by Charles Slack
Editor: This article by Dr Charles Slack is written in response to a request from an Australian newspaper to write a piece on the resumption of LSD research in the USA. The Australian May 01, 2010 “Psychedelic drugs including LSD, demonised since the 1960s, are back on the medical research agenda as treatments for depression and trauma.” By Chris Ayres.
What’s the message for today from an old ex-hippy professor who was in the middle of the psychedelic revolution of the 1960s? Answer: Do NOT take LSD under ANY circumstances and do NOT trust any “research” conducted by scientists who have used hallucinogenic drugs.
By now everybody knows the calamity of drug addiction and the horror of drug dealing. But every drug epidemic involves a third role: advocate. It is drug advocates, celebrities, hip-academics and professionals, who minimize harm and promote use.
Many fads and fashions begin at street-level with street-people, underclass and petty criminals, those who will try anything. Next, it’s the in-crowd, celebrities, trendy academics, sports heroes, and the idle rich who take up the fad. Ultimately the middle class, caught in a pincher movement, gives in. Surrounded from above and from below, the unsuspecting, the rebellious, the underage, your children and mine, succumb to the fads.
The LSD fad, however, began with scientists and celebrities. At first the drug was only available to credentialed people for research purposes. In addition to ourselves and each other, we Harvard faculty used undergraduates as guinea pigs. Soon, however, we were also studying the reactions of prison inmates and volunteers looking for an extra dollar or two. Celebrities, and especially the children of celebrities, impressed by our credentials and looking for thrills, took up the psychedelic fad. It wasn’t long before hip chemists were cooking up, and teenagers everywhere were “blowing their minds” with hallucinogens.
Dr. Timothy Leary, who urged young people to “Turn on, tune in, and drop out” also admitted his mind was melting…”but in a good way.”
In much drug research it doesn’t matter whether scientists have, themselves, ever taken the drugs they are investigating. However, with psychedelic or hallucinogenic drugs, experimenter bias is a matter of life and death, sanity and insanity, LSD, psilocybin, dimethyltryptamine, cannabis and other psychedelic, euphoric, hallucinogenic substances make proselytisers of those who ingest or inject them – not excluding otherwise objective research scientists…
Like me. When, in 1961, I swallowed 500 micrograms (a truly miniscule amount) of then perfectly legal LSD from Sandoz Laboratories in Switzerland, I was transformed from a square sceptic into a hip proselytiser. Worse than promoting decriminalisation and harm-minimisation, I advocated universal consumption! “Turn on and join the in-crowd!” was my message.
Thank God, most friends and family could see I was mad. I’d crossed the line between far-out and insane. My manic obsession was often a turn-off rather than a turn-on. But some academic colleagues were less obviously unbalanced. They could be more convincing – and hence more dangerous. Several became quite famous influencing hundreds who in turn influenced thousands, creating the “psychedelic revolution” of the 1960s.
This epidemic destroyed the mental health and physical lives of thousands and would, I’m convinced, have shortened my life as it did theirs had I too become a renowned advocate instead of just a stoned madman. US President Richard Nixon called Dr. Timothy Leary, the Harvard lecturer who dispensed the LSD, “the most dangerous man in America” for causing mental illness and suicide among the young. TV personality Art Linkletter quit TV to devote his life to anti-drug campaigning after his daughter, Diane, on LSD, fell six floors to her death from a bathroom window. An artist friend of mine, Fred Good, took LSD and dived naked from his third-floor window. Fred landed on the roof of a parked sedan and lived. Other jumpers were not so fortunate. “Flying” from balconies became so common that we devised a rule: one person remains straight during upper-floor acid-parties to keep the death-rate down. Although not advocating acid-suicide, Leary said early death didn’t matter because we’d experienced more life in a five-hour LSD trip than squares did in years of mundane living.
Fortunately for me, I only fell to the floor I was on when I got stoned. Opiates put me to sleep. Eventually I needed amphetamines to get up and go to work. I could get jobs because I had once been a Harvard professor – but couldn’t keep them. My once upscale career went downtown and downhill. I went from being a clinical psychologist to being a mental patient – and locked up in the drunk-tank of the Birmingham Alabama Jail (even though I clearly told police I had once been a Harvard Professor).
In retrospect, my failure to maintain self-respect probably saved my life and my soul. Pride was a problem. When I had none left, I finally accepted the actuality of my situation and attended a 12-Step program along with other addicts and alcoholics seeking a drug-free life. On the third of March 1976 I became abstinent from all drugs including alcohol and eight months later I migrated to Australia to begin a new life working for the Welfare Department of the State of Victoria. I think they read my CV in reverse, thought they were getting a professor instead of a despondent ex-addict. However, in a manic phase of my recovery I went over the top in every way. When three years clean I became a Christian but not yet completely sane or sanctified. I reckon it took me five or six years to quit living inside my own spaced-out head, join the human race, and perceive the true value of reality. Now, in my thirty-fifth year of clean living and gainful employment, I’m a “self-funded retiree” who usually can pass for normal.
However I remain over-the-top in gratitude to God and the good people He put in my life here in Australia – to whom I would give warning of the danger in taking even the smallest amount of hallucinogenic drugs, and state categorically that being a scientist in no way mitigates those dangers. At the same time, I want to put in a good word for reality. The human brain is at once the most complex, sensitive and precise entity in the universe. Don’t mess around with it! As you can’t improve a TV show by sprinkling iron filings into the back of the set, there’s no way to improve the creative or perceptive ability of the human brain by ingesting or injecting mind/mood-altering chemicals. You may feel better for an instant, but you will eventually lose the ability to feel at all.
The in-group and the out-group
News headlines now proclaim that the research goes on. Sixty years later LSD, psylocibin, dimethyltryptamine and other hallucinogenic drugs are again being “investigated” by zealous users spreading the word and dispensing the goods.
In a government-funded study conducted at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore and published recently
I agree. Furthermore, this experience is likely to remain more meaningful than anything in real life for months and years to come. Compared to seeing God in a light-bulb; compared to communicating with extraterrestrial beings; compared to travelling to the moon and finding a crater resembling a sanctified earthly toilet bowl; compared to the white light and the bluedarkness; compared being caressed by a million extraterrestrial love worms, what chance hath mundane reality? What in real life can possibly be as significant as a warm hug from loving aliens or an embrace from the entire universe whilst plunging into one’s own private black hole?
No matter what you thought before, after LSD, psychedelically speaking, the world divides in two: those who have partaken and those who have not. (If you are uninterested in speaking psychedelically, you belong with the have-nots).
You have experienced experiences that are truly beyond experience.
Certain ESSENTIAL TRUTHS are to be believed with ABSOLUTELY CERTAINTY.
NOT ONLY would LSD be a cure for depression and PTSD. It might just be an answer to ALL MAJOR PROBLEMS OF THE HUMAN RACE.
NO WAY could it be habit forming. LSD is SO DIFFERENT from addicting drugs that there need be little concern for dependence. This means IT CAN BE TAKEN AGAIN AND AGAIN WITHOUT BECOMING ADDICTED.
Important secrets about how to improve the workings of the brain have been revealed. These can’t adequately be put into words and therefore must be experienced.
LSD special effects must NEVER be confused with mental illness! At least one LSD trip should be required for psychiatric board certification. LSD will be a cure for most mental illnesses if psychiatrists also turn on.
Yes, harm minimization might be necessary. Take LSD in a safe and pleasant environment – preferably on the ground floor.
LSD makes everyone a heroic explorer. WE ARE ASTRONAUTS INVESTIGATING INNER SPACE.
No point in just writing about LSD for people to read. THEY MUST EXPERIENCE LSD TRUTH FOR THEMSELVES.
An LSD trip makes one a post-modern phenomenologist. Any philosopher who fails to take LSD is destined to remain a naive realist.
PSYCHEDELIC EXPERIENCE SHOULD BE A HUMAN RIGHT!
If you disagree with any of the above, you need another trip.
Can one regain sanity?
Seriously, completely sober now, I need to ask, is there life after LSD – I mean reality-based living?
Compared to Hollywood special-effects, psychedelic trips, and psychotic hallucinations, real life at its best and worst requires perceiving nuanced intricacies of detail.
All drugs, especially hallucinogens, destroy the fine-grain tuning of sensation and perception. Real life also centres on interpersonal relationships.
After a single LSD trip, the ability to relate to anyone who has not had the same experience is markedly reduced. All addicting drugs eventually devastate human relationships.
The life I am now living, my current state of mind, and the fact that I can write this article, prove that a degree of recovery from addiction to hallucinogens is possible – although complete sanity takes many years and consumes much effort. In particular, recovery demands spiritual progress.
The enemies of recovery are ego, resentment, self-pity and fear.
By conquering these, and completely avoiding the first drink or drug, an ex-addict can approach (asymptote) normality.
So who can be trusted?
Not ex-addicts like me, at least not always. Of course, you should listen carefully to those of us who’ve been clean for multiple years and take seriously what we say. We’re the only ones who can demonstrate we know how to quit. We also know which researchers are unbiased and which have been blinkered by the very drugs they are researching. But on the downside, we go through fazes as we acquire the capacity to live honestly and openly. Particularly annoying is our tendency, as we learn to tell the truth, to see hypocrisy in everyone else. Recovering addicts can be a huge pain in the neck. However, here’s the good news: the longer we keep drug-free, the more you can trust us. We are changing all the time – mostly for the better.
Not so with the professional drug advocates. “A foolish consistency” said Ralph Waldo Emerson “is the hobgoblin of little minds.” It is also the lodestar of academic worldviews: right or wrong, particularly in print, they remain constant despite fashion and fact.
Good-guy rehab experts can’t always be trusted either. Professionals doing drug treatment have a compassionate reason to exaggerate their success-rates: clients’ lives depend as much on program faith as on program content. Treatments work when-and-if clients believe they do – and don’t drop out from discouragement. Addicts with the lowest self-esteem who suspect the worst about themselves think they need the world’s best treatments. Even the most successful for others might not be good enough for them. And it’s a self-fulfilling prophesy: telling the bitter truth (95% recidivism) diminishes hope and eggs on relapse. And, of course, decreases funding.
Research funds are always insufficient. And studies validating the bad-news about drugs are costly. To prove beyond doubt, say, that cannabis causes schizophrenia rather than vice versa (endogenous schizophrenics tending to smoke pot), requires life-long, longitudinal, in-depth studies of random or stratified samples of many different populations – a multi-million-dollar effort that might only harden the hearts of confirmed social dope-smokers anyway. Yet at this very moment in drug-recovery meetings all over the world, ex-addicts are “sharing” how marijuana made them insane. Drug advocates avoid those meetings like the plague while continuing to arm themselves with anecdotes and data, argy and bargy, to support decriminalisation, controlled use, non-directive counselling, and sickness benefits with free opioids and tricyclics, not to mention harm minimisation with free needles and safe injecting rooms supervised by million-dollar medical teams like Grey’s Anatomy and House. (Come to think of it, why not raise funds for harm min through reality TV? Needle Exchange and Injecting Room! Pilot plot: sneaky fundamentalists slip narcan into the gear so everybody goes ballistic with deadly detox. Hero Norml-Man comes to the rescue with a year’s supply of Brown H. Message: don’t trust do-gooders.)
In all seriousness I need to know who I can trust to help me remain clean and sober. And I have an answer, although a very personal one. In my thirty-five years around the drug research/recovery industry, I’ve learned that very top professionals with illustrious careers at renowned facilities – the most distinguished men and women of drug research – tend to support complete abstinence as the goal of treatment and the standard of recovery. I rely on them, the best of the best.
For example George Eman Vaillant, M.D. an American psychiatrist and Professor at Harvard Medical School is a world-renowned expert on adult development and the recovery process of schizophrenia, heroin addiction, alcoholism, and personality disorder. He is Director of Research for the Department of Psychiatry, Brigham and Women’s Hospital. As Director of the Study of Adult Development at the Harvard University Health Service, Dr. Vaillant has spent the last 30 years directing a project that has studied the lives of 824 men and women for over 60 years in total. Dr. Vaillant is held in highest esteem by recovering addicts and alcoholics. His own research data convinced him to join forces with recovering alcoholics who go for complete abstinence: he serves as a Class A (non-alcoholic) Trustee of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Here in Australia at the local community level, I only trust physicians and scientists who devote their careers to in-depth study and hands-on treatment of addicts including ones, like me, in substantial recovery. To deserve my trust a physician must understand that, despite my craving for something less arduous than rigorous honesty and complete abstinence, my next lie or subsequent drug might be my penultimate act. This mortal (some might say morbid) world-view of mine extends to the way I view research. A normal psychologist judges a drug study as to its reliability, validity, adequacy, relevance, etc.: in the last analysis a finding can be right or wrong, true or false. For an addict like me it can also be life or death.
For such reasons I trust A Stuart Reece, M.D. MBBS(Hons), FRCS(Ed), FRCS(Glas), FRACGP in general practice in Brisbane. Both a brilliant scientist and a skillful practitioner, Dr. Reece is an Adjunct Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Western Australia who has devoted the last 12 years to treating addicts of many kinds especially opiate addicts with buprenorphine and naltrexone to assist them to become completely drug free.
Another basis for trusting scientists and practitioners like Dr Reece is their willingness to endure internecine bullying from colleagues when they challenge conventional treatment paradigms like methadone and harm minimisation. Methadone is a drug that punishes addicts for their sin: you get hopelessly addicted without ever feeling good. Harm minimisation can be defined as “co-dependence for bureaucrats”. Ultimately harm-min shifts from being a policy to being a mindset that minimises the perception of harm done by drugs, creating a false sense of security.
An important reason for confidence in Dr. Reece is his spiritual beliefs. Because he carefully follows Jesus, Dr. Reece has the right relationship with those who follow him, his recovering-addict patients and friends. The Greek language (but not English) has a word for it,agape, meaning among other things, “love that’s always in the best interests of someone whether they know it or not”.
What follows is strictly for the benefit of those who, like me, have ingested substances that distort and obscure reality. People who have never used drugs or abused alcohol may want to skip the next three paragraphs.
Real life requires and rewards clear perception and appropriate action. Although evil and suffering abound in reality, there is no limit to the real rewards of sustained sobriety: patience, love, kindness, gentleness and self-control. Perceived clearly, life can seem intolerable but is never truly unbearable. And what Einstein called “the marvellous structure of reality” is readily available to everyone with the courage and patience to remain mentally awake and morally straight.
Of course, all of the above requires sobriety, what neurologists used to call a “clear sensorium” and a drug-free central nervous system with all faculties working properly.
Sobriety is also a prerequisite for communication with God, the ultimate in sustainable ecstatic experiences. In the Bible, for example, on the day of Pentecost after Jesus’ death and resurrection, a group of a hundred and twenty experienced the presence of God and acted strangely. The Bible clearly says they were cold sober at the time. Had they taken a drink or smoked a bit of dope, there might be no Christian church.
If you never take hallucinogenic drugs, you may never experience a vivid hallucination. If you do take hallucinogenic drugs, you may never share the ecstatic experiences that Reality offers to sober people, including deeply rewarding interpersonal relationships. If you quit taking hallucinogenic drugs, you can experience all that life has to offer: it doesn’t happen overnight and it’s not easy but it is well worth the time and effort.
If and when you are sufficiently clean and sober you can experience the presence of God. Stoned people think they perceive God but they are deceived. Nothing compares to the presence of God in a sober mind. All drug experiences are deceptive substitutes.
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