Lenny* ‘14 placed the white strip of blotting paper on his tongue and 75 micrograms of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) began absorbing into his system. Within 30 minutes he relaxed and noticed the trees beginning to glow and the sun shining brighter than ever. He felt the textures of the cold smooth sidewalks and prickly grass; cotton-candy-like clouds began moving and morphing together in “slanky, lanky, curly shapes.”
This distorting of reality is a trait of hallucinogens such as LSD according to Dr. David Kipper, a member of the California Society of Addiction Medicine and the American Society of Addiction Medicine, explained. This false perception of reality, according to Kipper, can cause the user to engage in dangerous behavior.
Unlike many other drugs, hallucinogens are not physically addictive. Kipper attributes this to the fact that they don’t necessarily stimulate a high, which is why the brain does not crave them.
Most illegal substances Lenny has used, such as nicotine, Adderall and alcohol are physically addictive. When this concern is relevant, Lenny tries to put a limit on his usage if he notices a particular craving. With physical addiction out of concern, students such as Lenny may have other worries that can cause them to restrict their hallucinogen use.
“My biggest fear with most drugs is them taking over me,” Lenny said.
Lenny recognizes that “there is a danger to every drug,” but he feels that the high he feels from hallucinogens outweigh the dangers.
He said the major long-term risk occurs when images from hallucinogen use remain and cause uncomfortable dreams and flashbacks.
“The length of time these drugs stay in the body depends, but these memories can be seared into the brain forever, much like cattle branding,” Kipper said.
Father J. Young is aware of another risk with hallucinogens, which is their connection to schizophrenia. Young said that if an individual is predisposed to schizophrenia and he or she uses hallucinogens they increase their risk of developing the mental disorder.
Due to this, Young is “happy to report” that he suspects hallucinogen use is fairly low among students.
“I do not see hallucinogen use as often as I see marijuana or alcohol,” Young said.
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, Lenny is just one of 779,000 Americans over the age of 12 who have used LSD within the past year.
Hallucinogen users younger than 25 are at an increased risk for negative consequences for two reasons, Kipper explained. First, these individuals have not completely developed their prefrontal cortex, which Kipper describes as “a person’s judgment center.” Hallucinogen use at an adolescent stage can lead to an undeveloped ability to distinguish right from wrong. Second, the earlier an individual begins taking a drug the more likely they are to continue using it.
Lenny’s recreational drug use started the summer after seventh grade when he began smoking pot. Since then he has used Xanax, marijuana, alcohol, salvia, LSD, Ambien and codeine. He said he enjoys hallucinogens the most.
“The drugs we are most attracted to choose us,” Lenny said. “Hallucinogens have chosen me.”
Salvia divinorum (salvia) was the first hallucinogen Lenny used. In the comfort of his cousin’s house this past summer, he smoked salvia for the first time. He inhaled deeply twice, keeping each in his lungs for 20 seconds. Since then Lenny has used salvia on only one other occasion.
“Salvia is one of the least worthwhile, least energizing drugs,” Lenny said.
Despite his dissatisfaction with the drug, Lenny took salvia to prepare for “the harder stuff” he intends to take in college, such as dimethyltryptamine (DMT).
Around the time Lenny became familiar with LSD, a close friend of his died. After first hearing about LSD he did not intend to take it, but his curiosity about the drug lingered. After two years without his friend Lenny expected his grief would retreat, but it remained and became even more intense. He decided hallucinogens would be an efficient way to recall what his friend looked like.
“I just wanted to see her face before my eyes again,” Lenny said.
Although LSD has not accomplished Lenny’s original goal of revisiting his relative, he believes the drug has restored much of his happiness. At this point, DMT is the only drug that Lenny believes may have the potential of reuniting him and his relative.
Unlike Lenny’s search for pain relief, Casper* ’13 began his hallucinogen use for experimentation purposes.
Hallucinogens are currently “a casual timid interest” for Casper, but he imagines them becoming increasingly important in his future.
“I was really interested in them and the opportunity arose,” Casper said. “It was circumstantial.”
Casper and two friends purchased a three-foot long cactus for $45 that contained mescaline, the active compound in the plant peyote. The trio obtained the plant from an online seller and brewed it into a foul tasting tea. Casper said the trip lasted about seven hours although it did not feel this long.
“It felt as if I was stuck in a singular static moment that was constantly getting smaller, as if time was infinitely shedding off in either direction,” Casper said.
Though Casper describes this experience as “intense”, he plans on using other hallucinogens in the future.
Zane* ’13, who bought the mescaline with Casper, also anticipates the importance of hallucinogens in years to come.
“Psychedelics are intellectual tools,” he said.
So far, Zane has consumed mescaline, LSD and mushrooms (psilocybin mushrooms). Authors such as Aldous Huxley, Terence McKenna, Timothy Leary, Hunter S. Thompson and Alexander Shulgin sparked his interest in the drugs. With each trip, Zane tried to repress any expectations.
“I feel like if you’re expecting pretty visuals or some spiritual mystical experience you probably won’t get that,” he said.
The visual element of hallucinogens had a lesser value to Zane than the intellectual experience, which is why he prefers the term “psychedelics” to “hallucinogens.”
“There is nothing magic in ‘shrooms, or a cactus or a chemical. Everything’s in you already; psychedelics are just a chance to pull back the curtain on that part of your mind,” he said.
Prior to his hallucinogen use, Zane had trouble expressing himself to his friends and family. He claims it is a prevalent issue he is trying to improve. He believes that hallucinogens, particularly mescaline, have given him self-awareness, which helps to correct this flaw.
“It’s not to say the mescaline told me anything; it allowed me to internalize,” Zane said.
With mushrooms, Zane had the most “clear-headed” experience. It gave him a “modular” view of the world.
Zane believes that, it is impossible to have a truly bad trip because he believes all psychedelic experiences are learning opportunities. His positive experiences and lack of craving have caused Zane to want to continue his hallucinogen use. He views alcohol as a more dangerous substance than any hallucinogen.
Zane is not fearful of his future with them partly because he researches each drug before consuming it. He also feels that his newfound self-awareness allows him to know his limits.
“I can’t think of a scenario where I would want to stop using them completely,” Zane said.
Despite Casper’s “daunting and scary” family history of drug addiction, he, like Zane, believes getting to a point in which hallucinogens ruin his life is unlikely. This hereditary characteristic provides “an element of fear” that forces Casper to be cautious of his drug use.
*Names have been changed