What Piqued My Interest in Psychedelics
I was super anti-drug, growing up. As soon as I knew / was taught what drugs were, I knew they were bad. At the pool, we sold some candy that were said to resemble a drug called “acid,” but taking drugs with something that I assumed would burn my skin off didn’t elicit any interest. Also, I was 9 years old when JustSayNo took off. As far as I knew, nobody anywhere around me took drugs, because we all knew they would only ruin you in the end.
One week per year, in middle school, we would have a week of no P.E., and health class in it’s place. 7th grade healthclass was more about puberty and sex ed. Next year, 8th grade, last year of middle school – it’s alcohol & drugs. Substance abuse pop quizzes and VHS tapes of people in vans smoking with small pipes. I was looking over a hand-out sheet with a table of facts on it. A list of drugs on a y-axis, and a list of effects, duration, laws against, etc. on the x-axis. I noticed in one of the squares a weird combination of words – “see sounds and smell colors.”
What? That’s impossible … isn’t it? I traced the drug-group referenced – hallucinogens. 13 year-old me imagined that when I got to high school and went to a HighSchoolParty, there would be someone there ‘on a hallucinogen.’ I’d present them with a blindfold, several sheets of differently-colored construction paper, and the ultimate interdimensional Pepsi Challenge – to see if they could smell the identify the different colored sheets of paper by smell. I was hardly a science-favoring student at the time, but the idea became firmly lodged in the back of my head. All the other drugs seemed to be stimulants or depressants. This particular class, I noted, had limited addiction potential and comparatively long-lasting effects. At the time, I want to stress, I was not attracted to anything in that category (which included PCP). But I do believe it marked the first time I saw (or bothered to look) past the one-dimensional AllDrugs=AllBadThings monolith. One of them wasn’t a ticket to hell, in all the ways all the other drugs were. There were plenty of other bad effects listed in that graph-square; but this class, the hallucinogens, stood out for the first time.
The next time they stood out wasn’t really a specific event; it was more like a slow seeping. A seeping, through cracks of otherwise acceptable things. Like popular music. In the popular music of the mid-‘80s, there was actually a minor resurgence of the 1950s. Fifties music came back, contemporary movies took place back then, even some fashion were being worn again. Eventually, after our “Stand by Me” soundtrack cassettes wore out, that sort of rolled over into the ‘60s. Hard as it is to believe, there was a time when there was no capital S in Sixties, and it was not a time viewed favorably. At least where I grew up, the ‘60s were rarely regarded at all. If so, it was with a fixed appraisal and a tone of ‘where it all went wrong.’ Every social ill of the day was seen to have been rooted in this stubbornly unforgotten blemish.
MTV was a bit late in getting to my neighborhood. Lucky for me, by the time it showed up, the summer of ’87 (after 7th grade), they were doing a 20-year anniversary Summer of Love thing. I saw all these fantastic bands in old videos. This dovetailed perfectly with the used-record store across the highway from my middle school. I’d been introduced to Pink Floyd, the Doors, the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead, Cream, etc. from local teenagers and friends’ older siblings – all the common routes for good music. Long story short, as a rock & roll fan I noticed a distinction between how pot & acid effected these bands, versus how alcohol and hard drugs effected them.
It’s an oversimplification, I admit, with easily notable exceptions; but even back then, it felt like so many of my favorite bands were undone in one way or another, by that second group of drugs. And interviewees seemed to have positive memories regarding their soft drug use, in stark contrast to the downfall narrative that accompanied their accounts of hard drugs. That whole summer, I feel, was the first time hippies were able to speak for themselves, media-wise. Again – hard to imagine a time when babyboomers didn’t have a platform to tell you how important they were. But that’s how it felt to me as a middle-schooler back then. I noticed, across their testimonies, a readable reverence for psychedelics, which confirmed the direction which my own calling/predilections were taking me.
By 9th grade, I was covertly researching everything I could find that could tell me anything about LSD: novels, scientific data, mentions in movies & TV, portions of history books. I wanted to learn people’s experiences with it, what it did/does … and ultimately, where I might find some. An impatience began to develop, having felt lied to regarding the widespread availability of “anything you want” once I got to middle school. ‘Oh, did we say middle school? I mean high school.’ Well, by now I was in high school – and yet nobody I asked could find any acid. A few recommended I try smoking pot first (which also was not as obtainable as previously promised. I did, after much nagging of many people, manage to score the end of upperclassman’s shake & dust). Pot seemed … alright, I guess … but I really wanted that kaleidoscopic soul-plunge. Where were these ubiquitous pushers?
Short answer – they’re waiting for you to back off & relax, so they can find you.