What does an LSD-style drug-induced 'higher state of consciousness' feel like?
The effects of psychedelic drugs can lead to colours seeming more vivid and things seeming more beautiful, finds Rosalind Stone
My favourite trip was in Richmond Park in 2014. I took 100 micrograms of 1P-LSD, a designer LSD analogue which was legal in the UK until May 2016. The acid come-up starts in your throat: warmth spreads through you like syrup. Words will be more fun to say. Dust, sunbeams and the lint on your sleeves take on a faint, bluish fizz, or is it a whizz?
A study published this week that looked at brain scans of people on psychedelics suggested that one effect is “a mixing of the senses” – an accurate description. It’s difficult to choose what to look at: colours bleed smoke trails beyond edges of objects, like the “fountains of colour” described by LSD discoverer Albert Hofmann in 1943.
Neuroimaging locates the effects of psychedelics in the parts of the brain that deal with perception more than language; the onslaught of beauty can be ineffable. Attempting speech brings on paroxysms of laughter. When you finally exclaim, “I can see the air!”, your two best friends are in stitches, scrutinising the life-force emanating from some moss. You join hands and skip into the twilight along what seems like a gossamer trail of possibilities.
Knowing about the sensory “mixing” has increased my awareness of experiencing synaesthesia. Can I see the colours begin to glow brighter, or are they humming loudly into new levels of vividness?
I often return to reality with fresh perspectives on a problem – a product of the “heightened consciousness” described in the latest study. We can all see the creative impact that LSD has had: Steve Jobs said it influenced his work with Apple, and famously said Bill Gates “ would be a broader guy if he had dropped acid once.”
Psychedelics should surprise us with mind-bending ideas to grapple with, but never with unexpected longevity or by impairing our ability to navigate the parts of life that require normal waking consciousness. I feel lucky to have encountered scientific research as well as advice from seasoned trippers. Both are invaluable: I co-run a safety website called drugsand.me which combines old-school truisms with new findings. Everyone should know the fundamentals before a blotter touches their tongue.
But tripping isn’t just about the drugs. As the shaman Julian Vayne explains in his manual for getting the best out of psychedelics, Getting Higher, all highs are products of their context. I haven’t yet had a challenging trip, and that’s largely down to respecting the potency of psychedelics and tripping in carefully chosen situations with people I love.
It’s 50 years since the 1967 “Summer of Love”, the year Sidney Cohen described the effects of LSD thus: “If it registers as bliss or rapture, it dominates the sensory flow [and] produces a fusion or synaesthesia of the neural pathways.” New research is illuminating these early speculations about the effects of psychedelics. It’s possible that we’re only just beginning to understand their potential.
Rosalind Stone is a writer and a publicist for the Psychedelic Press