5 Lessons From LSD
A year of casually transcending the doors of perception.
The everyday slights, indignities, put downs and insults that people of colour, women, LGBT populations or those who are marginalized experiences in their day-to-day interactions with people.
Today marks the one year anniversary where me and four of my friends gathered to take LSD for the very first time. We all speculated on what the psychedelic experience would be like — what would happen? What would we learn? What would we see? It was an exciting time as we had no definite answers to these questions until we would take the plunge into one of the most ineffable experiences of our lives.
Now writing in the perspective of someone less naive than my former self a year ago, I felt implored to document something introspective and reflective of my experiences in the past year, specifically LSD since the substance has significantly transformed both my character and perception of the wider world. Rather than give you trip reports and tell you everything that happens on an acid trip (use Google and I’m sure you’ll find your answers), this post aims to give some insight into some of the things I have personally learned through my various trips in the past year and (loosely), the mechanics of the drug which allowed me to make these realisations.
On acid, everything becomes very transparent. You are able to objectively evaluate certain things in our world, such as the role of money, the purpose of education and the institutional essence of religion. Naturally, people’s minds allure to ‘big-picture concepts’ and ideas of the world as LSD alters the state of consciousness, providing an alternate perception of the world we live in.
As you can imagine, this excites the mind with new ways of looking at things that we originally thought we understood. Granted, it’s common to feel a child-like curiosity and effervescence especially on your first time, but it soon follows with a very nihilistic, “everything is meaningless” mindset.
It’s a thought we all have in the back of our heads — what is the meaning of our lives? — but is largely ignored because we naturally accept the environment that we are conditioned to, consuming ourselves with our respective duties, like finishing our degrees and moving up the career ladder at our jobs.
On acid, however, this question is brought to the forefront of the mind, meaning that finding an answer becomes imperative. A common answer such as “the meaning of life is to succeed in whatever life choices I’ve been ordained”, suddenly becomes insufficient.
Towards the end of our first trip, when we had left everyone, me and my very close friend came to an important realisation — friendship is the meaning of life. Everything may be temporary in this world, including ourselves, but the profound connections we make with people ultimately give our lives meaning. I may feel that I cannot make a difference in this world, but I know with certainty that I can make a difference in other people’s lives, and vice versa.
What fundamentally prevents me from killing myself in an ostensibly meaningless existence? Ultimately, the friendships and connections I have with a plethora of wonderful and inspiring souls.
The second time I dropped acid on my own, I took a 300ug dose. The first time, we had all taken 220ug which is intense considering an average dose of LSD is 100ug. But when taking larger amounts, the phenomenon known as ‘ego-death’ can occur, which is one of the most strangest, extraordinary experiences LSD has provided me.
To explain ego-death to people, I often enjoying using the analogy of a computer. Imagine our bodies as hardware, and our personalities as software. Ego-death is essentially reinstalling the software, the personality. Temporarily, the personality is erased and returns bit-by-bit. When the trip started, I had two questions — “who am I?” and “where am I?”.
I didn’t know who “Haider Saleem” was. I didn’t know what my degree was, or entailed. I didn’t understand why I was at university. Looking back, it was a very strange experience to have — how can someone be so fucked they forget their name? But after reflecting on it, it makes a lot of sense.
I began to realise that ‘Haider Saleem’ is my ego, a curation of the values, interests and experiences I have developed over my time in this world. It is one part of who I am, but not entirely who I am. It was a name given to me when I was born, and a name that I identify with considering everyone refers to me by this name. But when this ego temporarily ceased to exist, I began to understand who I was inside. Who I was, inherently.
Behind my personality, I was able to further my understanding into how my mind operates and how often I become so consumed by my ego that I forget what I essentially am as a human being, an animal. Behind all our egos lies a sentient being who shares the capacity of our ability to feel the same emotions we do. If we took the time to set our egos aside and accept the simple idea that we are all human, then perhaps we would live in a more fruitful compassionate society. This lesson is the hardest to articulate despite my best efforts, but remains the most seminal.
So far I haven’t provided any insight into the most ‘famous aspect’ of LSD — visuals and sensory perception. As the previous lessons have suggested, acid provides a lot more rather than seeing things that aren’t there, but the sensory experiences you get from acid remain today my favourite part about it. Everything becomes brighter and more colourful, objects begin to dance in front of your eyes to music which dazzles the senses.
Listening to songs, even my favourite ones, sounded like I had never heard them before. Because my mindset is expanded, my appreciation for aesthetics also expands, remaining long after I’ve taken the drug.
I can say with confidence that taking acid has allowed me to appreciate the small things that I would ordinarily ignore, and these days I take more time to admire the way things look, listening to a much wider range of music, and generally pay a lot more attention to sensory things.
Another strange aspect of acid is synesthesia, where the mind begins to confuse the senses to the extent that the user is able to ‘see sounds’ and ‘hear colours’. I had known about this before I had taken acid, but it was very puzzling to imagine how it was possible. It is simply something that one has to experience in order to understand to its fullest capacity.
The nature of acid invites you to question everything, irrespective of things you think you already know. It is true that you are left with more questions than answers after a trip. But when you are in a mindset where you feel that you can take nothing for certain or granted, you are encouraged to think independently.
This is a valuable skill that I believe everyone thinks they possess, but in reality not so much. So much of what we know has been conditioned to us, from the language we speak, the social constructs we accept, the things we were taught at school that we can effortlessly regurgitate, that ultimately it is reasonable to conclude that we are little more than products of our environments.
The philosophical element of acid, then, transpires as it allows you to re-evaluate your beliefs, lifestyle decisions, and subjects that you would never usually consider. Thinking back on our first trip, I recall an intense conversation about quitting smoking. Back then, I was a regular smoker (around 10–15 a day) and had never considered stopping smoking as I enjoyed it too much. But the first time I properly considered that smoking was detrimental to my health was a conversation on acid where I could feel my body decomposing because of cigarettes. Earlier this year, I managed to quit smoking for over a month and attributed the reason because of acid which surprised many, but I refuse to attribute it to anything else. If I had not realised it on acid, I feel as if I would have realised it far too late into the future, where it would have been even more difficult to quit smoking.
Since LSD provides such powerful experiences, I felt it was very easy to rely on it as a prophetic substance that could enhance insights into my life. But i did this far too much, and some of the ‘answers’ I received on acid became delusional. I soon started to realise this, after having my fair share of bad trips, which decreased my usage significantly.
Irrespective of the title “5 Lessons from LSD”, acid is not a teacher. It’s not a drug you take which will suddenly make you more intelligent and enhance the quality of your life. This is the most common misconception of acid that not many users address, and I feel it would be pertinent to address my thoughts here before I inadvertently inspire you to take LSD all the time expecting your life to become immediately better.
Instead, I think it’s better to look at acid as a mirror that reflects hidden and ignored aspects of your mind, and from these reflections, you have the ability to draw your own conclusions. But I will dispute the idea, contrary to many people who have taken acid and swear by it, that acid will always provide you with honest answers.
The reason why it’s so impactful from the start is because you’ve had a certain amount of years fixated in a singular, sober perspective. Therefore, any alternate perspective is valuable because it’s a change from the ordinary way of seeing things. But this alternate perspective begins to lose its value as soon as it becomes a primary, ‘normal’ perspective. In fact, I would recommend that acid usage ought to be moderated in order to avoid bad trips for this very reason — at most once a month, but the longer you leave between trips, the better.
These lessons are not extraordinary. I imagine many of you are thinking that all these can be learned without the usage of drugs, and you are absolutely right. You don’t need to eat shrooms or take acid or smoke some DMT to learn that friendship is the meaning of life! You already know that you should quit smoking, and don’t need to be tripping in a dorm room on 220ug with your friends scribbling demonic pictures of kids on swings. But the means in which I have learned these lessons have been extraordinary, which is why the lessons are so impactful.
Nowadays, I don’t really take acid as I feel I have got everything I can possibly get from it. But I appreciate the highs and lows of this turbulent journey of self-discovery.
“The urge to transcend self-conscious selfhood is, as I have said, a principal appetite of the soul.” — Aldous Huxley in Doors of Perception.