Congress passed Public Law 90-639, also known as the Staggers-Dodd Bill, increasing penalties for the illicit manufacture and distribution of three classes of drugs to a fine up to $10,000 and/or imprisonment up to five years. Manufacturing and distributing illicit stimulants, depressants, and/or hallucinogens was now a felony, under this new law (DrugLibrary.com).
Before this 1968 legislation, under the Drug Abuse Control Amendments (DACA) of 1965, manufacture and sale were regarded as misdemeanors punishable by up to one year in jail or $1,000 fine, or both; however, before this law, no penalty was imposed for the personal use of LSD, for use by members of the household, or for administration to animals belonging to the household. The manner in which the drug was acquired did not affect the legality of its possession, except in California (DrugLibrary.org), where on October 6, 1966, personal use of LSD had been criminalized (Levity.com).
The popular media had continued to portray horrors allegedly associated with “acid” and “bad trips,” pressuring President Johnson to press for strengthening ineffectual drug laws. When the 90th Congress convened early in 1968, the White House warned that this newest category of drugs “threaten(s) our nation’s health, vitality, and self-respect,” and declared that law enforcement efforts were hampered because penalties for LSD transactions were too low. So Congress responded by enacting Public Law 90-639 (rhodium.ws).
I arrived on the drug scene late in the game; I had missed the loopy 1967 Summer of Love (I was only 16 then) and the early "Magic Bus" days when drug possession was a misdemeanor.
But I made up for lost time: in early December 1968, I moved into 2001 Ivar Street, Apartment #12, with Stoney, a hardcore drug user and dealer.
He had borrowed a truck from a friend, and we transported my meager belongings, mostly clothes and records, into the apartment complex filled with hippies, drug dealers, and prostitutes.
Stoney’s drug use escalated; he would often drop several tabs of acid at once, and he started shooting up heroin. I was quite frightened when he picked up three speed freaks from the street and invited them to the apartment, where they stayed for about a week.
Stoney continued using hard drugs. For the next few weeks, we all partied hard, but I was beginning to have misgivings about all the drugs; I was scared for Stoney, that he was going to OD and die, leaving me alone in an apartment filled with grass, LSD, Bennies, and heroin (which I refused to use).
Also, he invited more unsavory users to crash at the apartment; these new creeps were beyond hippiedom and into hardcore drugs.
These were men who would kill for their dope.
I began experiencing some strange trips--if not exactly bad ones--the flashbacks scary and unpredictable. The loss of control frightened me; the idea that once an acid trip was over, it was over, proved to be false.
In fact, for five years after my last trip, I would experience flashbacks, which eventually lessened into glimpses of "fractal patterning" of ordinary objects (more on this later).
Even without knowing about the specific dangers of taking LSD, I decided, on my own, to stop using. I had good reason: lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), discovered in 1938, is one the most powerful mood-changing hallucinogens. The drug is manufactured from lysergic acid, found on the ergot fungus, which grows on grains. As of 2003, LSD samples gathered from the street range from 20-80 micrograms per dose, but the 1960's-1970's dosage ranged from 100-200 micrograms. Quality control, always problematic with illicit drugs, was particularly iffy in the late 1960's; dropping acid just once involved risking a psychotic break or overdose. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), a branch of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), LSD is unpredictable:
2001: A Space Odyssey with Pink Floyd--"One of These Days"
[Effects] depend on the amount taken; the user’s personality, mood, and expectations; and the surroundings in which the drug is used. Usually, the user feels the first effects of the drug 30 to 90 minutes after taking it. The physical effects include dilated pupils, higher body temperature, increased heart rate and blood pressure, sweating, loss of appetite, sleeplessness, dry mouth, and tremors.Although I had never experienced a truly “bad trip,” I had felt, during my trips, flashes of paranoia.
Sensations and feelings change much more dramatically than the physical signs. The user may feel several different emotions at once or swing rapidly from one emotion to another. If taken in a large enough dose, the drug produces delusions and visual hallucinations. The user’s sense of time and self changes. Sensations may seem to “cross over,” giving the user the feeling of hearing colors and seeing sounds. These changes can be frightening and can cause panic.
Users refer to their experience with LSD as a “trip” and to acute adverse reactions as a “bad trip.” These experiences are long–typically they begin to clear after about 12 hours.
Some LSD users experience severe, terrifying thoughts and feelings, fear of losing control, fear of insanity and death, and despair while using LSD. Some fatal accidents have occurred during states of LSD intoxication.
Many LSD users experience flashbacks, recurrence of certain aspects of a person’s experience, without the user having taken the drug again. A flashback occurs suddenly, often without warning, and may occur within a few days or more than a year after LSD use. Flashbacks usually occur in people who use hallucinogens chronically or have an underlying personality problem; however, otherwise healthy people who use LSD occasionally may also have flashbacks. Bad trips and flashbacks are only part of the risks of LSD use. LSD users may manifest relatively long-lasting psychoses, such as schizophrenia or severe depression. It is difficult to determine the extent and mechanism of the LSD involvement in these illnesses.
I had heard about the anecdotal accounts of users jumping out of windows because “God told them to” and getting into accidents because of impaired state.
Also, there were rumors of possible chromosome damage to the reproductive system, resulting in birth defects. According to Healthatoz.com, LSD has been “associated with arm and leg abnormalities and central nervous system problems in infants.”
However, these findings are inconclusive because other factors can contribute to birth defects, such as other illicit drugs, poor nutrition, and lack of prenatal care, often associated with chronic drug abusers (Healthatoz.com).
I was aware of possible chromosome damage to any future children. In mid-April (1969), just before my release from the mental institution, I wrote to Jeff,
I don’t believe that bullshit about acid wrecking chromosomes, and even if it were true, neither of us have dropped enough acid to make any great physical changes.If these factors were not enough to make me stop using LSD, a life-changing event on New Year’s Eve, 1968, would inform the way I saw the world and also set me on a path of sobriety, in terms of drug use. Faced with two choices that fateful night, I had no way of knowing which was the right choice.
Several years would pass before I could appreciate the metaphysical qualities of choosing one split-second act over another and how each would have taken me in diametrically opposed directions, perhaps, in one instance, permanent injury or even death. Although I have fictionalized this event in my short story collection, I have decided to include the true account in the memoir.
Even after that New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, I still loved Stoney and wanted to work at our relationship. He was my first serious boyfriend, my first consensual sexual relationship.
Then Stoney pulled himself together and announced that he was going to New York to sell 500 tabs of acid at a huge profit.
I was devastated.
At that time, LSD was fairly cheap on the west coast, but expensive in the east.
He sewed the 500 tabs into the lining of his coat, and kissed her goodbye. “I’ll see you in two weeks.”
I never saw him again.
In a chain of fast-moving events, I left Hollywood; returned to Sioux City, Iowa (at my grandfather's urging); and ended up in the Cherokee Mental Health Hospital in Iowa.
Even after I decided to quit, my relationship with LSD (acid) was complicated: I both loved and hated it and vacillated between wanting to use again and being repelled by the very idea (my last trip had been in late December 1968).
I understood that street acid was a risky and dicey proposition and that I needed to avoid its further use, but I was intrigued with the possibility of using it under a controlled situation or even creating a "drugless-induced" acid experience. In late February 1969, while I was in Cherokee, I wrote the following:
Acid, under the right conditions and dosage, might be an outasite experience, with an expert, like Timothy Leary, watching over you and monitoring your trip so that you don’t take a wrong turn. But no more street acid–ever. I like everything about the hippie life except the drugs; maybe there’s a way to create a commune without drugs, just the beauty of love and nature. Or maybe there’s a way to recreate the psychedelic experience with music, colorful posters, black lights, and Strobes. Maybe Jeff [Brown, my new boyfriend and future husband] and I can set up a “psychedelic room” in our apartment.Yet in March 1969, I wrote,
The flashbacks are getting worse; I don’t dig them any more--I feel so helpless when they just pop up. It’s like having a nosy aunt coming to visit, and she’s the last person in the world you want to stop by unannounced. A friend here knows someone who can give me some Thorazine, to help bring me down, but I don’t want to mess with any kind of drug, legal or illegal--especially illegal. Too scary. If I got caught with an non-prescribed drug, I would never get out of here--they might as well throw me into the rubber room with Carrie [another Cherokee patient]. I used to think acid offered some insights and opportunities for self-discovery, but I think that’s just a myth, at least when you use street acid. Maybe in controlled circumstances, a shrink close by and the right setting, but, even then, it’s risky.I also had a natural aversion to psychiatric drugs; my research reveals that I had reason to be wary, for mental institutions were still places were problematic people were warehoused and routinely drugged. In 1954, the drug Thorazine, a drug mentioned by my street friends and other Cherokee patients, was embraced by mental hospitals all over the world because of its profound tranquilizing effects (Psychiatric Drugs: Thorazine).
Other drugs prescribed then included antidepressants, such as iproniazid (an MAOI developed in 1956), imipramine (a tricylcic anti-depressant), valproic acid and carbamazepine (both mood stablizers), and ibogaine (for withdrawal symptoms). Lithium, of course, was an old standby (Psychiatric Drug).
Dr. Mariano Favis, my psychiatrist, agreed, at my request, not to prescribe any drugs; perhaps he had already come to that conclusion himself, given that I had been designated as a “screening center patient” (which I did not know at the time).
My hospital records suggest a fairly normal 18-year-old girl with some self-image problems and anger issues, but not someone who would benefit from the psychiatric drugs of the day.
A few days later, I complained that my flashbacks were getting worse:
They're driving me nuts. Last night, I just gave up and went to bed early. Felt better this morning. I asked Dr. Favis about the possibility of taking Thorazine, just to “eliminate the LSD from my body.”In a late March 1969 letter, Jeff encouraged me to continue finding my bliss without acid:
“You don’t need it–you’re handling the flashbacks very well,” he said. “Besides, you’re the one who wanted to avoid all drugs.”
He’s right, of course; we made a deal that I would do this without psychiatric drugs.
...Acid destroys everything and holds the mind supreme. You destroyed acid--so you must want something tangible to cling to. Obviously, you do not want to live for your mind alone--something must be held higher or equal to your mind.In early April 1969, I wrote:
Dope gives you a world that is yours to command. You, and no one else, can share it. If you would want to enter the world of others, you must give, also, of your own private world. Yet you must keep some of it to yourself.
...Acid does not make you smarter than you already are--it just fucks you up--and, as for insights? I don’t know. Timothy Leary and Ken Kesey seem to think acid can enhance your view on the world, but I don’t think they were talking about street acid.
Earlier I mentioned "Fractal Patterning," which is a way of viewing ordinary objects and surfaces as geometrics. LSD seems to enhance this ability to see geometric patterns in ordinary objects. For example, for about five years after dropping my last tab of acid, I could look into a bowl of sugar and see shimmering snowflake and other geometric patterns.
For the first year or so, I would often see colorful paisleys and amoebas floating by. When I gave birth to my son 18 months after my last trip, the anesthesia caused me to hallucinate a bright yellow wash of color with huge purple floating dots.
Even now, almost four decades later, if I concentrate hard, I can still conjure up a pattern in certain surfaces (snow and sugar mostly).
This suggests that LSD use can result in permanent neural changes (although I'm not a scientist and have done no formal experiments). I hesitate to call it "neural damage" because I'm not in any way impaired (though some past LSD users may have been).
Also, I have experienced synesthesia (letter/number and color pairing) my entire life, so I may be prone to seeing patterns anyway. Or I may have been naturally attracted to hallucinogens because of wanting to enhance the synesthesia experience. I can't say for sure because I don't remember not being a synesthete.
I'm always curious if other past LSD users have experienced continuing flashbacks and/or "fractal patterning."
Feel free to post a comment.
Copyright 2008, Jennifer Semple Siegel.
Text may not be reposted or republished without permission from author.