3 Strikes and You’re Far Out

This is a pretty funny story.

When I read jokes in the form of “he must have been tripping on acid” I usually can tell if the person writing it has ever tripped on acid – because, often, what they imagine it’s like is completely wrong.

I tripped on LSD a couple of times in the 90s, including one occasion where I was comfortable enough with the blotter I had and the dosage and decided to do a ‘heroic’ dose: 4 hits. That’s not a good metric of dosage, though, because a ‘hit’ is not standardized, and neither is the subject’s neurochemistry. To make it more complicated, the active dose is miniscule – a microgram would be 100 hits in the 1960s; nowadays the concentration on a piece of blotter may be 2-5 times greater than it was in the 60s. This is unfortunate, because it means that the sensible tripper will buy a supply from the same batch, and creep up on it until they figure out what’s the right dose for them. Usually that’s done by putting a tab of blotter in a 10cc hypodermic of distilled water and letting the chemicals dissolve; then you can take 1/10 or 1/20 of a hit for starters (sometimes called “micro dosing” nowadays). It turns out I had some uncharacteristic responses, so it was good that my first trip was overseen by an experienced trip-guide.

If you’ve ever seen Fatboy Slim, he’s an example of the fact that too much LSD, over time, will affect you. I’m not going to hypothesize what’s going on, but it seems to me as though Nietzsche was right: if you stare into the abyss the abyss also stares into you and if you stare into the heart of a star, you get a bit crispy around the edges. After the time I did my heroic dose, I felt like the Dallas Cowboys had held practice inside my skull, wearing rubber wellies that had a lot of horse-manure on them. It was mostly dehydration, but everything in my head felt tired and wobbly.

Thanks the the CIA and its habit of dosing people without warning them LSD has a (deliberately) bad reputation for people sometimes imagining they’re a bird and jumping out a window. That’s complete bullshit, by the way. So is the story about the guy who gouged out and ate his own eyeballs. LSD doesn’t encourage you do to any of that sort of thing; that sort of messed-up behavior is the purview of religion but not psychoactives. What you feel is highly distractable, which makes sense since your brain activity has been turned up to 11, or maybe 12, and instead of your cognition being a meandering thread, it’s trying to run in parallel or something. The second time (I think it was) that I tripped it was on a lovely spring day in Paris, 1998, I sat in Notre Dame and listened to the acoustics and the sounds of the people in that great arched space of stone. Leaving there after an unknown number of hours I sat down at a cafe for pizza and the waiter asked if I wanted some wine. At that time I had no fondness for wine at all but I got a carafe of the house red, which went amazingly well with the pizza (as if some italian genius with wine had created pizza as its perfect foil!) and I ate pizza and drank wine and watched the people walk by. They sometimes fell into slow motion, which was tremendously beautiful and entertaining. The light wrapped around everything like a painting. It was a great time. While I was sitting there trying to think I had the idea that our notion that cognition is a single thread may be only a side-effect of how it’s organized, and that there may be people who process information with more parallelism that the rest of us. What if the difference between a genius like Feynman and an ordinary person like me is that Feynman hit on a more efficient way to think and, naturally, he didn’t realize it because fish don’t see the water they swim in, or something like that. Anyhow, I had joy watching the people pop in and out of slow-motion, and the sounds and smell and I had another pizza and more wine. Later I told my parents, when they asked when I had started drinking wine, that LSD was my “gateway drug” to wine.

So, you’re really distractable but if you need to you can pull your focus together and be almost normal for a bit but then you fuzz back out into free-association. I know people who drive (!) on LSD – which I do not recommend – but I think it’s important to understand that when you’re messed up, learned/over-learned behaviors are still available. That’s how, if you’re used to driving a semi-trailer across the country, you can still drive the semi- even if you’re in Bat Country. That’s also how Hunter S. Thompson was able to write when he was half-baked; it came out great because he was free-associating like mad and his main cognitive thread was grabbing imagery from the fountain of weird ideas sloshing back and forth in his mind. Wait, did I say “half baked”? Who am I kidding, he was more like the fire-box of a steam locomotive.

All of that leads me to the point of this posting: this is the remarkable story of when Dock Ellis pitched a no-hitter in the major leagues while he was peaking on LSD. That’s a tribute to how well his brain already knew how to call up the “throw the ball” subroutine, while the rest of his cognition was bouncing around. Unless you’ve done it, it’s very hard to describe but you actually feel like you’re able to “pull yourself together” here and there, and then you fall apart again for a while.

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I’ve never encountered a drug that’s as bad for your brain as religion. Well, maybe tequila. It’s a really unusual world we live in, that bingeing on tequila is legal and eating some mushrooms and exploring your inner space is not. If anyone could use a chance to trip balls and have a long hard look at himself in a mirror, it’s Mitch McConnell, “Mitch, how have you spent your life? Oh, no!”


  1. Ridana says

    No-No by Ellis, D.?

    I don’t think I would enjoy tripping. Even with your benign description, it sounds terrifying.

  2. Dunc says

    I played the best pinball game of my life peaking on LSD. I was laughing so hard I could barely stand, and I seemed to mostly be watching the table in the reflections in the ball. It was great.

    Funnily enough, the blotters in question later appeared in an Irvine Welsh short story, set in exactly the right place and time…

  3. says

    I recognize this. Once I was walking home and I asked “it” to back off a bit, while I crossed the street. My mind cleared, I crossed safely, and then the whole thing came back again. It’s oddly accommodating like that.

  4. flexilis says

    “Later I told my parents, when they asked when I had started drinking wine, that LSD was my “gateway drug” to wine.”

    In my case, during high school I became very curious about psychedelics. Anti drug programs, the Peter Fonda movie “The Trip”, the summer of love, Hendrix and all the other music made me want to give it a try. I went to college in the fall of 1968 and sampling LSD was high (heh) on my priority list. I soon met people who could tell me about it and provide it. They suggested I should try weed first to get used to being high. Now I grew up in a chain-smoking family, and the idea of putting smoke in my lungs was not attractive, but I followed their suggestions. So I got used to pot and liked it, and finally had the chance to try acid. Over a few years I tripped a dozen or so times, but continued to smoke pot for at least 20 years. So LSD was my gateway drug to weed. And then that led to beer, and finally now to my addiction of choice, hot black coffee. Oh, the deadly downhill slide!

  5. says

    I played the best pinball game of my life peaking on LSD. I was laughing so hard I could barely stand, and I seemed to mostly be watching the table in the reflections in the ball. It was great.

    How do you think he does it?
    I don’t know.
    What makes him so good?
    He stands like a statue, becomes part of the machine, always gets a replay, always plays it clean…

  6. says

    Even with your benign description, it sounds terrifying.

    It’s definitely sobering to be forced to confront how we are our nervous system, and how our entire nervous system is so delicately balanced that eating a little piece of paper can knock everything sideways for 18 hours or so…

  7. aquietvoice says

    “While I was sitting there trying to think I had the idea that our notion that cognition is a single thread may be only a side-effect of how it’s organized”

    Ohhh boy I think you are right.
    Fun fact: I’m schizophrenic (quite severely), and the biggest thing that has actually helped me become functional again is realising that cognition really isn’t single threaded and dealing with the consequences of that – schizophrenia is an integration disorder to its core and the cleaving of different parts of the mind from each other can have pretty horrifying effects.

    I’m a little envious that you only had to deal with 18 hours of oddness! I need to solve my own goddam brain just to have breakfast properly. Ugh.
    For the curious: the question that needs to be solved by a person to regain functionality from schizophrenia is “If the mind arises from the brain, and there is an integration failure in the brain, what are the consequences for the mind?”
    And the specific integration failures change all the time. Argh! So much work! Just to try to live a normal life!

    Ah well. Glad your tripping worked well for you though – different brain states are valuable experiences, I think.

  8. says

    The regrettably few LSD experiences in my life are uniformly positive. I suffer from debilitating anxiety much of the time and I have never found anything which frees me from that part of myself quite like acid. I’ve always believed that tripping is a very personal thing, everyone experiences things differently and often the bad times happen when things which were previously locked away in the dark come out to play.

    Acid frees the mind, which for some people is a dream and for others a nightmare.

    On the technical level as I understand it, what the drug actually does is temporarily disable or dissolve synapses. Effectively disintegrating your brain. Or dis-integrating rather.

  9. publicola says

    I’ve never been one to use or want to use drugs. But as I’ve gotten older, I keep thinking back to John Lennon and the bursts of creativity he seemed to achieve through acid. I’ve begun to wonder if I could achieve the same thing, especially since my muse has pretty much abandoned me. I doubt I’ll ever try it, but still…. What price glory?

  10. StevoR says

    Never tried LSD and kinda curious to learn learning but no* but will never forget having too many dope cookies (well the first one wasn’t working so) and feeling colours pulse through my blood and the dunno how else to \-/crack/-/ of time coming in and out of sensation.

    * Peyote or suchlike I’d be interested in because natural substance and could research first but worry about not knowing what’s in something artifically prepared by others if that makes sense?

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