My First Time on LSD: 10 Trippy Tales
The idea of dropping acid for the first time inspires both fear and excitement. We asked 10 current and former users to recall their voyages into the unknown.
“Tune in, turn on and drop out” became a rallying cry for disenfranchised youth across America during the acid heyday of the 1960s. For a generation sickened by the brutal war in Vietnam and fired up by some of the most exciting eruptions that popular culture had known, a molecule called lysergic acid diethylamide—isolated from grain fungus by Albert Hoffman in 1938 and marketed in 1947 as a psychiatric drug—became the fuel for a revolution.
For a few years every young, creative person seemed to be, for want of a better phrase, tripping balls—with profound cultural consequences. Acid’s “mind-expanding” effects can be seen in the DayGlo musical madness of Sergeant Pepper and Syd Barrett. In the art world, acid gave visual explorers like Robert Crumb and Rick Griffin a whole new palate. And in movies, LSD helped create such trippy classics as The Holy Mountain and Easy Rider.
Whether it was the bloody horror of the Manson murders or the malevolent vibes of Altamont that finally drew a curtain on LSD’s cultural supremacy, acid has never regained the heights of mass-acceptance that it enjoyed in the heady days of flower power. But it’s never quite gone away, either. Finding favor with successive generations despite competition from natural psychedelics like mescaline or designer hallucinogens like DMT, LSD is a drug that has inspired fear and passion.
LSD’s relative safety, non-addictiveness and potent psychoactive effects made it suitable for medical research, and during the ‘50s and ‘60s it was prescribed for depression, alcoholism, migraine and other physical, mental and spiritual pain. It was outlawed in the US in 1968 and classified Schedule I, as dangerous, prone to abuse and having no medical value—so research into its demonstrated therapeutic uses came to a halt. But over the past decade, scientific interest in psychedelic therapy has been rekindled in the US, the EU and elsewhere, and LSD and other hallucinogens are currently in small FDA-approved studies as psychiatric treatments for people with terminal diseases, PTSD, anxiety and depression.
Following our recent compilation of ecstasy experiences, Substance.com now asks 10 trippers two simple questions: Do you remember the first time? And where did your initial experience lead?
1. Mickey Mouse and Friends
Paul, 36, a retail manager in London
My first time: I was 15. A worldly friend—one of those 15-going-on-30-types—told me he had access to acid. I jumped at the chance to experiment with something more exotic than cheap hash and pilfered booze. My ideas about what acid was going to be like came from stuff like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Carlos Castaneda. I was expecting to kick the doors of perception wide open. In retrospect this was rather a tall order when I was ingesting a single tab of mediocre Mickey Mouse-brand blotter acid. My overriding memories include the look of horror on the dealer’s face when three spotty 15-year-olds showed up on his doorstep; dissolving into fits of giggles as I tried—and failed—to get the VHS player to play the copy of Akira I’d rented for the purpose; and my friends disappearing into Cheshire Cat grins as they smoked cigarettes in my garage.
Where it went from there: I did it again when the opportunity came up. What I disliked about acid was the duration. Later, when I discovered ecstasy, my first real love affair with a drug began. The last time I did it was on the Queen’s Golden Jubilee . I dropped a tab on the tail-end of a speed, booze and ecstasy binge and wandered down East London’s Brick Lane, perplexed as everyone seemingly morphed into Jim Henson-esque creatures.
2. Bad Hair Day
Ella, 45, an elementary school teacher in the Bronx
My first time: My days of experimenting with drugs came in cycles. Certain things would be “in” with my circles of friends, until we got bored and moved on. We started experimenting with acid heavily in the summer of ‘86. I was 17 and microdots were the thing—this bodega on the Lower East Side sold stuff at the back. I did my first hit of acid at a Ramones show. Back then it seemed the fucking Ramones were playing every weekend at some Lower East Side bar. The strongest memory is the trails: I’d move my hands and this slow motion trail of color would follow. God, it was wonderful! The Ramones on acid was a bizarre mix, ‘cuz it made everything seem like playing a record at half speed. My stomach hurt from just laughing endlessly—I don’t know what was so funny.
Where it went from there: My only bad trip was bad enough that I’ve never felt the urge to do acid again: After a very long 48 hours I started coming down from an intense peak in the chair of a hairdressers in a rough neighborhood in Brooklyn, getting my (then-extremely long) hair braided. Can you imagine that? I have no idea what possessed me, but by the time I realized I was going to finish my trip confined to a chair having my hair intricately braided, it was too late. I called my girlfriend and she was laughing so hard, because she felt like death, too, and had had to go into work. Yet somehow I’d managed to get myself in an even worse position than her. I looked like fucking Rick James, with the braids and the beads and whatnot, and in the reflection the lady doing my hair seemed terrifying. Her long, colorful nails enmeshed in my hair, the certainty that if I flinched she’d get real mad. The girls in the salon were laughing and I became convinced they were laughing about the crazy white girl getting braided while she was fried out of her brain. Ever since, getting my hair done gives me a twinge of anxiety.
3. The Connoisseur
Dave, 31, an actor in New York City
My first time: I was 19. Drug use was a routine adolescent pastime, and I’d had a number of rewarding experiences on psilocybin by the time I was a college freshman. The Other Ones’ concert at the Fleet Center was the scene for my first acid trip. I gyrated spastically to classic Grateful Dead tunes, and newly vibrant colors danced as I smiled wide thinking big thoughts. The bass vibrated my body like the voice of God. Cliché, I know. But I liked it a lot.
Where it went from there: In my twenties I briefly flirted with a career in mental health and discovered the fascinating history behind LSD and other psychedelics in the West. I delved into the literature (MAPS.org is an excellent resource) and educated myself. Podcasts like The Psychedelic Salon and The C-Realm helped me develop a new appreciation for drugs like LSD as powerful, potentially dangerous tools for personal growth. There will be no more tripping at concerts for me, but once a year I venture into nature with a group of dear friends on a high dose of LSD to confront the mystery of existence head on.
4. Troy Story
Walter, 57, a journalist in New York City
My first time: I made plans to go to a Bob Dylan concert with my then-girlfriend, back in 1978. When she showed up, she told me she had just done five hits of acid and was unable to go. Surprises like this from her were no longer surprising. I decided to keep her company on her trip by taking a hit of her windowpane acid. What did we do? Being a bookish pair, we read the Iliad out loud to one another until the words dissolved. I remember an image of eagles flying in the sky being a “portent.” That’s all I remember.
Where it went from there: I began dropping acid—what a thrilling phrase that was—on occasion. I loved the sensation of peaking, the oceanic feeling, and the angel choir behind the sky. Then I bought a lot of microdot acid and did it every day as soon as I got off work. It would begin to hit me as I drove home. I mowed the lawn while tripping. One night I woke up sobbing and realized that everything, really everything, had to change. That was nine months after my first experience and I never took it again. What a workout.
5. Hippy Heaven
Jackie, 38, a hairdresser in Manchester, England
My first time: It was perfect, really. I’m a bit of a hippy and it was at an outdoor music festival. Everything just seemed to go right. It was one those all-nighters where we had a phone number and had to call at a certain time to get directions to some secret place—it all added to the fun. Eventually we’re dancing in a muddy field, it’s a beautiful balmy night, there’s thousands of us and the sun is going down and the music…I remember Pacific by 808 State just floating through the air, the bass making the whole air vibrate. This was the era of E, but people forget that acid was a huge part of that whole scene. Remember “Candy Flipping” [taking ecstasy and LSD at the same time]? Coming up on acid, that trippy house beat felt like it was coming out from inside me. For a moment I felt fear, but my boyfriend told me not to try and control it, that I was safe. When people have bad trips it’s probably often about being afraid of relinquishing control. Once I allowed the acid to take the wheel, that was it—I was on an eight-hour mental joyride. I felt like a grain of sand in a beach—both insignificant and essential in my own small way. I thought, “I can’t wait to do this again!”
Where it went from there: My relationship with acid has been generally good, but sometimes tempestuous. Quality is always an issue: I realized early on that I’d rather not take anything than drop bad acid. There’s nothing worst than the feeling when you start to come up and you realize that the stuff is bunk. I never had a full-on bad trip, but bad-quality acid has meant I’m stuck in a place I don’t want to be for a longed period, which is no fun.
6. Evil Eyes
Martyn, 34, a DJ in Los Angeles
My first time: I was 19 and my friends and I were speed freaks and drunks. My friend got hold of blotter acid cheap, planning to sell it on—but we decided to try it out first. They had these beautiful images of the Eye of Horus on them. We just gobbled some down. After an hour we became convinced nothing was happening and redosed—then we got bored and started snorting speed and bar-hopping. At a sleazy dive called Goldfingers in East LA, we realized our friend Bee had gone to the bathroom and not come out. When I opened the bathroom door and the fluorescent light hit me in the face it was as if my mind became unstitched. Bee was hiding in a bathroom stall, terrified—I could hear him whimpering like an animal, the sound bouncing off the walls. He basically had a meltdown and we had to get him back to his apartment before he got himself, or us, arrested—while tripping hard on what turned out to be extremely potent acid. When you see your best friend sobbing uncontrollably because he has finally realized that his mother never really loved him, there’s no coming back from that.
Where it went from there: I never touched it again. I like uppers or downers, but stuff that makes you delve deep into your psyche just isn’t for me. I thought that Bee would steer clear also, but he got really into it for a while. He claims that the six months or so when he was doing it solidly really helped him to sort through some issues, so who knows? He gave up doing speed, and says that he came to that decision while he was tripping.
7. Screen Time
Vanessa, 43, a fashion writer in New York City
My first time: I was 22. My then-boyfriend had scored a batch of powerful liquid acid, and we decided to experience it for the first time together. It was at a festival of experimental short films at the Anthology Film Archives in NYC. It suited the mind-bending nature of my first acid trip nicely. It’s hard to say what was the twisted imagination of the filmmakers and what was the acid—but my overriding impression is being in that dark movie theater and time seemingly becoming elastic, as a bizarre array of sounds and colorful impressions flashed across my consciousness. I just kind of melted into the seat and let the images take over. It was a more immersive experience than any IMAX 3-D extravaganza.
Where it went from there: I’ve done acid quite a bit since then and I usually prefer to be out in the open. I was always very careful with it: One good friend had a bad trip while listening to a particular album, and ever since, they cannot listen to Johnny Cash without freaking out. So I’ve always made sure I was with people I felt safe with, had the time to trip without feeling rushed or panicked. I must have tripped 20 or 30 times and never had a bad trip, even though most of my friends had at least one. I haven’t done it in years; it wasn’t a conscious decision, but I do feel I wanted to bow out while I was still beating the odds. It’s unlikely I will do it again. I don’t feel there’s anything more to be gained, you know?
8. Relationship Counseling
Donald, 25, a real estate broker in London
My first time: My friend Rob and I had planned it out: I had a great weed dealer at the time and he had come across what he told us would be top-notch acid. I’d always held off on doing LSD because I’d heard that unless you know it was great quality, there was almost no point in tripping on mediocre stuff. But at the last moment, my ex-girlfriend got wind and asked to join in. I told her, no—she and I had a lot of unresolved shit, and it just seemed like a bad idea. She got really pissed off and kinda refused to leave, calling us selfish assholes. Finally we got rid of her, dropped the acid, and started listening to music. Two hours passed and it really seemed like nothing was happening…then my ex’s face pops into my head: “You selfish prick, you’re a horrible human being…” As I start to get high, my ex is in my brain, nagging me. Thankfully Rob was able to talk me down, but she really ruined it: I was like, Am I a selfish person? Do I hurt people?
Where it went from there: Well, that was a lesson: No matter how well prepared you are, weird stuff can just happen. For weeks afterwards there was a lingering anxiety and discomfort—thankfully nothing permanent. I’ve done it twice since then, and each time got better. The last was a peaceful, profoundly beautiful trip. While on it I came to the conclusion that my ex was bad news, and brought nothing but negativity into my life. We let our relationship go, and I think it was a good decision for both us. I feel that acid is profoundly useful, if treated with caution.
9. Beautiful People
Jenny, 36, a fashion editor in New York City
My first time: In 1995 I was a high school junior, just trying to fit in with the good-looking people. So I made myself like Phish, started wearing tie-dyed t-shirts, and dropped acid. I stuck the little piece of paper on my tongue, and waited, hyper-vigilant: Did swallowing always feel that way? Or was I starting to trip? Then the visual effects started, peaking two hours in. Anything that moved made these cartoony, slow-motion trails. I felt disconnected from my body, like I was making myself move and talk from an interior control room. The night consisted of sitting around a fire with the good-looking people, no one talking. It was freaking me out. I wasn’t wearing a watch. Was it curfew? I eventually drove myself home, watching the orange speedometer make trails as it moved. I felt empty inside, my muscles kind of tense.
Where it went from there: I continued to do it socially into college. Each trip would feel longer and more tedious than the last. Thirty minutes would go by, and then a panic would set in:”Shit, I have 8 more hours of feeling like this?” It’s not a drug you can really “party” on, you know? I wouldn’t want to talk to people, I couldn’t see well with all the weird trails going on and I couldn’t fall asleep on this shit, either. So I stopped. Trips are for kids, anyways.
10. Listen With Grandma
Robbie, 24, a construction worker in Queens
My first time: A couple of years ago I bought blotter acid from Silk Road. Three of us were doing it, and of course there was the fear that we’d been ripped off. Turned out the stuff was great. We did it at my grandma’s place—she’s a heavy sleeper and I knew we wouldn’t get interrupted. It started to kick in after an hour. I knew something was happening, ‘cuz the color yellow seemed to take on this different aspect, like it was shimmering. None of us could focus on the TV, and we didn’t wanna go out, but when we put on music that was incredible. It’s a cliché, I know, but we listened to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, all at the same time, but with headphones on. It sounded like the music was split up, coming at me from different directions. I was blown away, and started to think about the musicianship and what it must have taken to create this album—and I realized that I normally just take music for granted. When I closed my eyes I saw patterns, constantly forming, like when you stare at a bright light then close your eyes, fading and pulsing.
Where it went from there: I’ve done it a few times since. Now I feel more comfortable, I’ve done it alone. To me it’s better alone, and I find that listening to music is my favorite thing to do on it. I feel like I’ve really heard music for the first time since dropping acid. I’m interested in trying DMT next, but once Silk Road went down it’s been hard to find a reliable source.
Tony O’Neill is the author of books including Digging the Vein, Down and Out on Murder Mile and Sick City. He also co-authored the New York Times bestseller Hero of the Underground (with Jason Peter) and the Los Angeles Times bestseller Neon Angel (with Cherie Currie). He recently went out drinking with Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh.
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