Drug-Users at Harvard Explain their Views About Pot and LSD
Though I know the evening’s empire has returned into sand
Vanished from my hand
Left me blindly here to stand but still not sleeping.
Take me on a trip upon your magic swirling ship
My senses have been stripped
My hands can’t feel to grip
My toes too numb to step
Wait only for my boot heels to be following.
Take me disappearing down the smoke rings of my mind
Down the foggy ruins of time.
Let me forget about today until tomorrow. Bob Dylan, Mr. Tambourine Man
Harvard has long been a prime target of reactionary politically it has been called a haven for egg-heads, pinkos and idealists. Socially it has become, in some circles, a symbol of the libertine and the degenerate, boasting both sex orgies and drug rings. For this reason it is particularly important to preface any discussion of drugs with specific limitations in order to avoid exaggeration.
Forty-five students interviewed for this study are sophomores and juniors between the ages of 18 and 20. On the street you could not distinguish them from other students, and they have little in common except that they have all taken marijuana or LSD during their last two years at Harvard. I chose to single out pot and LSD because they seem to define the extremes of the spectrum of drug experiences at Harvard–from dabbler to hed.
Harvard are no longer reserved for the beatniks or the alienated, but are used, in varying degrees, by a wide variety and unknown number of students. They approach drugs on different levels of maturity, for a myriad of reasons. “You ask me why I smoke pot,” queried one boy. “It’s like asking people why they make love or suck another boy simply commented, “It makes me feel good. I laugh a lot when I’m high and have good other students it’s of sense of missing something by leading a routine college life that prompts them to take drugs. “With drugs you can go into your own mind, explore it, and find things you’d never have dreamed were true about yourself.” Still other students use pot as an alcoholic escape or stimulant such as the boy who said he “blew grass” occasionally because it made him less inhibited to relax and enjoy himself.
During the interviews I was struck by the high degree of intelligence and lucidity with which most students answered my questions. It reflected a tendency among most of them to think and talk a great deal about taking drugs, and unconsciously construct arguments to defend their habit against the legal and social bans imposed by society. Obtaining drugs is a positive act which goes against the inertia of legal constraints–to ignore the restrictions requires some internal debate. Having decided that drugs were worth it, the students interviewed took particular pains to describe drug-induced sensations which defy verbal cliches. To the majority, pot manifests itself through dizzy spells and then painful awakenings; it made all of them thirsty and many nauseous. In addition there is an intense distortion of the sense of time which can be seen by extrordinary gaps in “high” convesations. The time lag does not, however, interrupt the continuity of thought.
Everyone noted a change in perspective, although some called it a distortion while others were inclined to say it was simply a sharpening of the senses. Things took on an extraordinary importance when they were high. “I became fascinated with objects. Where things began and ended, where they converged and came to an edge or a point, where there was a gap, a hole, a void, I seemed to be drawn to it and could stare at it for long periods of time.” To many, colors became more vivid and jazz more intelligible.
LSD More Violent
The same phenomenon carries over into their descriptions of LSD highs, except that the distortions become more violent–“anything which is crumpled or quilted comes alive and starts to crawl.” Along with this fixation and concentration on objects, LSD users express a greater intellectual appreciation for the “total meaning” of the object. One student explained that with LSD words break down as tools in attempts to describe the sensation. Instead of thinking about things one experiences them. He continued to explain that this was why it was difficult to translate what insight had been gained into every day use.
As an example of understanding an object as a whole, the student said that when he looked at a newspaper on an LSD high, he not only saw the object which lay on his doorstep every morning, but also single letters put together to form words, words combined to make phrases; he saw people working hard to write the articles and printers sweating over their type; he saw thousands reading it, ignoring it, or folding it into paper planes.
In descriptions of heightened or distorted senses, a number of students spoke of sexual intercourse as being “unbelievably beautiful” while both mates are under the influence of either pot or LSD. “It’s not only that your senses and appetites are sharpened, and that one become uninhabited, but one feels a special sense of community and understanding which makes the act so much more enjoyable.” Another student mentioned that he became particularly aware of conflicting drives while he was on LSD, especially the sexual drive. As he described it in Freudian terms: “the id surfaced and discharged its libido.”
One scientifically-minded student described the effects of pot in terms of what our eyes allow themselves to see. “Normally the eyes are distracted by hundreds of different lights and objects, but only single out the important ones for consideration by the intellect. Pot removes this selectivity, and our eyes send indiscriminate signals to the brain. The result is that we perceive things in a completely novel fashion.”
Besides distortions of objects and other people, some of the interviewed said they would often look down at their hand, while on LSD, and see an ugly, clumsy mass which didn’t seem to belong to them. Other students said that LSD actually wiped out their identity until they could fade into a knot on the wall and watch humanity pass, performing its insignificant tasks. “LSD,” one student said, “is an excuse to sit back and let your imagination go berserk.”
But where do Harvard students buy these drugs? Almost all local drugs come from New York; locally they are usually obtained from friends who give or sell drugs as a favor, and not for pecuniary benefit. There are, however, occasional student pushers who buy large quantities of drugs on the New York market and bring them up to college to sell at an enormous profit, sometimes enough to pay tuition. But these are the exception and not the rule. Many students buy their drugs from friends at home and bring them up to school, yet almost everyone I interviewed agreed that it was easier to buy pot here than in any of the big cities.
Paranoia a Password
Paranoia about drug-taking was a password with the group, but it is interesting to note that they all recognized their fears and called it by its name. Some felt that paranoia was the worst part of taking drugs while others explained that it was a safety device, or an animal instinct of survival which the drug had not been able to eradicate. All of those I talked to had their doubts about talking to me at first, and many later pleaded that no article be printed for fear that it would turn the heat on them. But most of them were primarily concerned with having their views explained and recognized by the community. They wanted to communicate; they just didn’t want to get “busted.”
In fact, most of the students interviewed felt that the Harvard community was more tolerant than most towards drugs, and only occasionally did they report peers who would shun them because they took drugs. One of the boys said that the most reactionary responses to his taking had come from Freshmen who “hadn’t had time to acclimatize to the new morality.”
The students agreed almost unanimously that while on a high, traditions and social customs appear nothing more than a cruel hoax which society has used to limit the true potential of individuals. “Society and its customs have put blinders on us all, and pot takes them off. Instead of thinking the same thoughts in the neat manner that we have grown accustomed to, drugs allow the mind to wander and form free associations that hardly seemed possible without them. From the summit of a high one can see what trivia our anxieties are made of.”
But to show that they weren’t just repeating cliches, some of the students admitted that although drugs allow the mind to escape its habitual cage of civilization, they trap it immediately into a new set of thinking patterns and customs; a new social order with its own stylized mores. These traditions usually grow around a small group of friends who are in the habit of smoking together. The same comments, the same gestures, the same conversations, are repeated within pot cliques and grow into a ritual built around the great god Pot.
Most students are not asking for a Ginsbergian revolution. Although there were a few students who ranted on about how wonderful it felt when you reached the threshold of a high and how, for the exquisite sensation alone, pot should be legalized, most of the sample was more cautious. In general they advanced a defensible argument that society wasn’t ready for legalized pot yet, but that in comparison with the evils of liquor and cigarettes, pot was virtually harmless. “While a high sharpens your senses, liquor makes you dull and uncomfortable–especially the morning after.” Many of the students felt that pot had unjustly been given a stigma, “but that’s because people will never know about drugs until they’ve tried them. Even then they probably won’t learn how to use it properly and will go away with a bad taste in their mouth.”
But on the other side there were some cautioning words about taking drugs, the main one being that if taken under stress or while still unwilling to surrender to the influence of the drug the result will be a “horror show” of threatening hallucinations. The other reservation about pot was that it should not be over-estimated. “You can’t do your math or anything practical while you’re high because it kills the Protestant Ethic in people. If people could live by fingerpainting we could legalize pot.”
Finally there were two students in the sample who had been taking a lot of drugs and who had given it up. One said that he was “tired of seeing the same show over and over;” the other said that if you can take drugs for a while and come out know-why you don’t need them, then you have really learned. “There are many different levels of consciousness, and the down undrugged world is only one of them. Experimenting with drugs,” he concluded, “is the easiest way to widen your perspectives.
Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.Drug-Users at Harvard Explain their Views About Pot and LSD Though I know the evening’s empire has returned into sand Vanished from my hand Left me blindly here to stand but still
5 Common LSD Myths Debunked
Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.
There are a lot of misconceptions out there about acid, or lysergic acid (LSD). For example, some claim that LSD can make you a better person or that orange juice can help stop an acid trip. Here, you’ll find out the real answers as we debunk five of the most commonly cited myths about LSD.
Myth: Dropping Acid Will Make You a Better Person
Widespread propaganda during the 1960s promoted the use of acid to supposedly make people more spiritually aware, loving, and of higher consciousness. Many authors still promote this myth.
Truth: Many people report pleasant experiences on LSD, and even attribute great insights to the drug. Perhaps more importantly, there are many reports of the exact opposite happening. After taking LSD, people have been found to develop mental and emotional difficulties.
In fact, LSD is more likely to alienate you from other people and muddle your mental and emotional understanding than to lead you to a superior level of consciousness.
Myth: A Friend or Guide Can Prevent You From Having a Bad Trip
Well-meaning proponents of LSD have promoted the idea that having a friend or “guide” with you while you are on LSD will prevent you from experiencing a bad trip. The claim: a grounded, intuitive, and open-minded person can say just the right thing or support you in just the way you need to ensure you have a marvelous time on LSD.
Truth: While having a supportive friend can often help with a bad trip, even people who have experience with LSD and training in psychotherapy are sometimes unable to prevent others from having a negative reaction to the drug.
Friends can easily be perceived as enemies by someone experiencing paranoia while they are tripping. And there are plenty of examples of people having bad trips while in the company of those who care about them.
Myth: Orange Juice or Vitamin C Will Stop a Trip
Many people believe that a few gulps of orange juice are all it takes to cut out the effects of LSD.
Truth: By the time the LSD takes effect, your body has already metabolized the drug. The trip is actually the after-effects on your brain, and any improvements felt from drinking orange juice are a placebo effect, or simply the calming effect on the body from taking a drink.
Myth: Once You Take Acid, It Never Leaves Your Body
A myth sometimes circulated on the drugs scene is that LSD is permanently stored in the body. A version of this myth is that LSD is stored in the spinal fluid and never leaves the body. The entire amount of LSD ever taken by an individual can be released at any time in their life, putting them back into an uncontrollable trip.
Truth: While flashbacks can occur after taking LSD, this is not the result of the release of the drug. In fact, LSD is an unstable drug, which breaks down easily and passes through the body quickly.
Myth: Acid Is the Key to Unlocking the Unconscious Mind
Many people who take LSD believe that acid unlocks your awareness of your unconscious, giving you access to repressed material from your past and revealing hidden truths about yourself and about humanity.
Truth: Taking LSD might get you thinking about things in a way you haven’t thought of before, but it does not give you a key to the inner workings of your mind. Acid is just as likely to get you thinking about things that have no basis in reality as uncovering hidden truths.
And just because you have taken LSD and thought about your past, it doesn’t mean you know or understand everything that has happened to you.
If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.
For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.There are a lot of misconceptions out there about acid, or lysergic acid (LSD). Get the truth behind 5 commonly held myths about LSD. ]]>