One of the biggest unknowns for new users of psychedelics is how the voyage will unfold.
Most people who desire to take LSD understand the myriad of benefits associated with its use, but few individuals are familiar with the hour-by-hour progression of an LSD session.
What happens once you stick the little piece of paper on your tongue?
While the precise details of each trip vary by individual, the general stages remain the same.
Stage 1 and 2: Ingesting the Psychedelic and the Initial Onset
Stage 1 and 2 take about one hour. Once you receive and consume the psychedelic, take the remaining time to talk with your guide.
Are there any additional thoughts you have related to the experience? Ask about them. Do you feel anxious at all?
Express this anxiety to your guide. It is best to express all concerns before the psychedelic begins to affect you.
Once you begin to feel the first effects, you may want to lay down. If you have chosen an indoor setting for the day, this will be easy. If you've chosen an outdoor setting for your trip, it is wise to consume the psychedelic either at the site of your trip or in proximity.
During the initial build-up, find a state of relaxation. Observe your breath as a sort of meditative exercise. If you've chosen a music selection for the day, begin to play it.
Your awareness of reality will soon waver. You will begin to lose control. A slight state of inebriation will start to affect you.
Release control to the LSD by staying with your breath. Take deep, meditative breaths, observing all five senses.
As part of the initial build up, your mind will also be bombarded with new thoughts. Try not to be overwhelmed. Instead, enjoy the rush of images and impressions. Observe them as a curious spectator. Do not attempt to control them.
Stage 3: Opening and Letting Go
After the initial build up comes the 'full-on' stage. It is also called the "Opening and Letting Go" stage.
During this phase, your mind is consumed with the effects of LSD. Stage three typically lasts 3-4 hours and immerses the user in an unfamiliar world.
You must completely let go during stage three. Let go of any thoughts, feelings, and concerns you don't need for the journey. Let go of any expectations about the session. Let go of any personal concerns or personal issues. Let go of each experience, feeling, or visual event as it occurs.
When you let go of control, you enable yourself to experience this new dimension of reality. Your awareness of this alternate reality deepens, and you fully enter the heart of the psychedelic trip.
In letting go, you may experience unusual, somewhat concerning, feelings. These feelings may be physical or emotional. In past trips, friends have described these feelings as 'weird' and 'unusual'. One friend thought she turned into an alligator. If your thoughts begin to freak you out, talk to your sitter for support. Ask for help if you need to.
Stage 4: Plateau
In stage four, you have acclimatized to your new state of mind. Tripping on LSD now feels normal instead of alien. When you have entered into this additional stage of freedom, feel free to sit up and check in with the guide. During this phase, you will feel as if you can function within the normal realms of society again. Reality will seem less inaccessible, but you will still feel heavily inebriated.
Even though the climax of your trip has passed, you will continue to experience new insights about life.
Take this opportunity to do as you please. If you desire to lay still and listen to music, then do so. If you want to get up and walk around, feel free.
The Plateau stage lasts from 2-3 hours.
Stage 5: Gentle Glide
As the defining characteristic of stage four is acclimatization, the defining characteristic of stage five is a slow reacquaintance with reality. Your state of inebriation begins to dissipate, and your ability for rational thought reappears.
Stage five is an excellent time to do personal work. You will be able to integrate much of your learned experience into everyday life. Take a journal and write down any insights from your trip.
Stage five is also a great time go outside and enjoy nature. One of the universal feelings brought on by psychedelics is a oneness, or unity, with nature. Experience this oneness yourself with trees, plants, animals, bodies of water, or the Earth itself.
Stage 6: End of the Formal Session
As your state of inebriation continues to wind down, you will still experience new thoughts and patterns from your LSD trip. Observe these thoughts. Write them down if you feel inclined.
The end of an LSD often brings on a feeling of immense gratitude and appreciation for the relationships in your life. You will feel a surge of love and acceptance of those close to you. If you wish to call these people, limit your calls to those who have experience with psychedelics.
The end of a formal session is also an excellent time to integrate what you have experienced. Pull out a journal, create certain categories of life (social, work, psychological, habits, etc.) and write down any thoughts related to them.
When I first experimented with LSD in my early 20s, I was on a self-improvement kick. For this reason, many of my insights related to how I could improve as an individual.
You now have a general idea of the stages involved in an LSD session.
Keep in mind, these are very general overviews of the different phases. Within each stage, the personal experience will differ based on the individual.
Chapter 13. STAGES IN THE EXPERIENCE
In terms of procedure the drug experience can be broken down into a number of stages or phases. In each of these the subject is involved in a different aspect of the experience and in each he requires appropriate guidance and reassurance. Since no two sessions are the same, any handbook can offer only relatively crude guidance, particularly until such time as specific principles and procedures in the use of the drug are widely studied and become firmly established scientifically. It can, however, suggest those areas of experience and those methods which are likely to prove therapeutically profitable at each stage and it can help to eliminate procedures which are likely to be distressing and wasteful. However, such a manual is no substitute for awareness and understanding on the part of the therapist. As has been pointed out, this understanding is markedly increased by the therapist's having taken the drug several times himself. It is maximized when the therapist joins the subject in the experience and it is for this reason that we have dealt with the use of group as well as individual procedures. The group method serves both as a training for the therapist and as a means of being maximally aware of what is happening to the subject.
The onset of symptoms occurs sometimes between 15 minutes and 120 minutes and usually about half an hour after taking the drug. The period of waiting for the drug to have an effect is important since the psychological set which is established at that time can determine much of what follows. The therapist should aim at avoiding the development of certain unfortunate psychological states in the subject. Boredom on the part of either the subject or therapist must be avoided. The therapist should also aim at preventing the development of a pattern in which the subject is waiting intently for any change which might be ascribed to the drug. Finally, the therapist should be particularly careful to prevent the build-up of apprehension in the subject. Each of these points seems worthy of some consideration.
Boredom is destructive of the therapist-subject relationship. It must, therefore, be carefully avoided in the period of waiting for the drug to take effect. It is, of course, most likely to develop when the onset of symptoms is slow to occur. Then anticipation is apt to be followed by slight anxiety and premature feelings of disappointment followed by boredom. The therapist should avoid developing interests which the subject does not share. At this time the close relationship which is to develop between them can be fostered through consideration of mutually interesting material. This is particularly necessary when the therapist has himself taken the drug. He must avoid becoming too intent upon the development of his own symptoms for the slow boiling of the watched pot may engender frustration.
The subject's attention must also be directed from waiting for developing symptoms and frequently this can be done by directing his attention to poetry, paintings or photographic collections. The Family of Man collection, for example, is not only very useful at this time as an interesting diversion but the subject will very likely find that he wants to refer back to many of the pictures later in the experience. Certain of the photographs often seem to symbolize questions or conclusions which arise as the experience develops. In some cases such pictures form a frame of reference within which the subject may be able to work through some of his emotional problems.
Music used at this time as a background may prove relaxing. However, at the onset of symptoms the function of the music changes and the therapist should be aware of the effect the music is having particularly as symptoms begin to develop. This point is further expanded in the section dealing with the onset of symptoms.
At the time of taking the drug it is helpful for the therapist to suggest to the subject that he will come to notice some very definite changes which the therapist would like to know about. It can be pointed out that when one watches for change one may observe many irrelevant things. Since the effects of the drug do not need to be closely watched for, a quiet relaxation is recommended.
Having suggested this at the outset, the therapist should avoid a mistake which is easily made - that of repeatedly asking the subject, "How do you feel now?", "Have you noticed any changes yet?", etc. If the therapist questions too insistently along these lines it tends to focus the subject's attention almost exclusively upon developing symptoms. These may take on an uncomfortable and unpleasant tone which will tend to have an unfortunate effect upon at least the early stages, if not all, of the ensuing experience.
It is at this point that the subject is most likely to begin to develop a nausea or some other somatic complaint. This can become sufficiently acute, if his interest be centered upon it, to make it impossible for him to concentrate on any other aspect of the experience. Indeed, it seems that here the subject begins to learn one of the fundamental facts of the LSD experience. He learns that concentration upon the self and the use of the self-concept as his exclusive reference point tends to produce difficulties and discomfort in the experience. At this time, it may be well to point this out to him for his subsequent consideration and evaluation.
Despite this need to direct the subject's attention from his symptoms, however, there are, paradoxically, two additional but opposite eventualities which should be avoided. Firstly, it is unwise to so interest the subject in any activity that he becomes unaware of the development of symptoms until they are so far advanced as to shock and frighten him when they suddenly intrude. Secondly, should the subject become so interested in what he is doing as to resent being interrupted, he may well find the developing symptoms a bother and may fight against them to maintain the psychological set which gives him pleasure. This set may also tend to color at least the early stages of the experience and may cause the subject to think along relatively constricted and confined lines by setting up a series of trains of thought which add an unwanted constriction to the situation.
Finally, the production of fear or panic at this stage should be avoided as much as possible. It is likely to prove very destructive as far as the therapeutic use of the later phases of the experience is concerned.
In general the therapist should aim, during this period, at giving the subject such support and assurance as will relieve his anxiety; at making the subject aware of the developing changes induced by the drug and at keeping him from feeling that these changes are threatening, alarming or in any way unusual for people taking the drug. The therapist can call upon his own experiences at this time and use them as a source of reassurance to the subject.
Chapter 14. STAGES IN THE EXPERIENCE
II ONSET OF SYMPTOMS
This phase of the drug reaction usually lasts about an hour after the symptoms become noticeable, although it varies from about half an hour to two hours. It is likely to be the time of maximum discomfort.
The development of symptoms will usually be heralded by the subject's pupils beginning to show a marked dilation. He may appear to shiver from time to time and he is very likely to laugh frequently with little or no apparent reason. If asked to extend his arms and then to bring his index fingers together while his eyes are shut, he will very likely be unable to make his fingers meet on the first attempt. In reporting on what is happening he is likely to remark upon one or several of such changes as a feeling of weightlessness; apparent movement at the periphery of the visual field; alteration in the lightness or darkness of the room; changes in perceived time; changes in temperature; the enhancement of color; changes in the significance of patterns or difficulty in verbalizing ideas because they seem to come more rapidly than they can be verbalized. This may force the subject to withdraw because he simply cannot communicate what is happening. His difficulty in communicating is often intensified by finding that he is thrust into a sudden awareness of startling new aspects of his accustomed thought processes and of rapid rearrangements of old and new concepts which have deeply significant and often shattering implications.
It is at this stage of the experience that subjects who attempt to escape or to fight off the effects of the drug get into difficulties. The types of experience outlined earlier as a flight into ideas and a flight into illness develop at this point. If the subject's thinking will tend to grow confused, and his flight into ideas or illness seems to be an attempt to escape from this confusion which threatens to become overwhelming. The therapist should continue to offer reassurance, should try to prevent the subject from developing idée fixe and should try to keep the subject from becoming pre-occupied with somatic changes.
Music is particularly useful at this time because it serves as a distraction from the physiological effects of the drug. By focusing one's attention upon music one becomes aware of the alterations induced by the drug within a frame of reference in which these alterations can contribute to the beauty of the music. This permits the changes to be welcomed and reduces the anxiety attendant upon their development. Because one tends to float freely in time and space when one is swept up in music, the subject should be encouraged to relax completely and listen. In this way, the disappearance of the body images is often accomplished without particular anxiety or distress.
There is a real danger, in sessions in which the therapist has taken the drug, that he may at this juncture become so remarkably absorbed in music as to lose contact with the subject. This possibility must be recognized and guarded against since this phase of the experience is one in which the subject is likely to need the undivided attention of the therapist.
In group sessions in which the therapist has also taken the drug the subject is often encouraged when he finds him unafraid and apparently enjoying the changes. In any case, the therapist should point out the pleasant aspects of the symptoms. He should, for example, attempt to have the subject realize that the enhancement of his perception, which the drug has induced, should not be frightening. Rather, it should permit a new and startling awareness of beauty.
During this period, the therapist should aim at keeping the subject relaxed and receptive to change. He must avoid letting the subject get deeply involved in an attempt to escape from the drug effect. When the subject seems to become involved in a flight into ideas, the therapist should avoid entering into any prolonged discussion of irrelevancies. Should the subject continue to report unpleasant somatic symptoms the therapist should assure him that these are fleeting discomforts which will pass off in a short time. It should be brought home to the subject too that pleasure and pain are very closely related and that he can feel these symptoms as pleasurable or painful according to his own desires. He should be urged to recognize and enjoy the pleasurable aspects of the symptoms and should be reminded again that self-concentration is almost certain to aggravate the difficulty.
Actually, the pain which is felt is largely a function of the subject's apprehension. In the main the pain is psychologically induced. It is the alarming strangeness of the physical sensations which makes them feel as though they should be painful. As an example the feeling of melting away is frequently mentioned. This sensation is in no way unpleasant unless one becomes alarmed by it and tries to fight it off in which case the tension engendered becomes uncomfortable. It should be pointed out to the subject also that his feelings are directly related to his perceptions which become alarming only when he is feeling adversely and he can control his perception by controlling his feelings. He can then observe this himself.
Alarm, possibly by increasing the adrenalin output, seems to potentiate the physiological symptoms. For this reason it is inexcusable to try to control a subject by frightening him. Nearly all subjects will encounter periods of pronounced anxiety and much of the therapeutic benefit of the experience depends upon learning how to work through the problem areas productive of fear. The above is not to suggest that the therapist should aim at the subject having an anxiety-free experience but rather that he should seek to prevent anxiety being focused upon physical symptoms at the time of the onset of the drug effect.
Chapter 15. STAGES IN THE EXPERIENCE
The dividing line between the period of onset of symptoms and the period of self-examination is a difficult one to draw. However, the role of the therapist differs widely between these phases and their differentiation is necessary. The subject at this point should shift his attention from developing changes in his body and in the world about him to a study of himself. To this point, the experience, though somewhat frightening at times, will have proven exciting and beautiful. The imagery is likely to be unbelievably vast and lovely and relatively impersonal. The subject is likely to try to maintain its impersonal nature. Sometimes he may be able to do this for a matter of hours but usually he rapidly becomes involved in his personal problems. In group sessions, the therapist must not let himself become involved in imagery. He must try to maintain a continuous awareness of the subject.
This phase is really the crux of the therapeutic experience. It is upon the basis of the self-acceptance and self-knowledge which he begins to achieve at this stage that the subject can, with the support of the therapist, gradually come to see into and evaluate the motives which have underlain his previous behavior.
Because the LSD experience is, to such a marked extent, a feeling experience the insight gained by the subject is an emotional insight involving an intensity of conviction which implies acceptance, i.e., emotional insight plus acceptance. On the basis of this insight into his own motivation he can begin to learn how to alter his behavior to satisfy the new pattern of values which develops out of self-understanding. This is a learning process which is never completed but the experience can provide a new understanding and initiative which will tend to speed the process and to maintain the necessary motivation for the patient to begin to alter his attitudes and his habitual modes of thinking and acting.
It is in this phase of self-examination that psychotomimetic reactions develop. In these, the subject is trying to explain or rationalize to his own satisfaction the ideas and feelings with which he is involved.
The therapist who has experienced the drug reaction will have a general idea of what the subject is doing. If the therapist has taken the drug with the subject he will be directly cognizant of the subject's psychological state through his intensified awareness of the feelings of the subject who may begin to reflect hostility and suspicion. To an observer the subject will very likely seem to withdraw and will become more thoughtful and preoccupied.
The subject who reaches this stage is engaged, though he tends at first to be unaware of it, in a soul-searching or self-investigation which can lead either to self-acceptance or to the rejection of certain aspects of the self. The subject's lack of awareness is often due to the fact that much of the material of the images he is dealing with are initially symbolic. A problem may be worked out through symbols which become attached to alterations in visual imagery; to changes which seem to occur in photographs or paintings, or to alterations in the emotional valencies of music.
When, either directly or in symbolic terms the self is rejected, the person will most likely become paranoid and may begin to deny that anything is happening. In any case the experience will become very upsetting for him and he will try in one way or another to withdraw from facing himself. He is, however, too deeply committed by the drug to do this, for LSD has disturbed his body image, his sense of self has forced him into an awareness of the feelings of others and has made him feel that his innermost being is open to the observation of others.
This discomfort is likely to be so intense that he will be forced back into the process of self-examination again and again.
The subject who becomes involved in this process may display intense emotion, perhaps breaking into tears from time to time. Very often too a subject appears remarkably elated and very easily provoked to laughter. He may in fact frequently appear to laugh more or less at random as though he were laughing for no reason at all. This is not the case. His laughter is provoked by his being able to see with a new clarity both the answers to many problems which have weighed heavily upon him, and the inane nature of many of the methods he has been using to cope with these difficulties.
There are steps in the development of self-acceptance which are a direct function of the personality involved and which therefore, we assume, differ remarkably from person to person and cannot be described in any general way. Its achievement is the result of the resolution of the person's own intrapsychic problems. The therapist cannot solve these problems for the subject. What he can do is to offer the subject encouragement or intelligent criticism from time to time.
The therapist, at this stage, should not hesitate, when he is convinced that it will be helpful to the subject, to be insistent that the subject face up to and examine his problems. This does not mean the list of questions the subject has prepared. The subject's problems, at this time, are evident to him without a list. Because of the amazing human propensity for rationalization and because the chief therapeutic value of the level of awareness induced by LSD is that it permits a person to see through his own system of rationalization, the therapist should not accept any attempt on the subject's part to avoid responsibility for his own predicament. Usually the subject will realize unconsciously that he is rationalizing and will seek confirmation and support for his rationalizations form the therapist. Indeed, at this point it is safe to say that he knows he is wrong before he asks a question. However, preferring what he realizes is the wrong answer because it is less painful to the self, he seeks to get outside support and confirmation to bolster his accustomed self-concept.
The patterns of rationalizations may vary but the themes are general. The subject may try to enumerate the ways in which he has done all he could to get along with others. Outside circumstances have been such, he may claim, that a man cannot afford to love or trust his neighbor or indeed deal particularly fairly with him. At times he may feel that the therapist is "putting pressure upon him. He may, too, try to escape self-examination on the basis that it is useless to bother since he is so had that there can be no hope for him.
The therapist should not offer any support for this type of escape. He should refer the problem back to the subject by asking him, "are you certain?" or some such question. The therapist should point out that the subject, and only the subject, can solve the subject's problems. The subject is very likely to find this an excessively painful process but he should be encouraged to go through with it. It is misguided kindness to try to ease the person painlessly through this stage by reassuring him and distracting him from his self-examination. This is much more likely to happen in group sessions, since in that setting it is much easier for the therapist to distract the subject and he is more inclined to do so because the therapist cannot help sharing some of the subject's discomfort.
The therapist must realize that although he senses hostility on the part of the subject, this hostility I only secondarily directed at him. Primarily it is the subject's inwardly directed hostility. The subject, finding aspects of himself of which he is ashamed, attempts to conceal them. This is true in either individual or group session but particularly in the latter. He is aware that the others in the experience can sense his feelings as he can sense theirs and he fears that they will reject and revile him because of what they may discover about him. This comes about through a misinterpretation of feeling as thought which is so common as to be almost universal during the LSD experience. Its occurrence leads the subject, because of the proximity of feelings he develops, to believe that others can know his thoughts. Under these circumstances, self-condemnation produces a consequent fear of and therefrom a rejection of others. This process rapidly accelerates in uncontrolled fashion and leads to the development of a paranoid psychotic reaction.
Almost without exception, subjects will show some evidence of paranoid thinking or marked confusion or both and it is from observations which have proceeded no further that the concept of LSD as being solely a psychotomimetic agent has arisen.
It is a mistake to let a person who is paranoid wander away from the treatment setting. It is through the realization and acceptance of the trust and understanding of the therapist or other group members that he can overcome his paranoid thought disorder. If he is separated from the group for any length of time this becomes difficult. If necessary, he should be reminded of his agreement to stay with the therapist or the group. He will be particularly sensitive to being "watched" or "followed" by others and such a situation will call for a straightforward and honest presentation of the facts. It is, in part, for this reason that the setting should be one in which washroom and toilet facilities are quite close at hand. It should be pointed out when he has lost faith and trust that only through regaining and maintaining these can he enjoy and profit from the experience.
The therapist, at this stage, must also be cautious not to take too much for granted. It is easy to forget how remarkable the first experience with LSD may be and to assume that the patient has progressed further or more rapidly than is the case. When this error is made it is difficult for the subject to continue his self-analysis since the therapist appears to be hurrying him around that difficult hurdle.
The end of this phase of self-examination is not clear cut. It may come quickly or the person may move in and out of it several times. He may find regardless of how frequently he takes LSD that he is re-engaged in the process upon each occasion. In any particular experience, however, the subject will usually show visible relief and the therapist who is sharing the experience will feel a relief of oppression as the subject begins to become more accepting.
In this stage a mirror is often an aid to the subject in achieving a level of self-acceptance and the therapist should encourage him first in seeking the better aspects of the personality of the man in the mirror and subsequently in realizing and accepting all aspects of the infinite variations.
The subject's self-analysis can end on any of several levels. The person may give up the painful process, continue to reject himself and remain quite paranoid for some time. He may become so distressed as to be almost catatonic and stuporous. He may resolve some of his problems but not be able to face others. He may continue to feel himself extremely unworthy, in which case he is likely to remain rather tense and uncomfortable and to show signs of referential thinking from time to time.
To the extent that the person can achieve insight and self-acceptance he will find the experience becoming pleasant and rewarding. Conversely, to the extent that he cannot accept himself he will find the experience unpleasant and will feel hostility toward others in the experience whom he fears will reject him because of what they sense about him. This fact of pleasantness or discomfort in the experience tends to teach him, directly, the value of self-acceptance. Similar discomfort is attached to the lack of acceptance of other people. At first, more or less by accident and subsequently by deliberate experiment, the subject learns that the correlates of acceptance are pleasant and of rejection are painful. When he accepts himself, he no longer fears what others will think of him.
In actual fact all that the others in the experience can be aware of is how the subject feels. They know nothing about the thoughts which give rise to his feelings, but before a person can fully trust another there must be nothing within the self about which he remains defensive. To try to conceal any aspect of the self is to mistrust the acceptance of the others in the group. On the other hand when no masking or apology intervenes between people the complete acceptance of each by the others fortifies the self-acceptance of each.
This does not mean to say that the experience is a sort of confessional or that the subject must, in any way, indicate the nature of his problem. He must simply accept himself as he is and trust the others in the experience to do the same.
The therapist must realize that most subjects are frightened and concerned about what effect the drug will have. They may fear that they will behave in some fashion which will disgrace them. This is simply the realization that there are facets of themselves which they find unacceptable. Many subjects fear that they will lose control over their actions. Most are frightened by the idea that the drug is some sort of truth serum and that they will reveal their innermost secrets during the experience. This does not happen. The subject may, and in fact often does, go through this struggle to self-acceptance without saying anything directly related to the nature of the problems which bother him.
The experience is valuable as a self-analysis. The intent of the therapist should not, therefore, be to use the drug simply as a cathartic or as a means of uncovering repressed material. Certainly the drug is useful in this regard, but its full potential cannot be realized when its use is restricted to this purpose. There is room for disagreement regarding the advisability of the therapist having the subject verbalize the material which the drug brings to awareness. Traditional therapeutic methods would lead to a method in which subject and therapist work through these problem areas together. The therapist in this method would find case history material valuable as a means of stimulating the subjects investigation of his own motives and activity. Other therapists may feel that while such information about the subject might have a certain utility in dealing with him it is he himself who must alter his values and indeed, the more specific the therapist's knowledge of the subject's guilt-producing past behavior, the more difficult it is for the subject and the therapist to arrive at that feeling of equality which permits the establishment of a relationship of complete TRUST.
Chapter 16. STAGES IN THE EXPERIENCE
IV THE EMPATHIC BOND
When, in a group experience, the self-scrutiny of the subject has reached a point at which he has found a degree of self-acceptance there develops a very close empathic bond between the participants. Usually this is formed with a certain amount of hesitation. There will be times when the level of trust is lowered and the bond breaks down. Gradually, however, with greater and greater certainty the subject will come to realize that the people in the experience are particularly aware of each other's feelings and that they can not escape from this awareness even when they desire to do so. This can be a disturbing discovery not only because it does not accord with day to day experience, but also because he continues for some time to misinterpret feeling for thought and feels that his thoughts are directly opposed. In the individual experience the same general empathic process develops though it is of course less evident and far less pronounced.
Such a bond calls for a high level of acceptance of one's self and of the others in the experience or in the situation. It requires a willingness on the part of all participants to accept each other to an unusually high degree. In other words each must be willing to be completely open with the others and to give of himself emotionally, without reservation. It is essentially a self surrender. Huxley (26) has termed it "a willingness to be completely implicated". To accomplish this each person must accept himself and trust the others in the group to accept him as he is despite whatever short-comings he may have.
Not every person in his first experience, is capable of achieving the level of self-acceptance and the acceptance of others which will permit him to establish such a relationship. Some people would require a number of sessions before they would be able to do so.
In view of the discussion of self-acceptance and the acceptance of others in which we have been involved it should be pointed out that such acceptance is an acceptance of essence and the recognition that the act is not the essence. That is to say a person accepts himself or another as a person, as a brother and indeed as an additional self. He does not, by this acceptance, automatically endorse either his own acts or those of the people he accepts. His affection for himself and for others is not related to acts any more than a parent's affection for a child is related to the acts of the child. Some of the acts of a child are right and are rewarded, some are wrong and are censured but the love of the parent is unrelated to the rightness or wrongness of specific acts. Indeed, one of the frequently observed changes in a person who has had the LSD experience is that he finds it much easier to point out to other people aspects of their behavior which impinge upon what he considers to be his rights. He finds it easier to do this because his statement of the difficulty is no longer seen or felt by him to be a condemnation of the other person. By the same token, the other person sensing the lack of anger or censure is the more likely to perceive the request as reasonable.
In each person's development to the point at which he finds it easy to accept and deal with the empathic relations which the drug permits, there appear to be two stages. The first, basically a self surrender, is the willingness to give of the self without reservation and to trust oneself completely to the affection and respect of the others in the group.
The second stage frequently seems equally difficult and comes about through the subjects learning to receive as well as to give. In other words it is the final complete acceptance of the other participants. It is to regard what they have to offer - their view of the world, their particular way of feeling and thinking - as being as valid, as worthwhile and as beautiful as his own. Once this situation has been set up and each individual in the group becomes willing, not only to give of himself without reservation but to accept each other person's point of view and manner of feeling as equally valid, the empathic bond is truly established and the participants are able to feel a unison so complete as to establish a communication verging on the telepathic.
When the subject is unable to complete the bond by accepting the feelings of the others in the group he is likely to revert frequently into self-condemnation or paranoid thinking or in rare cases into grandiosity in which contempt for certain aspects of the others is verbalized or displayed.
About three hours after the drug has been taken most subjects will either have established an empathic bond with the other group members or will have achieved some sort of a stabilization of the experience. At this stage it is possible and valuable to begin a period of discussion.
Unfortunately, this is sometimes impossible, for in some instances the subject remains either violently nauseated or otherwise physically ill and in others the subject continues throughout the experience to be markedly paranoid. In such cases there is little that the therapist can do other than to continue to offer trust, affection and understanding. The therapist must not lose patience and should never try to get the subject to "snap out of it" by directing hostility toward him or by leaving him alone. The therapist can teach only be example. An LSD session spent in being ill or in being psychotic is much less rewarding than one spent constructively but as Gibran (20) has pointed out "Even those who limp go not backwards". Subsequent sessions may lead to much more profitable experiences.
Chapter 17. STAGES IN THE EXPERIENCE
While discussion is an important development in both individual and group experiences, the group experience presents wider scope. The nature of the discussion will depend upon the personalities of the participants. The importance of this period lies in the fact that the subject, having gained a level of self-acceptance and acceptance of others can learn a great deal through the association that this period permits. He is actually learning how to relate to others at a new level - a level based on self-understanding an unashamed trust of his deepest emotions. He is learning about other ways of feeling and of sensing the world. Music is extremely useful in this learning process. Each person tends to hear music in his own way and in a group setting once the empathic bond has been established each person hears the music in a manner which is influenced to some degree by the others in the experience. The subject can learn that by blending his perception of the music with that of the other participants, the enjoyment of all is enhanced. This fusion of points of view or ways of feeling is most readily observable in the perception of music, but having observed the phenomenon in that particular situation, the person can more readily understand the possibility of generalizing this knowledge and capacity to all other aspects of the experience and hence to his [daily] interpersonal relations.
The nature of what is likely to be learned through the experience offers a guide to profitable areas of discussion. The commonly reported areas of experience which Chwelos (13) has enumerated have been mentioned earlier. These include a feeling of being at one with the universe; changes in the perception of time and space; enhancement in the sensory fields, a feeling of profundity of understanding which engenders conviction; increased emotional sensitivity leading to a widening of the range of emotion; an increased tendency to emotional fluctuation; and increased sensitivity to the emotions of others.
These changes are closely related. The alteration in the self-concept and the depersonalization to which it gives rise may be a result of changes in the perception of space and time. In any case, they appear to vary concomitantly. Depersonalization, by altering the self-concept, permits objective self-assessment and when coupled with apparent freedom in space and time brings one to a sense of unity with the infinite. Further, this reduction of the self, which has hitherto been the basic referent for all sensation and ideation permits both a remarkable enhancement in the sensing of the non-self and a new profundity and range in ideation which the self-concept has previously tended to circumscribe and modify. So vast and so intense is the experience that the emotional responses engendered cover the spectrum of affect and appear because of the time distortion to shift with remarkable rapidity.
It is important to realize, with regard to the points which follow, that the feeling of reality which accompanies the experience is often remarkably vivid. Where this is the case, the ideas outlined below, once arrived at, are accepted with an intense conviction.
The person's individuality tends to break down. He begins through the breakdown and synthesis of usual gestalts, to see through the subject upon which he happens to be concentrating, into the microcosm and into the macrocosm. Because his thinking is analogical he can see the same pattern of extension in all things. Each object or person has an infinite number of aspects.
He becomes aware that he too, is part of this pattern of infinity and that the barrier to awareness of this fact has been his accustomed sense of self. This realization renders complete self-acceptance much easier than it otherwise would be.
The objectivity toward the usual self-concept which depersonalization occasions, permits him to examine his relationship to others without any defensive screening. He begins to learn that self concern, implying as it does a feeling of some insufficiency in the self, is synonymous with anxiety and tends not only to isolate him from others but also to make him distinctly uncomfortable.
Complete self-acceptance on the other hand, which implies complete faith in his infinite nature, not only permits him to feel very closely with others and to understand them more completely than he ever has before, but also produces in him feelings of content and well-being.
He comes to the realization that faith and anxiety are mutually exclusive. They cannot be experienced at the same time. Chwelos (13) in discussing this area of experience states of the subject:
"He then sees that lack of faith, or acceptance that he is essentially infinite, is the exact counterpart of anxiety --. He also sees that guilt is disrupting in that it is a denial of the infinite self which is the same for everyone. This equalizing tends to remove any form of pride, prejudice, guilt or anxiety. The person then sees that faith, which is the acceptance of himself as infinite, and love, which is the acceptance that everything around him, is equal to him in substance, is the clue to a smooth, pleasant, useful LSD experience. The patient then ceases the tragedy of desiring to be other than he is in essence and realizes that he can only be other than he is in terms of his acts. The energy thus released from attempting to alter his basic nature will now be used to alter his acts in a way which can make his life more peaceful and satisfying and his outlook more compassionate."
Almost certainly the most valuable knowledge which the subject may attain in the experience is the realization that his feelings are very largely under his own control. Generally speaking, our culture accepts the view that one's feelings are determined by circumstance. In the experience, however, the subject learns that his feelings are determined by their direction. Self-concern makes him feel badly, outwardly directed feelings of affection and trust make him feel good. Knowing this, he can feel as he wants to and can realize the wisdom of Lincoln's statement, "a man is just as happy as he makes up his mind to be". The subject should learn too that the ability to control ones feelings comes only with practice. As Chwelos (13) puts it: "He can feel as he pleases but this takes some practice, as one learns to walk by walking, so one learns to love by loving".
It is the role of the therapist during this stage to try to discuss and work through with the subject some of these extremely complex ideas. As a rule, the subject will broach the ideas himself and the therapist can offer another point of view or aspect of the problem involved. At times the therapist may feel it wise to introduce a topic for discussion but he must be careful that he does not attempt to pressure the subject into accepting his point of view. The pressure for acceptance or rejection of ideas must come from the subject himself if the ideas are to carry emotional conviction.
Referring to this phase of the experience as "discussion" may appear to be unwarranted. It is seldom discussion in the ordinary sense of the word since a person outside of the experience would be likely to have much difficulty in following what was transpiring. There are likely to be very prolonged periods of silence, few sentences may be completed as the thoughts seem to break off in the middle. Actually the close nature of the communication permits this sort of discussion to be filled with meaning as far as the participants are concerned.
As has been pointed out previously the LSD reaction is essentially a feeling experience. The translation from intense but undefined non-verbal feelings into structured, delineated ideas, ideas which can be examined, discussed and weighed intellectually, is almost always made with difficulty.
There are certain types of questions which may be helpful to the subject. Through considering them, he gives ideational structure to what he feels.
Questions which lead to an examination of the self-concept are usually interesting and lead to valuable discussion. This would include such questions as:
1. Who are you?
2. How much does your identity determine your behavior?
3. Where are you in space and time?
4. Where do your thoughts come from?
5. How are you different from other people?
6. How are you the same as others?
7. What is the basis of your system of values?
Questions which may stimulate thinking in the area of inter-personal relations are also extremely useful. This area might be approached through such questions as:
1. If all people are the same in essence, what keeps them separate?
2. What is love?
3. What is wisdom?
4. What is trust?
5. If you could have any single wish come true, what would you wish for?
6. Why are some people more pleasant than others?
Other more useful questions will undoubtedly occur to the therapist and such questions often will act as the beginning of discussion. The therapist must, however, continually guard against the tendency to assume that his answers to such questions are the only correct solutions. The subject's answers will represent truth as the subject sees it.
It is of great importance that the subject in dealing with these questions, attempt to verbalize his conclusions. Memory seems less capable of storing and recalling feeling tones than it does of holding verbal symbols representing ideas. If the subject is to be able to recall and use his experience it is important that his feelings be structured into thoughts and the thoughts described in language and if possible written down or otherwise recorded for subsequent reference. Should he wish to make notes of certain points he should be encouraged to do so. He may find it somewhat difficult to co-ordinate his movements and writing may prove difficult. Osmond (41) suggests the use of a chinagraph pencil which calls for less exact finger movements, yet permits the notation of salient ideas.
Sometimes this is extremely difficult and a very useful short cut into the memory files seems to be made if role-playing [is] introduced. In such role-playing any hypothetical setting may be used and the people in the experience may decide to examine the relationships which would exist between them were they executive, politicians, churchmen, soldiers or any other group. The setting may be anywhere under any conditions ranging from disaster to tranquility. The relationship of each to other may be examined under varying emotional settings ranging from situations in which they relate on the basis of hatred and suspicion to those in which they work with each other in an atmosphere of affection, appreciation and trust.
In view of the level of empathy which exists, this procedure will rapidly demonstrate the motivational pattern of each of the participants and show how these patterns can and do relate to each other. The roles need very little enactment as the potentialities of the personality in the hypothesized situation tend to be very readily evident to the participants.
If the subject has been asked to prepare a list of questions, the answers to which he feels will be helpful to him in guiding his future conduct, he should now be encouraged to look at his list. It is very likely that the self-understanding he has gained will make the answers to the questions seem obvious. Most frequently the questions have arisen from areas in which the subject has been rationalizing to avoid accepting what he already feels to be true. LSD, by removing the need to rationalize, lets him see beyond the question into the underlying motives. He should be encouraged to make certain that he sees the answers clearly and understand how to use this insight. It the subject requests help the therapist should offer any aid he can in discussing such questions.
While this period of discussion actually continues until the experience is terminated, there are other important stages which it overlaps which should be reviewed.
Chapter 18. STAGES IN THE EXPERIENCE
VI DIMINISHMENT OF SYMPTOMS
Usually after about five or six hours the symptoms seem to diminish rather rapidly. The subject will begin to feel that the session is all over. In cases in which the subject has been unable to achieve a high level of experience he may begin to express a desire to end the session. This can be destructive of the relationships which have been built up. If the subject attempts to shake off the remaining symptoms and get rid of them they tend to become more pronounced. The more he fights against them, the more agitated he is likely to become and he may develop a paranoid reaction. His desire to get out of the drug state leads him to feel that that state is undesirable and unreal. This type of thinking, unless diverted, may rapidly lead to suspicion, hostility and withdrawal.
The subject has been warned about this in the instructions given to him prior to the session. A further warning at this time may be useful or may be disregarded. He should be assured that the experience is far from over and much that is interesting lies ahead. It is wise to try to interest him in some aspect of the experience not yet covered or in some area of discussion in which he is particularly interested. It is unwise to leave him alone at this time or to let him leave the group. Any attempt to fight against the residual symptoms is very unlikely to be successful. It should be pointed out to the subject that this apparent diminishment of symptoms is due to his having learned how to adjust to them. They are still present but he is going to put the level of stabilization to something of a test in a short time by going to a restaurant for a good meal.
The discussion may begin to falter at about this time and one way of maintaining interest is by seeing how each person in the group adds to the appreciation of music. Those selections which have the greatest appeal for the subject might be used at this time. The subject will find that when he tries to listen to the music as another person hears it, he will initially find it rather annoying. After a short time he will find his accustomed response to the music altered. Gradually he will see the beauty in this new type of awareness. Subsequently, he can learn to combing his accustomed response pattern with those of the other people present. Whether this actually occurs or could be demonstrated objectively is a moot point. Nevertheless the subject will note a remarkable change in his own perception.
After an hour or two the subject will realize the nature and extent of the symptoms which remain. He will be much more comfortable with these than he was previously because he will have learned how to control them. At this time a discussion may be started about going to a restaurant and about how, in that venture, the remaining symptoms may affect him, or in a group session, each of the people in the group. This discussion will tend to make meeting people en masse much easier.
Chapter 19. STAGES IN THE EXPERIENCE
VII THE MEAL
Where the treatment situation permits, it is often a very useful experience for the subject to get into a situation in which he is observing and dealing with other people while he is still slightly under the influence of the drug. It can be something of a first step in bridging the gap between the LSD experience and his normal day to day living.
Going out for a meal late in the evening when the subject is hungry, provides an easy opportunity for him to learn how to meet and accept people in a way which will accord with what he has learned in the experience. To the extent that he fails he will find the situation growing unpleasant and uncomfortable. What he has learned and the support of the people with him will usually lead him to generalize his learning to this situation and will teach him the advantage of understanding and acceptance in day to day relationships as well as in the LSD experience.
This learning is reinforced by its association with the pleasure of eating after several hours of fasting. As long as the subject remains paranoid or apprehensive, the meal should be postponed. It is extremely distressing for a disturbed subject to have to mingle with a large number of people. If necessary, food should be brought in to the treatment room and the visit to the restaurant omitted. Some subjects, especially among the alcoholic group, may have no desire for food and if they are adamant in their refusal, their wishes should be respected.
Chapter 20. STAGES IN THE EXPERIENCE
VIII TERMINATION OF THE SESSION
The time of termination should remain flexible. After a meal there is likely to be a revival of energy and further discussion may begin. The important thing is that the end of the session should be determined by the feelings of the participants and not by the pressure of outside circumstances.
Twelve hours would seem to be a minimum time to ensure that the subject would not be anxious when separated from the group. Often, however, the latter stages of the session see the development of extremely interesting discussion and the session may last up to 16 hours, depending upon the interest and the stamina of the participants.
Keep the session going until there is no reason to believe that the subject will be troubled by recurring symptoms and until he seems happily confident that he can sleep untroubled by anxiety.
In subjects who have shown little or no reaction to the drug the session may be terminated in a much shorter time, possibly after 7 or 8 hours. In subjects who have remained paranoid throughout, the session should be carried on as long as possible - at least up to 12 hours. Usually the subject will become less hostile and withdrawn and more comfortable and accepting as time goes by.
Where the subject is being treated on an out-patient basis he should be driven or accompanied home by the therapist. The subject should not attempt to drive an automobile. The therapist should help as much as possible to bridge the difficult period of the subject's meeting his family or his wife. The therapist can answer many of the questions which would otherwise be directed at the subject and he thus becomes not only an ally in the situation but tends still further to weave the LSD experience into the subject's daily life.
“So you’re going to take LSD.” Thus begins a how-to manual by Lisa Bieberman, who was then a 25-year-old Harvard graduate and former assistant to Richard Alpert (aka Ram Dass) and Timothy Leary (aka Nixon’s “Most Dangerous Man in America”) in their famed LSD experiments. Published in 1967, the year before the hallucinogen was criminalized, the pamphlet was recently unearthed by Psychedelic Frontier, a blog for the “consciousness expansion” community.
Bieberman seems to have been an ardent but surprisingly down-to-earth acid adherent, and earnest about her task. This guide for beginners is mainly addressed to practical matters to promote the best possible “LSD session.” She is eager to correct disinformation (LSD does not make you think you can fly) and to dispel romantic illusions (LSD does not make you smarter, more creative or a better person). And because she believes that LSD’s benefits are almost entirely emotional or spiritual in nature—and that therefore you and your companions should stay in one room, sit still and say nothing—her advice leans heavily on what NOT to do. Some highlights:
LSD is not for having fun. “A psychedelic session is very hard work. You may have to do an overhaul of your whole philosophy of life, including areas that you haven’t examined for years, if ever…By the time the session is through you will be very tired.”
The best place to have a session, she says, is in a familiar room with total privacy, no telephones or visitors, and easy access to a bathroom.
Do not go to “a beach, a field or woods, unless, again, you are very experienced. There is too much opportunity for disorientation, fear occasioned by meeting strangers, physical discomfort and [getting lost].” “Do not go anywhere.” Do not have a mirror: “On LSD you probably look awful to yourself in the mirror, probably because your pupils are dilated, and you see all your pores. You don’t really look that bad.” But do have a clock. “People having their first session are especially susceptible to the belief that they will not come down. Probably this is because they have not learned to take into account their altered sense of time. This is why a clock is a useful thing to have in the room.”
She offers common-sense etiquette for dealing with your companions, such as:
Do not stare at others “just because their face is changing into a multitude of different forms. They don’t know why you’re staring.” Do not tell others you can read their minds. “The feeling that you know just what is going on in somebody else’s mind, or that they are thinking the same thing you are thinking, often occurs in sessions. Sometimes you’re right and sometimes not…But verbal exchanges under LSD consist of about one-tenth words and nine-tenths innuendo. The result ranges from hilarious confusion to paranoid suspiciousness and annoyance.”
She warns that sessions often devolve into “evasive games” and other manipulative or distracting interactions among participants “in an attempt to avoid the discomfort of being exposed to themselves during a session.” These games include:
Get Me Out of This! “[If you are having a freak-out], do not holler ‘Get me out of this!’ You’ll upset all your companions, and have them solicitously buzzing around you…This can end in screaming scenes and frantic calling of doctors.” Baby: “Some people in sessions go about digging their fingers into things, crushing things, and dropping them any old where. They throw soapsuds or Kleenex around the floor. Now, ordinary objects can be very fascinating when you’re high, holding some of the newness and wonder that they must hold for a small child. But do be gentle.” Let’s Have an Orgy: “Some people faced with the strange and disquieting initial effects of LSD, respond by flinging themselves into a frantic pursuit of sensual pleasure…and try to draw their companions into the game. But loud music, food, sex games, jumping around, can do little to comfort the person whose real problem is that he wants to drown out his thoughts.”
Not long after she published her manual, Bieberman grew disillusioned with the exploding counter-culture and what she viewed as the marketing of the psychedelic experience as “gaudy illegible posters, loud parties, anything paisley, crowdy, noisy discotheques, trinket shops and the slum districts that patronize them.” She blamed “the hippies, with the help of Leary & Co.”
Session Games People Play: A Manual for the Use of LSD
This document was first published as a pamphlet in 1967, shortly after possession of LSD was made illegal in the USA, by Lisa Bieberman. It is a guide for first-time experimenters with LSD, though anyone who uses psychedelics is sure to benefit from reading it. For more on author Lisa Bieberman, visit Erowid. Not much has changed in fifty years — I agree with almost all of her advice, but have amended it with a few of my own comments [in italicized brackets].
The need for a practical manual for the use of LSD has become increasingly apparent to those concerned with psychedelic issues over the past four years. With more and more laymen taking LSD and similar drugs, and with the supposed experts having nothing more instructive to say than “don’t,” the beginning user often has nowhere to turn for the most fundamental information. Miserable sessions are often the result of not knowing basic rules, even so prosaic a fact as how long a session lasts.
What limited literature there is on the conduct of LSD sessions is usually directed to the professional guide, experimenter or therapist. This manual is directed to the consumer himself. Just at present, advising the user to “find a qualified guide” is rather fatuous. Competent guides, available to run sessions for other than close friends, do not exist. I can’t think of anyone, anywhere, to whom I could send the stranger at my door to be guided in an LSD session. And it is the rare person who is willing to wait on the faith that one can eventually be found. It is to be hoped that this state of affairs will not long continue, but with no change immediately in view we must deal with the problem as it exists today. In future years, when we can hope there will be psychedelic centers, staffed by experienced guides, a manual such as this will still be useful, because the LSD experience, personal and subjective as it is, is affected more by the individual’s attitudes and behavior than by anything another can do for him.
A psychedelic session is very hard work, although you may do it sitting quite still and quiet.
The remaining literature available to the layman dwells heavily on poetic descriptions of the LSD state or interpretations of it in terms of oriental mysticism. I have been struck by the number of people who take LSD after reading these books and then get trapped in some ugly little situation that anyone with three sessions behind him could have warned them about. This book is then no tourist’s guide through paradise, but a down-to-earth discussion of the sorts of things that can go wrong in an LSD session and how to prevent them. For those who want a loftier view I recommend Alan Watts’ The Joyous Cosmology and Timothy Leary’s Psychedelic Prayers from the Tao Te Ching. [I highly recommend The Joyous Cosmology but the author is right; that book is more of a poetic description than a how-to manual. For more practical advice you may also want to check out The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide by Jim Fadiman.]
I apologize to my hippie readers for the old-fashioned (1963 vintage) word “session,” realizing that the current term is “trip.” I learned to call them sessions under Leary and Alpert at Harvard and never have gotten used to thinking of the LSD event as a trip, which suggests going away, whereas for me LSD means an intensified being Here and Now. Simultaneously I must apologize to my non-hippie readers for the occasional use of such slang terms as “high,” “turn on,” “bringdown,” and “hung up” in places where more conventional language would be stilted. I trust the meanings will be apparent in context, and have tried not to overdo it. “High” is a somewhat misleading word for being under the influence of LSD, but I use it for brevity.
So You’re Going to Take LSD
Going into an LSD session with the idea that it will all be a lark, a carefree “high,” is a mistake that leads to some bad session games.
So you’re going to take LSD. You’ve got some, hopefully from a reliable source. You’ve heard a variety of reports about it, some of which must have attracted you. You have an idea of the kind of experience you’re looking for, but you’re apprehensive lest you have a “bum trip.”
What you may not realize is that the kind of session you have depends very much on you. Perhaps you have a friend who is experienced with LSD to guide you. This is good, but nevertheless, no matter how good a guide your friend is, you will have to do most of the work yourself.
Work? Can getting high be work? Yes, a psychedelic session is very hard work, although you may do it sitting quite still and quiet. You may have to do an overhaul of your whole philosophy of life, including areas that you haven’t examined for years, if ever. You may be faced with choices or decisions which will be difficult to make. Your way of life, your habits, your relationships with others will all come under scrutiny. By the time the session is through you will be very tired.
Is LSD then no fun? Is it not enjoyable? You have heard that it is an ecstatic experience. So it is, or can be. But this is a very different kind of fun from any that you know about, from ordinary recreation or other sorts of drugs. Going into an LSD session with the idea that it will all be a lark, a carefree “high,” is a mistake that leads to some bad session games.
LSD gives you a new perspective on your life for several hours, and since it is your life you will be looking at, it will not be like anybody else’s session.
Should you take LSD at all? This book does not answer that question, not knowing the answer, and suspecting that you have your mind made up anyhow. There is no physical or mental condition known to be a definite counter-indication to LSD in all circumstances. I would not want to turn on (a) a person under 18 or (b) a person with a history of psychosis, but I would not dogmatically say that such a person could not have a good session under guidance.
I do believe that a healthy adult can have a safe and beneficial psychedelic experience, provided he knows what to do and his expectations are not unrealistic. Some of the common unrealistic expectations are: (1) that LSD will cure something; (2) that LSD will give you psychic powers; (3) that you can have a super sex experience on it; (4) that your LSD experience will be like your friend Joe’s, or like some experience you have read about; (5) that it will be like marijuana, only more so; (6) that if you don’t like it you can always take a tranquilizer and shut it off; (7) that LSD will improve your memory or I.Q.
You may wonder what sort of preparation you should undergo. Actually you have been preparing all your life.
If you are approaching an LSD experience with any of these notions as baggage, get rid of them now. LSD is not magic. It will not make you smarter, or give you any special powers. Your experience will be your own, and not like any you have heard of. LSD gives you a new perspective on your life for several hours, and since it is your life you will be looking at, it will not be like anybody else’s session. LSD is not much like marijuana at all, potheads’ boasts to the contrary notwithstanding. The session may or may not help “cure” some of your psychological problems, but you can’t count on it.
In fact, it’s best to set aside all expectations as much as possible. LSD will almost certainly be different from anything you might expect, so why not go into it acknowledging that it is unknown territory. This may have the advantage of rescuing you from the self-defeating game of How High Am I? Like the proverbial watched pot that never boils, some people manage to hold themselves down by continually looking for symptoms and trying to see whether they are high yet. Since you don’t know what the LSD state is like, there is no point in trying to figure out whether you have gotten there. Assuming it is genuine LSD, and you have taken enough of it, it will do its part. If you must know how high you are, look at the clock. The time schedule of an LSD session goes something like this:
Before you take LSD, make a graph like this, putting your starting time in place of 0, and the subsequent hours in place of 1, 2, 3, etc. Then if you ever want to know how high you are, just check your graph with the clock. This may seem like a quaint idea, but it can actually be very useful. It can keep a session from breaking up too soon (the game of Let’s Call It a Day). It can also save you from spiritual one-upmanship games, in which people worry about whether they have achieved as high a “level” as their friends. I have known people to take too much LSD because they feel that they have not yet achieved an “ego death” or a “first bardo.” Forget all about “levels.” They are pretty meaningless. You will learn what the LSD state is for you, after several sessions. Don’t worry if it isn’t like somebody else’s description. You cannot compare how high you are with how high Joe is. So go by the clock. If nothing remarkable has happened after an hour and a half, you got gypped.
Being told to prepare for a session is a little like being told to “prepare to meet your Maker” a few hours before you are going to be shot.
One hears a lot about “preparation” for the LSD experience. You may wonder what sort of preparation you should undergo. Actually you have been preparing all your life, and those many years of preparation will outweigh anything you can do in a short time before the session. Being told to prepare for a session is a little like being told to “prepare to meet your Maker” a few hours before you are going to be shot.
If there is any last-minute preparation for the LSD experience, it would be in the nature of refreshing in your mind the things that are dearest and most sacred to you. Don’t plunge into oriental philosophy, unless you are already a lover of it. The psychedelic state is no more eastern than western. Think about the things you care about, the people you love, the things you hope to do with your life. Try to clear your mind of negative emotions — resentments, jealousies. Say something nice to your mother-in-law, or whoever fills that place in your world. A good conscience is the best preparation you can have.
A good conscience is the best preparation you can have.
On the technical side, preparation consists in making sure that the physical and social conditions of the session are as they should be. Decide well in advance who is going to participate in the session. You should all know, like and trust one another. The more you have shared of life in common with your session-mates the better. Until you are very experienced you should avoid taking LSD alone, and also avoid two-person sessions. This is especially true for unmarried couples, no matter what their sexual relationship. A two-person session is very difficult, because it puts the whole burden of social interaction on the two people. Talk is difficult on LSD. This is no problem in a group, since the group can sit quietly and nobody will be embarrassed. But in a two-person group a silence becomes awkward. Unhealthy hang-ups on what the other person is thinking and games of Mind Reader result. A relationship can be badly strained when two inexperienced people take LSD together. For your first several sessions stick to three or four member groups. Groups larger than five are to be avoided as to distracting.
[A trip of only two people can be fine, as long as one of you is experienced and both of you understand the risks mentioned in the previous paragraph. For some people, turning on with one experienced friend may be the best possible introduction to LSD. Just agree ahead of time to spend the bulk of your session in silence, so you may explore your own internal universes without distraction. Communicate to each other that there is no obligation to speak at any point, and any “awkward silence” should rapidly give way to a reverent and rich atmosphere of wordlessness. And when you do end up talking at some point, no harm done — just go with the flow and proceed back into your shared silence when the time is right, without taking offense or playing games.]
If none of you are experienced it is a good idea to have a friend along who does not take any LSD.
Throughout this book there is frequent mention of being “experienced” in the use of psychedelics. When are you experienced enough to take LSD alone or to do the other things beginners are warned against? This is a function of responsibility and maturity as well as the number of sessions. You should have had at least four, and have satisfied yourself that you can get through a session — all 16 hours of it — without panicking, becoming confused or unduly depressed, or becoming burdensome to others. You should be aware of what is going on at all points in a session and be able to act on your knowledge as rationally and efficiently as if you were not high. You should be able to carry out the plans made at the start of the session. You should be able to carry on a normal conversation should the need arise. In other words you should be at home in the psychedelic state.
All participants in a session should get together beforehand and agree on the time and place, and composition of the group. All should agree to stay together for at least ten hours. All should have enough knowledge about LSD to be able to avoid bad session games, and should agree not to play them.
A country or suburban setting is best, where you can see something green out of the window and get some fresh air when you open it. If you live in New York City you asked for it.
The place chosen for the session should preferably be someone’s home, if possible a place that is familiar to the members of the group. Make sure you can stay there undisturbed for at least 16 hours. It should be clean, attractive and comfortable. Clutter and mess should be cleaned up. It is a good idea to have mattresses and cushions enough for everybody to have a place to lie down if he wants to (though sitting up is best for most of a session). Blankets and kleenex should be provided. There is no need to import objects of art or special things to look at unless they are particularly meaningful to one of the participants. Otherwise the simpler the better. If music is wanted it should be quiet, melodic music, nothing loud or weird, and it should not be played during the second through fourth hours. [While this is excellent advice for new users, I must add that listening to music–loud, weird, or other–is highly recommended for the experienced user. There is nothing else like it.] Privacy is essential — if the home is one at which visitors are accustomed to drop in, a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door or something of the sort is called for. Nobody should be allowed to come in or go out during the session. It should be possible to go to the bathroom without venturing into public territory. Telephones should be disconnected to prevent both incoming and outgoing calls. A country or suburban setting is best, where you can see something green out of the window and get some fresh air when you open it. If you live in New York City you asked for it.
Do not hold a session on a beach, in a field or woods, unless, again, you are very experienced. There is too much opportunity for disorientation, fear occasioned by meeting strangers, physical discomfort and games of Where’s Harry? By staying in a familiar room you have the physical environment taken care of and you don’t have to concern yourself with it; confusion and distraction are minimized.
You should arrange to have both the session day and the day after it free.
In addition to providing a suitable setting for the session, and approaching it in a tranquil state of mind, you should know how to avoid certain pitfalls. These are such that one might not be aware of them without knowing something about what sessions are like. Almost everyone sooner or later slips into one of these traps, but if you have been told about them in advance you can get out quicker. I have called these things-to-be-avoided “Session Games” (with apologies to Szasz, Berne, Leary, and others whose specific definitions of “game” I have not bothered to adhere to). This then is a primarily negative manual, in that it tells you what not to do. Given good preparation and a knowledge of what not to do, what to do should not be a problem.
When told what not to do in a session, many people ask, “Why — is it dangerous?” Most of these games, with the possible exception of Get Me Out of This, are not likely to be dangerous. I advise not playing them, not because they will hurt you, but because the session will probably be pleasanter and more rewarding if they are avoided. Some people will probably feel this manual is too negative. They will say that by discussing all the things that can go wrong in a session I am giving people a lot of things to worry about. That is not my intention, so let me state clearly: it is altogether possible that you will not be tempted to play any of the games this book warns against. It is altogether possible that your session will be a delight clear through. I hope that it is so. In that case you will not need a manual, but it won’t do you any harm to have read this one.
Get Me Out of This
is the worst of all session games. In its most severe form it can turn a session into a nightmare for everyone involved. But you don’t have to play it, if you make up your mind not to.
Even people who freak out come down on schedule, feeling like fools for having made such a fuss.
It is very common that sometime during the onset of a session, between ½ hour and 1½ hours after ingestion (that sharp rise on the graph), you may feel scared, uncomfortable or confused. This may not happen, but if it does, it doesn’t mean that something’s wrong — it’s just part of the process of getting high for a great many people, especially inexperienced ones. Just why this is so is not easy to explain, because it is a peculiar subjective feeling. It may take the form of a feeling of losing control, of not being able to keep track of your thoughts, or the idea that something is going on that you don’t understand. The sense of losing control is in part illusory: you are actually in complete control of your body, if you had to use it, which you usually don’t, since you only have to sit there. You may not be quite in control of your thoughts. Actually, of course, you never are, even when you’re not on a drug, but on LSD you seem to have more thoughts, going faster and less logically. Your thoughts easily go off on a tangent, so that you may lose the sense of continuity, and moment seems to follow moment without the usual thread of sense connecting them. This can be bewildering, but it is not bad or dangerous, and can actually be quite fun if you don’t fight it.
The reason you can control your body while your thoughts are racing on this way is that your body moves so much more slowly than your mind. For instance, if you were to get up to go to the bathroom you would think of a great many unrelated things while crossing the room, but when you came to take each next step you would remember what you were doing and take it. To you it would seem as if you were taking an incredibly long time to cross the room, but to an observer you would be moving at about your normal speed. It’s important to remember that the sense of incompetency is an illusion, and if you do have to do something, to go ahead and do it, without worrying about the excessively long time that it seems to be taking.
But to get back to the game of Get Me Out Of This — there may come the time, early in the session, when you feel uncomfortable. At this point you may think: Why did I ever get into this? I was happy enough the way I was. I don’t want to get high! I want to come down!
Another common fear is of dying. But no lethal dose for humans has been found, even though people have taken as much as ten times the usual full dose.
Now the one thing you must not do is holler “Get me out of this!” Because the more you fight it, the harder it is to shift gears and go with it. Furthermore, by trying to enlist other people in the fight, you make the problem much stickier. You see, anything you do that affects the world outside your head is a lot harder to undo than the things you only think. (Like many other aspects of the LSD experience, this is an intensification of what is true in “ordinary” life.) If you think “Get me out of this” you can quickly remember that this is the wrong way to go, and correct yourself. But if you yell “Get me out of this!” you’ll upset all your companions, and have them solicitously buzzing around you — and you don’t want that, believe me.
If you persist in this game, it can snowball. You’ll feel worse and worse, want even more to get out of it, provoke more anxiety in your companions, causing you to feel even more confused and helpless, and so on. This can end in screaming scenes and frantic calling of doctors. That’s what’s called a “freak-out.” You may hear “freak-outs” talked about as though they were something that just happened, but actually they can be prevented — and the person who can do the most to prevent them is you, by not playing the wrong games.
You see they can’t get you “off” LSD before it runs its natural course. Asking your friends to bring you down is as practical as asking your fellow passengers on a transatlantic jet to stop the plane and let you off in mid-flight. I don’t advise stocking so-called “antidotes.” These are hardly ever effective when taken by mouth. To terminate a session prematurely requires massive doses of a sedative given by injection, and amateurs are not in a position to provide this. Taking a tranquilizer or sedative orally can do more harm than good, by to pin your hopes on being brought down — hopes which are not fulfilled, and which keep you in your bind of fighting the experience. Once you have started an LSD session you have got to go all the way through it, come hell or high water. If you can’t make up your mind to do this beforehand, don’t start.
[All this may have been true in 1967, but these days benzodiazepines can definitely take the edge off of a bad trip, and quetiapine (Seroquel) can prematurely end a trip through extreme sedation and serotonin antagonism. Nevertheless, I stand by the author’s recommendation to only take LSD if you are fully prepared to go through with it to the end. A trip should only be aborted with sedatives in an emergency. Although benzodiazepines may also come in handy if you, like me, have trouble sleeping after a 16 hour psychedelic session.]
Just try for a moment to take your mind off your own anxiety and think of your friends around you, and you’ll be amazed how quickly you’ll feel much better.
What should you do then, when you start to feel scared or unhappy? Well what would you do in a non-drug situation that was scary and unavoidable? You’d try to be as brave and cheerful as you could be, and to keep up your companions’ spirits as well as your own. The same approach can work wonders in the LSD session. Holding hands around the circle is a good way of communicating courage and support. In the LSD state you can change your mood very quickly. Here, as with physical action, there may be an illusion of incompetency. You may think you’re so frightened or so depressed that you couldn’t possibly smile, or get to like the experience. But just try for a moment to take your mind off your own anxiety and think of your friends around you, and you’ll be amazed how quickly you’ll feel much better. This sounds like a platitude from Sunday School, but somehow those Sunday School truths are truer on LSD than just about anywhere.
If you’re simply not up to being brave, the other thing you can do is Collapse. Just put your head in your lap, and abandon yourself to whatever-it-is. You can’t go wrong that way — and you’ll soon find out that whatever-it-is isn’t going to hurt you at all.
[An amendment is required here, because the author may seem to suggest suffering in silence as your anxiety mounts. While it is certainly bad form to shout “Get me out of this!” at the top of your lungs, you are also not required to stand idly by, trying to maintain composure while your mind is twisting in agony. Just look to the most experienced member of your session, or the sober guide, and say that you feel anxious. Often all that is needed is something positive for your stimulated mind to focus on. The guide may not even need to speak — he may just smile at you quietly, allowing you to gaze at his reassuring face. In such an emotionally tender state, you cannot help but be affected by a calm and joyous face.
If more is needed, the guide or most experienced member can take you aside in another room. The best advice here is to focus on something new, rather than attending to the anxiety in a self-defeating loop. Put all your attention on something positive — your loved ones, gratitude, or something visually interesting such as wood grain or a leaf. Singing can also liberate you from anxiety — it expels emotion while giving you an activity to focus on and a beautiful sound to listen to. It doesn’t matter what you sing, just start by with any sound and improvise from there. The mind only has so much bandwidth, even in the expanded state, so if you are attending to singing you will have no resources to spare on tail-chasing anxiety.
These recommendations are specifically for handling trip anxiety, which is fed by attention and withers without it. If you feel other strong emotions such as grief, nostalgia, or anger, let them in. Distractions will not work on these deeper issues. Accept your feelings and embrace the experience, even if it is unpleasant. Resistance is the surest path to misery.]
At this point it may be useful to debunk some of the ideas that make people think there is something to fear. Probably the fear itself is caused by something deeper than misinformation, but the rational mind has a way of fastening onto certain bugaboos and making of them reasons to go on being afraid.
You don’t have to worry about what you’ll do. The easiest thing is just to sit there, and in most cases, that’s exactly what you should do.
The commonest fear is of not being able to come down. As I have pointed out, it is true that you can’t come down for several hours, but some newspapers and magazines have done a great disservice by circulating the belief that some people who go on an LSD trip “never come back.” This nonsense is responsible for much unnecessary terror. Of course you come back. This is just common sense. LSD, like other drugs, has a time-schedule of action. There is no more chance of you still being high on LSD a week after taking it than there is of your still being under the influence of alcohol, caffeine, or benzedrine a week after a single dose of one of those drugs. The typical duration of an LSD session is 12 to 18 hours, plus four to eight hours to sleep it off — perhaps a little longer if an excessively large dose is taken. Even people who freak out come down on schedule, feeling like fools for having made such a fuss.
People having their first session are especially susceptible to the belief that they will not come down — this goes for those who are having ecstatic experiences as well as for those who are scared. Probably this is because they have not learned to take into account their altered sense of time. This is part of the reason why a clock is a useful thing to have in the room.
Another common fear is of dying. There are various reasons why people get the idea that they are dying during a session, but you need not get hung up on this if you just remember that nobody has ever been known to die of LSD — and it’s been around for more than twenty years and has been taken by hundreds of thousands. No lethal dose for humans has been found, even though people have taken as much as ten times the usual full dose.
What it comes down to is that there is really nothing to be afraid of in the session.
Some people worry about losing their control and doing something wrong or crazy. This is an illusion. The actuality is just the opposite — that it takes a certain amount of will power to do anything at all. You don’t have to worry about what you’ll do. The easiest thing is just to sit there, and in most cases, that’s exactly what you should do. Since LSD has been heralded in the press as a producer of temporary insanity, we will probably be seeing criminals use it as an excuse for their crimes. The jury may buy it, but this is just nonsense. LSD doesn’t take away your knowledge of right and wrong or your control over your actions.
As long as LSD is an illegal or semi-illegal drug in some states, users will worry about being arrested. This shouldn’t be a problem if you keep the following things in mind: (1) you should not let anyone in who is not a part of the original group; (2) if despite plans you do come into contact with an outsider he will not know you’re high. It’s not obvious to him the way it is to you — you don’t have to make explanations; (3) even if he suspects you’re high he can’t prove it; (4) simply being high is not grounds for arrest. If it will make you feel safer, make sure there are no drugs in the house.
A fifth thing people worry about in sessions is whether their companions are playing some sort of trick on them. These are the “paranoid” feelings you hear about: you may think your friends are looking at you strangely or that their words have hidden meanings. The knowledge that you have chosen your session-mates from among people that you trust, and that the paranoid feelings are a common occurrence on LSD should be enough to keep you from getting too embroiled in these fantasies. Think of something nice about your friend and he will look nicer and less menacing.
An LSD session will always be an intense encounter with reality. Every session counts.
What it comes down to is that there is really nothing to be afraid of in the session. This will be clearer if you analyze the situation as follows: Suppose you didn’t take LSD, but just decided to get together with a few friends and sit and think for 16 hours with occasional conversation. You might get bored, but you’d be in no special danger. Now in the LSD session, the external situation is just the same as the one described. The only difference is in what’s going on in your nervous system. Your body chemistry has been changed in such a way that for 16 hours you will experience and think very differently from the way you usually do. But that can’t hurt you. The next morning you will wake up pretty much your old self except that a very unusual 16 hours will have been added to your store of life experience.
So you don’t need to get out of it. And if you refrain from trying to do so you will have averted the worst thing that can go wrong.
If one of your session-mates is playing Get Me Out of This do not tell him you will bring him down, and do not offer to get him a doctor or an antidote. Do remind him that the experience is transient if that’s what he’s worried about, and do assure him of your support. But don’t make a fuss or try to be a psychoanalyst. It’s usually useless to ask what’s wrong, as he probably can’t explain. Given your trust and confidence, he can work through his own fears.
I have been discussing the game of Get Me Out of This as it occurs early in a session. Occasionally it is also played around the seventh hour, during the “re-entry” period. Here the problem is less likely to be fear than to be physical discomfort, tiredness, depression or disappointment at coming down. These problems are seldom severe if you’ve done what you should during the earlier hours, and if you stay where you are and don’t play Let’s Call It a Day. The rule is the same: don’t try to get out of it. This phase too must proceed at its own pace. If your muscles are tight, a little Librium or marijuana can help relax you. Alcohol and heavy eating are to be avoided.
This One Doesn’t Count
is a game played whenever you take a psychedelic for any trivial or unearnest purpose.
The commonest instance is when taking a drug whose potency you are uncertain of. So you try a little to see if it works. And it does. And then you discover that you are going to have to go through the whole thing, and you really hadn’t planned on it.
Then there are sessions entered into for the purpose of testing some impersonal scientific hypothesis about the effects of the drug. Let’s take some LSD and see how fast we can memorize nonsense syllables or how big our pupils get.
There is nothing wrong with testing scientific hypotheses under LSD, but this is best left until you are sufficiently experienced to do these things without losing your grip on the spiritual nature of the experience.
An LSD session will always be an intense encounter with reality. Every session counts. If you remember this foremost when going into a session, you will be able to keep other purposes in their place.
The four games that follow: Baby, Couch, Drunk, and Let’s Have an Orgy overlap to some extent and have at their common root an attempt to evade responsibility in the session. Probably we all play various games to avoid responsibility in our daily lives, some of which LSD tends to cut through and expose to us. Some people, in an effort to avoid the discomfort of being exposed to themselves, plunge into a number of distracting games which seem to be attempts to prove that they are really drugged, irresponsible and don’t know what they are doing; or they may try to become completely dependent on someone else, like a child. Alcohol parties are the prototype for this kind of game in our culture. Because alcohol, in large doses, really does cloud consciousness and impair functionality, there is some truth in the claim that a drunken person is not fully responsible. This gives the game players tremendous latitude to make fools of themselves, excusing it later on the grounds that they were drunk.
On LSD there is no such excuse. Consciousness is heightened, not clouded, and there is no particular impairment of muscular coordination, beyond, perhaps, some initial dizziness. if you get into any of the following games you’ll know it’s your own fault, whatever you may let others think.
A young man I know who has just passed his first birthday has a standard procedure whenever he sees something interesting or pretty. He grabs it and gleefully pulls it to pieces. Some people in sessions are almost like this. They go about digging their fingers into things, crushing things, and dropping them any old where. They throw soap suds or kleenex around the floor. Now ordinary objects can be very fascinating when you’re high, holding some of the newness and wonder that they must hold for a small child. But do be gentle. Don’t destroy what you appreciate. Otherwise you will have a gruesome re-entry, as you come down to a room that is a complete mess. And you’ll have to clean it up — or you’ll never find your shoes.
Another variant of Baby is where a session participant acts helpless and expects others to look after him. He communicates only in monosyllables or meaningless noises, wants others to pay attention to him and fetch him food and water. I suppose Freudians would call this “regression to the oral stage,” but I call it playing Baby, as a reminder that it doesn’t just happen to a person, but is within his control. If you play Baby, you will miss the joy of sharing the experience with your friends. Besides, you will feel like a fool later, and nobody is likely to want to turn on with you again.
is a game where you decide the session was made for your personal psychoanalysis and start telling whoever will listen all about your childhood traumas and current neuroses.
Now a degree of self-exposure in a session is good. As you see through some of your phobias and hang-ups you feel elated and want to tell somebody, and you often find that your friends have been hung up on the same petty thing that you have, and you laugh over it together and enjoy the feeling of relief.
Playing couch is another matter. Pouring forth your entire stream of consciousness out loud is not honesty, it’s an attempt to monopolize attention, and it also tends to keep your mind in a rut, shutting out new ways of looking at your problems.
People who play Couch are terrible bores. Of course it’s different if you are turning on with a psychoanalyst, and that’s what he wants you to do. I can’t imagine wanting to turn on with a headshrinker, but there’s no accounting for tastes.
The person who plays drunk tries to avoid any existential encounter in the session by reducing it all to silliness. He knows that anything he may be experiencing is “only the drug” so he’s not about to let it move him. He giggles and snickers incessantly, moves with exaggerated clumsiness, and generally acts the buffoon.
Like Baby and Couch this is a case of carrying to extremes something that is a normal element of the session. There is an aspect of absurdity and humorousness to ordinarily serious things which is one of the delights of the LSD experience. It would be a strange session in which nobody laughed.
The trouble with the guy who plays Drunk is that he won’t leave room for anything else. Nothing can be sacred to him. He can’t say anything sincere without immediately qualifying it with a nonsensical or cynical remark. Often he shows that he thinks of his “indulgence” in LSD as a dissipated or naughty thing to do. In other words he does everything he can to shield his little ego from the impact of LSD by pretending that he is just on a drunk. He cheats himself and brings his companions down.
Let’s Have an Orgy
is like Drunk, only worse. In one of my first morning glory sessions there was a boy who kept stamping the floor nervously and insisting, “Let’s put on some records and have a fuck’n party” — somewhat to the confusion of others who, just feeling their way into this new state of consciousness, were not at all in the mood for a party, but wondered whether they were being party-poopers for not going along with these demands.
Some people, faced with the strange and disquieting initial effects of LSD, respond by flinging themselves into a frantic pursuit of sensual pleasure. It is a kind of way of playing Get Me Out of This without the screaming. And like Baby and Drunk it draws on the cultural association of drugs with irresponsibility and wild behavior. To help convince himself, the player usually tries to draw his companions into the game. The forced nature of this behavior is obvious when you realize that LSD actually decreases, at its peak virtually eliminates, physical cravings. Loud music, food, sex games, jumping around, can do little to comfort the person whose real problem is that he wants to drown out his thoughts.
If one of your session-mates is playing this game, do not feel that you have to play it with him in order to be a good sport. Sit quietly and encourage him to do the same. The real pleasures of the session, including the sensory, come without seeking them, without straining, without doing anything.
is a game most often played around the fifth hour of a session, though it can crop up any time.
You think you’d like to wander off from the group and go do such-and-such (eat supper, see what Harvard Square looks like when you’re high, visit Joe, etc.). If you slip out on a pretext of going to the john nobody will notice for a while. You feel confident that you’ll be OK. After all, it’s your session, don’t you owe it to yourself to see all the things you can while you have a chance?
You do not. In the first place it’s very inconsiderate. Your companions will notice your absence very soon. Time passes slowly for them — even a ten minute absence can seem like an hour. You are in a state where you are easily distracted. Once you wander off there’s no telling when you’ll get back. And all the while your companions can think of little else than “Where’s Harry? Is he all right? Shouldn’t we send somebody to look for him and make sure?”
The trip is internal. Moving around and seeking a large variety of external stimuli is only a distraction.
You may feel that of course you’re all right and it’s silly for them to worry. Nevertheless they will, and this is quite natural. There is still a certain amount of distance between you and the un-bedrugged world. Your friends aren’t sure but that you could get into some kind of trouble. It seems as though you’ve been gone for an awfully long time.
In the second place, you are confusing categories if you think that seeing as much as possible during a session means wandering around and seeing as many physical places and things as possible. The trip is internal. Moving around and seeking a large variety of external stimuli is only a distraction.
A third reason is that people who are going through a session together form a small community. Staying together helps keep everybody turned on, by mutual reinforcement. You would find that people outside are not so easy to communicate with, not having been through this very intense experience with you and your friends. Your friends need you to help maintain the group feeling, and you need them. So stay together. This doesn’t mean you should shut yourself off from your non-psychedelic friends — but there will be time enough to see them when you’re not high.
If another member of the group pulls a Where’s Harry? on you, do not send a person who’s high after him, as this will just change the game into one of Where’s Harry and Bill? If there is someone there who hasn’t had any LSD, you can send him to find Harry and try to persuade him to come back, or at least make sure he’s OK.
Verbal exchanges under LSD consist of about one-tenth words and nine-tenths innuendo.
The feeling that you know just what is going on in somebody else’s mind, or that they are thinking the same thing you are thinking, often occurs in sessions. Sometimes you’re right and sometimes not. The question whether actual telepathy takes place during sessions (or at any other time) is a controversial one. But one thing is certain: at least sometimes when you think you know what your companion is thinking, you are definitely mistaken.
Verbal attempts to establish whether your effort at mind-reading has been successful are most unsatisfactory when conducted during a session. This is because verbal exchanges under LSD consist of about one-tenth words and nine-tenths innuendo. Unfortunately, the innuendo which the speaker intends to communicate, or things he has communicated, is often very different from what the listener thinks he meant. The result ranges from hilarious confusion to paranoid suspiciousness and annoyance. Facial expressions are not an adequate indicator of thoughts either, because you can see them distorted, and can project your own feelings onto them.
An unfortunate byproduct of the game of Mind Reader is that the player may feel let-down and betrayed when his companion fails to act on the understanding which the Mind Reader erroneously thinks has been reached. Or the Mind Reader may become paranoid when he thinks he perceives hostile thoughts in his companions. Also, he may confuse his companions if he adopts an “I know what you’re thinking” or “You know what I mean” attitude. The companion wonders desperately how to respond in this situation where he is in the impossible position of not knowing what his friend thinks he knows his friend thinks.
The rules to follow in order to avoid these hang-ups are: (1) Don’t assume that you know what your companions are thinking, even if it feels that way; (2) Don’t assume that they know what you are thinking; (3) Avoid extended conversation during the peak of the session. Do not try too hard to make sure that you understand what one another are saying; if this effort becomes too involved, give it up and have a period of silence; (4) When you do speak, speak literally rather than figuratively, in brief concrete sentences; (5) If asked a question, give a literal, straightforward answer.
If you wish to experiment with ESP during a session, this should be agreed upon by the members beforehand. Like other scientific tests, this is best postponed until you have had several experiences with LSD.
I Have All the Answers
There are valid insights to be had in the psychedelic state, but their value lies in their applicability to daily life.
Novices in LSD sessions sometimes become convinced that they know the answers to all the mysteries of life and the universe. The very people who are most dogmatic about this are often the most confused and perplexed around hour seven when they are returning to ordinary consciousness.
Go lightly. There are valid insights to be had in the psychedelic state, but their value lies in their applicability to daily life. Remember that you are in a transient state, and think of how you can put your insights to work to help you lead a better, richer life in your ordinary consciousness. Do not force your ideas on your consciousness. There is nothing wrong with expressing your thoughts, but you should respect the fact that your companions have thoughts of their own.
If you ever feel that you have all the answers you may be sure that you don’t — no matter how many sessions you have had.
The Messiah player not only has all the answers, he’s going to tell the world about them. He runs out into the street or grabs the phone and tries to call the President. Anyone who interferes with him is preventing the salvation of the world and is put in his place.
One can’t help sympathizing a bit with this guy. The world does need saving. If only it were so easy. Alas, the insights of LSD, vivid though they may be to you, are not readily communicated. Being essentially nonverbal, they are not even easily remembered. You will be batting above average if you can save yourself.
The urgent message you have to convey to those outside, if it is really communicable and worth communicating, can be conveyed tomorrow, more effectively because you will be in a state of mind nearer to that of your audience. Write it down.
Us Against Them
The people who ban LSD don’t know much about the nature of the experience.
There is something about LSD revelations that makes them seem so obvious you can’t figure out why you never saw them before. This tempts some people to jump to the conclusion: It’s Them. They (the squares, the Establishment or what have you) don’t want people to know this. They’re keeping it secret.
Now this doesn’t make much sense, because They would have to take LSD Themselves to have this particular secret to keep — and They don’t. But the legal restrictions on psychedelics add impetus for many to leap to this implausible hypothesis, and to build on it a view of society divided into the Good Guys and the Bad Guys.
There are two separate questions here: Why are the psychedelics banned? and Why do you not ordinarily have the degree of illumination that you have when you’re high? I doubt these questions have any connection with one another, because the people who ban LSD don’t know much about the nature of the experience. Politicians who make laws are usually motivated by a complex mixture of the desire to promote the public welfare and the desire to promote their own careers, conditioned always by what they know and what they don’t know. Some undoubtedly sincerely believe that LSD is dangerous, and that passing a law can reduce the harm. Others may not give a hoot about LSD, but see a chance to make political capital out of the issue. What is extremely unlikely is that a group of evil men in a smoke-filled room conspired to keep some cosmic secret from the public knowledge. [Consider Hanlon’s razor: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”]
The reason why you do not have a certain kind of consciousness without the aid of LSD is probably just that your nervous system doesn’t work that way. Should it work that way? Is the psychedelic state the natural state, which you have been deprived of by your particular kind of upbringing?
The effort to bring back and apply to your life what you have learned from LSD is a continual challenge.
I don’t think so. There is no evidence that any culture, anywhere, ever produced a race of permanently turned-on individuals. The psychedelic state, which is suited for contemplation and for overviewing the universe, is probably not well suited to the kind of daily work that produces the necessities of life. Remember that the psychotics and Holy Men who are (somewhat romantically) supposed to have attained a permanent high generally have to be supported by others.
Does this mean that you can take nothing of the experience back with you? Obviously this is not so, since psychedelic experiences seem to make such a profound impression on those who have them. Any insight which you can formulate verbally can be brought back, and will continue to be useful even though it no longer has the emotional immediacy of the session. Some of the ecstatic glow can be remembered, but only dimly; and you will realize when you have a second session how much you had forgotten. The effort to bring back and apply to your life what you have learned from LSD is a continual challenge.
It is to be hoped that you will not go back with an arrogant view of humanity that divides the world into We who have Been There and They who have not. A sense of community with your fellow LSD users is natural and good, but if you sever your relations with non-users and look down on them as squares you will become irrelevant, and your message will not be heard.
Let’s Call It a Day
is the commonest of session mistakes, and perhaps the one least deserving of being called a game, since it so often results from ignorance, rather than from any dishonesty or evasion. It is simply the attempt to terminate the session too early.
The re-entry period feels a lot more like the normal state than the earlier hours, but it is not the normal state. Rushing back to everyday activities tends to dissipate the insights of the session.
An LSD session lasts at least 12 hours, more often 16. But as you can see from the graph, there comes a time between the fourth and sixth hours when the intensity of the experience drops sharply and the remaining hours are a kind of leveling out. This time has sometimes been called the “re-entry period.” The re-entry period retains the accelerated thoughts of the earlier parts of the session, with somewhat more visual distortion and somatic sensations, and less of the euphoria and flexibility of mood. It feels a lot more like the normal state than the earlier hours, but it is not the normal state. Most people who have not been told otherwise assume that the session is over when they reach this point around the fifth hour and try to go back to everyday activities, go out, eat dinner or try to sleep.
This is a mistake, because rushing back to everyday activities tends to dissipate the insights of the session, and it also tends to be depressing or a “bringdown.” Sleep is impossible, and premature attempts usually make you uncomfortable. Eating too early in the session can make you feel sick.
Actually some of the most valuable work of the session can be done during re-entry. This is the time when you can think over the insights of the session, from a vantage point somewhat closer to your usual state. In fact whether your experience is merely an isolated event or is relevant to your life as a whole may depend largely on how you use your re – entry time. Stay in one place, together with your session – mates. You can talk more now than you did before, but periods of silence are still helpful. Sit quietly and meditate; don’t become distracted. This takes patience, because re-entry hours pass very slowly. By the eleventh hour it is OK to eat a light meal or to go off by yourself if you want to. After sixteen hours you should go to bed and get some sleep. If you have difficulty sleeping at this time a light dose of Librium or phenobarbital will help. You will be somewhat high until you go to sleep.
A Few Tips
A session is tiring enough without staying up all night. Get a good night’s sleep and start in the morning.
Shun mirrors. On LSD you probably look awful to yourself in the mirror, probably because your pupils are dilated, and you see all your pores. You don’t really look that bad. [For experienced users with a healthy self-image, however, I highly recommend gazing into a mirror for some time.]
Don’t stare at a companion, just because his face is changing into a multitude of different forms. He doesn’t know why you’re staring. [Unless you verbally agree to stare at each other. The “conversation without words” can be one of the most astonishing and bonding experiences of your life, so please consider trying it — just be sure to communicate with your partner before staring at him!]
Respect the undrugged state — you have to live in it. Write your memoranda in a form that will make sense to you tomorrow. [If you prefer, use a tape recorder to capture your thoughts. But take notes of some form, so the moments and insights that felt so special do not melt away in the harsh light of sober consciousness.]
To avoid bad session games: Stay in one place Don’t talk too much Be considerate of your companions
So You’ve Had LSD
First of all, if you haven’t had several hours sleep since you took the LSD, you’re on the wrong page. Go back to the page headed “Let’s Call It a Day.” Come back to this section tomorrow morning.
So you’ve had LSD. It was your own unique experience. You may be wondering whether various aspects of your session were typical or not. Undoubtedly some were and some weren’t. Since you are a unique person, your experience was not quite like anybody else’s. If in the coming weeks you find, talking it over with your friends, that something happened to you which nobody else is expressing, that, at any rate, is very typical.
After you have lived with it for several months you can come back to LSD from a new point on your life path and find new messages and new meaning.
For the next several days you will experience a mood which is a little different than your usual one. If the session went well, you’ll probably feel better than usual. But if the session was disappointing you may be depressed. If so you should be aware that this is an after-effect which will go away within about two days. The experience of an altered mood after a session lasts about as long as the physiological tolerance to LSD and may quite possibly have a physical, as well as a psychological basis.
You may be wondering whether you should take LSD again, and if so how soon? I advise waiting at least three months. Why so long? Well hopefully this session has given you a lot to think about. You should have time to work on integrating what you have learned into your everyday life. After you have lived with it for several months you can come back to LSD from a new point on your life path and find new messages and new meaning. But if you take LSD too frequently it can become a disruptive force: instead of gaining strength and understanding you may only become more confused. Also the experience may lose its profundity, may become commonplace and ineffectual. In general I find that the longer I wait for a session the more meaningful and helpful it is.
(If this talk of meaning leaves you cold because your experience wasn’t very meaningful, it may be that you got gypped on the dose, or it may be that your state of mind kept you from letting go. I’d still recommend waiting a few months before trying again.)
I think most people, just after a session, realize intuitively that they should not turn on again soon — but sometimes they forget how they felt and do it anyway. Therefore you should make a decision now about how long you are going to wait and stick to it.
If you do take LSD again, your next session will be different from the first — in fact each following session will also be different. There is something very special about a first session which is never quite repeated. Do not try to repeat or relive past sessions, but be open to what each new experience has to add to what you have learned. Now that you have had this experience, why do you do about it? People have been asking this question ever since psychedelics were discovered, and it has never really been answered. Do you go turn on everyone that you can (hoping that maybe they’ll figure out what to do about it)? Do you emulate the hip crowd, adopting their “psychedelic” fashions and jargon? Should you become a monk? Take up Buddhism or astrology? To whom should you turn for advice?
A complicating factor is that at the present time of writing (early 1967) the word “psychedelic” seems to be an adjective that sells soap. A great deal that has little relevance to the LSD experience goes under the name “psychedelic.” Don’t be hasty to plunge into what somebody else calls “psychedelic” if it doesn’t make sense in terms of your experience. Suspend judgment on it and see what sort of people are involved in it and where it is leading them. The same goes for cults that other LSD users may belong to. Cults and fads are transient. Try to distinguish them from that which is of lasting truth in your experience.
The ways in which people incarnate their vision are as individual as their lives.
Because the use of LSD is a controversial social issue you will have to decide what part you will play in the social and legal conflicts over this issue. It may be my own bias, but I feel that everyone who owes something of value to LSD should take some part. There is something eroding to one’s integrity about keeping silent and doing secretly what others are going to jail for. Of course you do not want to go to jail yourself and thus curtail the good you can do. It is necessary to learn the law in your area (from the statutes, not from rumor) and to learn for what people are prosecuted and for what they are not. One is not, for instance, prosecuted for writing or speaking out about his experience or the LSD issue in general. Some may choose to be prosecuted in order to make a test case, but this course of action is not for everyone, and if you are considering something of the sort you should plan it very carefully with the help of a lawyer.
The ways in which people incarnate their vision are as individual as their lives, and this book can go no further in telling you how to do it. You will find some of the answer in your sessions and in your life experiences between sessions. It may be as simple as living, or as difficult.
Appendix On Other Psychedelics and Dosage
What this book says about LSD goes also, in a general way, for peyote, mescaline and psilocybin, and sometimes for morning glory seeds and baby woodrose seeds, although these latter don’t seem to work for everybody. The main difference is in timing.
While LSD takes effect within an hour, mescaline requires a little longer, and peyote and morning glory seeds take from three to four hours. The duration of the experience is a little shorter with mescaline or peyote. I have not taken psilocybin, but I am told that its effects last about half as long as those of LSD.
When using peyote, mescaline, or seeds, there is often some nausea. For this reason these substances should be taken on an empty stomach, and a travel sickness pill such as Dramamine taken along with them. If nausea occurs, lie down and keep still; do not vomit before three hours have passed. Usually the sickness will go away as you get higher. Nausea hardly ever occurs with LSD; if it does it is all right to vomit, because the LSD will no longer be in your stomach.
The psychedelic dimethyltryptamine (DMT) has exceedingly brief effects (half an hour or less). For this reason it seldom has the philosophical impact of the other psychedelics. The quick-and-easy quality of DMT sometimes leads to its over-frequent use and resultant cheapening of the psychedelic experience. This drug should be used no more often than LSD.
[I disagree on several counts. While the DMT experience is more difficult to make sense of due to its intensity and brevity, there are many “philosophical,” emotional, or spiritual truths to be gained from it. And in order to gain experience with the DMT headspace, it must be dosed more often than one would dose LSD or mushrooms. A weekly DMT regimen would not be excessive, in my opinion, if the user bringsintention and attention to his practice. With just a fifteen-minute trip once every 3 months, you are practically guaranteed not to learn anything — the bulk of your trips would be spent regaining your bearings!]
Dosage The beginner should take a full dose, if anything one that is a bit on the large side to help overcome resistance. Later you may find that a smaller dose is adequate for you. There is no reason to take a larger dose than is necessary to induce the psychedelic experience, as these excess quantities are probably just wasted. Adequate starting doses are as follows:
Never take a partial dose of morning glory seeds or baby woodrose seeds, as this usually causes sickness and little else. With other psychedelics it is possible to use small doses for lesser experiences or to accompany someone who is taking a full dose. Quantities of LSD as small as ten micrograms have a noticeable effect; probably 25 micrograms is an adequate small dose for most people. The duration of the session is about the same as with a full dose.
It is appalling, but true, that one who buys LSD today often does not know what he is getting. The cap that is said to contain 500 micrograms may contain only 100, or it may contain amphetamine or other adulterants. This is because of the elimination of open competition that results whenever a commodity is forced underground. There is no remedy except to boycott dealers who cheat, and the amateur often has no sure way of knowing whether he has been cheated. As a minimal precaution, I advise boycotting any so-called “LSD” that comes in a capsule. Because of the extremely small quantities of LSD that go to make up a dose, the logical and most convenient way of distributing it is to put it in liquid solution; the solution can then be dripped onto a sugar cube or absorbent paper. Putting it in a capsule is inconvenient, and the only motivation for doing so that I can think of would be to add other, bulkier drugs to the mixture, which, because of their greater volume, could not easily be dissolved in a few drops of liquid. If you buy cubes, paper, or liquid solution, you may be short-changed, but at least you will not be consuming unknown drugs. It is not true that the cubes “degenerate” rapidly. Any reasonably pure LSD that is shielded from light should remain potent at room temperature for at least a year.