even then they probably won’t learn how to use it properly and will go away with a bad taste in their mouth.”
But on the other side there were some cautioning words about taking drugs, the main one being that if taken under stress or while still unwilling to surrender to the influence of the drug the result will be a “horror show” of threatening hallucinations. The other reservation about pot was that it should not be over-estimated. “You can’t do your math or anything practical while you’re high because it kills the Protestant Ethic in people. If people could live by fingerpainting we could legalize pot.”
Finally there were two students in the sample who had been taking a lot of drugs and who had given it up. One said that he was “tired of seeing the same show over and over;” the other said that if you can take drugs for a while and come out know-why you don’t need them, then you have really learned. “There are many different levels of consciousness, and the down undrugged world is only one of them. Experimenting with drugs,” he concluded, “is the easiest way to widen your perspectives.
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Drug-Users at Harvard Explain their Views About Pot and LSD Though I know the evening’s empire has returned into sand Vanished from my hand Left me blindly here to stand but still
What Happens When You Add Other Drugs To Your LSD Trip?
Some drugs just pair well together: coffee and cigarettes, alcohol and cocaine, weed and … pretty much anything. But what happens when you mix other drugs with that infamous sidewinder, LSD?
Tripping on acid can be one of the most profound experiences in some people’s lives. Just a tiny speck of LSD (scientifically known as lysergic acid diethylamide) will trigger an experience that can last 12 hours, depending on the dose and purity. It gives users a teeth-rattling “trip” packed with amplified colors that ripple and flow across their distorted perception of time and space. Ego, or the sense of self, can disintegrate into the soul’s ectoplasmic goo.
Although the drug itself is largely non-toxic, even at extremely high doses, tripping is not without risks. It can put users in dangerous physical situations. Most stories of people jumping or falling off buildings on acid are urban legends, but there are some rare case reports of people dying this way. LSD can trigger a psychotic episode and, very rarely, cause long-term mental changes, such as a condition known as hallucinogen perception persisting disorder. For better or worse, LSD is growing in popularity, which means it’s likely more people are combining acid with other drugs.
LSD and MDMA
One of the most common mixtures, popular since at least the early ‘80s, is “candyflipping,” or mixing LSD and MDMA, also known as “ecstasy” or “Molly.” Effects vary, but many users report this combo gives overwhelming feelings of unbridled euphoria from the MDMA, on top of the weird wonderment from LSD. Some users who have combined these two substances say the effects of MDMA, which typically last about four hours, also seem to be extended by the acid.
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This combo is often sought at raves, with users attempting to get both drugs to “peak” at the same time, usually by taking the MDMA several hours after the LSD kicks in, as they both have different zeniths. Yet, we don’t know much about how physically safe this combination is. There’s limited hard data on LSD and MDMA combos—or any other drug mixed with acid – because research for this kind of thing is extremely expensive and the ethics can be sticky.
“Combining LSD or another psychedelic with MDMA produces a particularly intense trip. The combination has stronger effects than you’d expect from the individual drugs,” said Matthew Baggott, a neuroscientist who studies the pharmacology of psychedelics. “Unfortunately, the combination also increases the toxic effects of MDMA, including on the neurons that make serotonin. Too much dopamine release in a brain that’s already working overtime can produce a lot of oxidative stress [an imbalance in body chemicals that can lead to cell and tissue damage].”
LSD and other psychedelics
LSD and the “classic” psychedelics all share one thing in common: their molecules very closely resemble the neurotransmitter serotonin, which has an impact on mood, perception, appetite and more. “You can think of it like dance moves. Psychedelics dance with the serotonin receptor and remind it of certain moves that it had forgotten,” Baggott said. “Next, messenger molecules inside the cell copy the moves and the whole party changes. Different psychedelics have different dance moves. And they dance with the receptor for different amounts of time. LSD doesn’t grab a partner as soon as it arrives, but once it starts dancing, it really embraces the receptor and dances for a long time.”
According to Baggott, classical psychedelics like LSD and psilocybin, the active compound in magic mushrooms, have high physiological safety, as long as one doesn’t take dramatic overdoses. “Combining them in reasonable doses is usually also physiologically safe,” he said. You can’t say that about all drugs—mixing different types of opioids, for example, can be deadly. But there just isn’t that much data to be sure yet what the long-term mental health effects of mixing psychedelics could be.
In the ‘60s, doctors giving people doses of two different psychedelics wasn’t unheard of, before ethical standards in science made institutional review boards unlikely to approve such research.
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For example, in 1964 two researchers at Stanford University, funded by a grant from the National Institute of Health, gave 24 men ages 21 to 40 white capsules containing three different psychedelics: mescaline, psilocybin and LSD. At some point, patients were given a blend of all three, which the researchers noted “appeared to produce an additive effect, the intensity and quality of the clinical syndrome being comparable to full doses of either drug alone.” That is, adding most psychedelics to LSD seems to be fairly synergistic – they produce a combined effect that is greater than the sum of their separate effects.
Important for taking any substance are set and setting, or being comfortable in your brain and body while tripping in a safe place. “If there is something wrong with your physical or mental setting, mixing psychedelics can enhance all those bad things,” said Ivan Romano, co-founder and co-director at Drugs and Me, a harm reduction research group based in the U.K. “It can take you to a very bad place.”
LSD and alcohol or Xanax
When coming down from a trip, some people might want something to take the edge off. So it’s not uncommon to mix LSD with depressant drugs such as alcohol or benzodiazepines like Xanax, that slow down the nervous system. But this combo can quickly become life-threatening.
“Depressants are very dose-sensitive, so if you take too much you quickly get into dangerous doses,” Romano said. Plus, you’re more at risk of losing your balance and other accidents. “When you mix these two drugs you have the clumsiness of one and all the perceptual distortion of the other. So the risk of injuries and accidents is much higher.”
According to some reports, LSD and alcohol do not synergize together well. “Alcohol tends to mute the effects of LSD more than anything. It just doesn’t work as well,” according to Mitchell Gomez, executive director of DanceSafe, a nonprofit drug education group. This can encourage people to take more LSD, but when the alcohol wears off, you can still be tripping for hours, way more than intended.
“That’s a really sort of nasty spiral you could get into, trying to balance those two substances,” Gomez said. “I’ve actually seen somebody end up in the hospital just from straight alcohol poisoning because of that combination.”
LSD and antidepressants
There are so many different kinds of antidepressants on the market, each with unique biochemical interactions, it can be hard to sum up how they will make a single person feel, let alone by throwing LSD into the equation. However, when acid was first being explored as a psychiatric tool in the ‘50s and ‘60s, many clinical trials combined LSD with an antidepressant. With some antidepressant drug classes, such as SSRIs or MAOIs, the effects of LSD are diminished or don’t come on at all. For example, in 1964 a researcher named Oscar Resnick at the Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology in Massachusetts gave four men a small dose of LSD, between 40 and 75 micrograms. All four men had been taking isocarboxazid, an MAOI, for several weeks.
Resnick reported the “experiences produced by LSD-25 were either very markedly attenuated [reduced] or did not develop at all.” A year later, this experiment was reproduced by famed LSD researcher Stanislav Grof, who gave acid to 11 patients taking an MAOI called nialamide. Even doses as high as 400 micrograms failed to produce much and the resistance lasted as long as two weeks after the antidepressant was discontinued.
SSRIs seem to have a similar effect, though the research is also very limited. In a 1996 survey, 28 out of 32 people who took SSRIs and LSD experienced “subjective decrease or virtual elimination” of the trippy effects. It’s theorized that the reason for this cross-tolerance could be that LSD and drugs like Zoloft are influencing the same serotonin receptors in the brain, although in slightly different ways. The competition can diminish the effects of the acid, but it may work differently for other antidepressants.
In contrast, the authors of that survey had previously surveyed ten men, some of whom had taken tricyclic antidepressants. This unique class of antidepressant reportedly made some LSD trips more potent, not less. Users reported “more psychic energy” and “somatic distortion” from the combo, with livelier, perkier, and more elaborated hallucinations, such as seeing the sunrise for over an hour in the middle of the night. Some of these same users reported that after they stopped taking drugs like desipramine or clomipramine, their LSD trips weren’t as strong.
From that same survey, users who took lithium, a different class of antidepressant, also had more intense trips from LSD, but they weren’t pleasant. One subject was so over-stimulated it made for a “tedious and trying experience,” according to the report, while “one subject also experienced auditory hallucinations that were self-critical, accompanied by the inability to form words, both of which had never happened to him before.” These surveys relied on user self-reports, so they aren’t the most reliable sources, but they’re also some of the only research on the subject.
LSD and weed
Cannabis generally blends with most recreational drugs in a positive way, as it’s relatively non-toxic, the effects are manageable for most people and it usually wears off within a few hours. But combining it with LSD is a polarizing activity. Some people love the combo, others hate it, perhaps because the effects can sometimes be unpredictable.
“Smoking cannabis on LSD seems to potentiate the effects of both, so you end up with a sort of stronger effect of both substances,” said Gomez. LSD and weed are synergistic, which means marijuana can make hallucinogenic visuals more intense. It can make you start tripping again if you smoke it as you start to come down.
“It’s actually almost a joke within some psychedelic communities, a sort of classic mistake as you’re coming down off of LSD to be like, ‘Oh, I’m gonna smoke some pot and go to bed and then you do and now you’re like tripping tripping again,” Gomez said. If you’re not expecting that, it can be an overwhelming, uncomfortable experience.
LSD and stimulants
Speed, cocaine and Adderall energize the nervous system and escalate heart rate. LSD can also increase your heart rate, putting extra strain on your cardiovascular system, which could put you at risk for heart attack or stroke. This may not be an issue at manageable doses, but you may end up doing more of a drug than you intended. “When you mix these two drugs there’s a risk of losing track of what you’re doing and then ending up taking too much,” Romano said.
“Back in the 1950s, when therapists were first exploring LSD psychotherapy,” said Baggot, “it was pretty common to give a stimulant as well. It seemed to improve moods and make patients more communicative. Amphetamines do have safety concerns, particularly when they’re used without medical supervision. Higher doses can increase blood pressure and body temperature, and cause brain oxidative stress. Combining LSD and amphetamines increases all these safety concerns.”
Mixing the two can be overstimulating, which might cause anxiety or panic. Adding coke to LSD reportedly kills the pleasurable, trippy aspects of acid, or makes the experience “weird,” so some people avoid it.
Gomez stresses that if you ever plan to combine any two or more drugs together, do as much research as you can, and do it sober. “You don’t want to decide five hours into an LSD trip that you’re gonna try a new drug,” he explained. “That happens pretty often, somebody’s like, ‘Oh, we’re coming down, do you want to snort X, Y or Z?’ That can certainly lead to experiences that people really enjoy and are thankful for. It can also do the opposite. That’s probably a decision you want to make on a clear head.”
Another major issue with mixing any illegal drug is knowing what it actually is. Street drugs are often sold as something they’re not. For example, a hallucinogenic drug called 25I-NBOMe is often sold on blotter paper, resembling LSD. And while there has never been a recorded human death solely caused by taking acid, there have been dozens of deaths attributed to 25I and related compounds.
Despite being relatively non-toxic, LSD is powerful and mixing it with other drugs can be a risky ride.