LSD The Problem-Solving Psychedelic
P.G. Stafford and B.H. Golightly
Chapter VIII. Guidelines to the Use of LSD*
* The "guideline" hints given here, it should be understood,
are offered mainly for future referencein the event that the
present restrictions against use of LSD are loosened. The authors
to not intend them as encouragement to illegal experimentation.
Since LSD is at present so easily available, despite the measures
taken against it, many other people are likely to use it from
a similar lack-of-knowledge starting point. I should say here
that although I came through the experience unharmed, I now think
my casual approach to the drug was extremely dangerous. I've taken
many other drugs, including heroin and cocaine, and never experienced
anything as powerful and overwhelming as the LSD experience.
| Tom McGrath, Peace News |
EARLY IN 1966, Lawrence Schiller, a journalist-photographer for
Life magazine, traveled around the country making a survey
of LSD use and distribution. When he learned from a UCLA psychiatrist
that 10 to 15 per cent of the University's students had taken
LSD, he found it hard to believe. Even harder to believe was the
factsoon verified by Schillerthat the story was neither
local nor restricted to the campus:
An eighteen-year-old girl in Los Angeles gave me the name of the
president of a major corporation listed on the New York Stock
Exchange. A seller gave me the phone number of an established
sculptor. One boy introduced me to a major supplier and I confirmed
that even the editor of one of the most respected magazines in
this country admitted taking LSD.
Because Life's facilities for collecting and checking data
are fairly exhaustive, Schiller's report has to be taken seriously.
Bearing in mind that this investigation preceded the recent "psychedelic
explosion," which has led to more experimental drug-taking
rather than less, the implications of Schiller's findings are
sensational: "I believe approximately four million Americans
took LSD last year, judging from conversations with suppliers
... one out of eight take it at least every month."
While conservative estimates of LSD users still hover around the
one million mark, it would seem that Schiller's figure is the
more accurate because other sources of information indicate that
metropolitan centers are inundated with LSD. (The Los Angeles
Narcotics Bureau states that in the Southern California area alone
more than a million doses are distributed per month.)
Of these millions of Americans purportedly taking LSD, how many
know how to use it properly? How many understand the necessity
for a sound pre-knowledge of the drug's action? Only a minute
percentage, if one is to judge by the availability and sale of
"guide manuals." Leary, Metzner and Alpert had sold
fewer than twenty thousand copies of their book, The Psychedelic
Experience, at the time Schiller made his surveyyet this
is the only detailed guidebook, with do's and don't's for psychedelic
sessions. In light of the importance of knowing what to expect
of the drug, it is unnerving to realize that so many users were
unaware of the manual, or did not think specific guidance necessary,
or just did not want to spend five dollars to buy the book. The
situation is somewhat analogous to home-doctoring with modern
"miracle drugs" or such highly dangerous drugs as penicillin.
Now that the number of LSD users has mounted even higher, there
are still no more than half a dozen articles or sets of guidelines
available and none is very satisfactory. The Psychedelic Experience
is biased and unacceptable to the reader who cannot or will
not accommodate himself to Eastern thought and mysticism. Houston
and Masters devote a chapter of their book to the training of
a guide, but it is generalized and offers little to the non-professional
or the uninitiated. A fairly good short set of directions is available
from Dwight Bulkley of Newport Beach, California, a layman who
describes himself as a "reasonably responsible senior citizen,
knowledgeable in these materials and in the technical sciences."
And an article by Gary Fisher in The Psychedelic Reader supplements
the foregoing, as it goes into the matter of dosage levels in
Set and Setting:
"Set and setting," a phrase coined by Dr. Leary, has
become a permanent part of the psychedelic idiom because in very
simple terms it gives the components which determine what happens
in an LSD session. "Set" refers to the user's state
of mind, his personality, his expectations and any memory material
which may surface when he is under the drug. "Setting"
is a term used to designate the environmental factors that might
influence the occasionother people present, selection of music,
comfort, locale (indoors or out-of-doors), aesthetic background,
amount of privacy, etc. By properly understanding the concept
of "set and setting," it is possible to "program"
a session for particular goals.
In the beginning of clinical research with LSD, reports from the
experimental centers were perplexing because of their unevenness.
This was especially apparent when representatives of several psychiatric
disciplines got together at the Josiah Macy Conference and began
comparing notes on their work with LSD. Some stated that not one
of their volunteers ever wanted to take LSD again, whether the
"setting" had been the office or the hospital. This
came as a shock to those who maintained the exact opposite about
their groupsall of their people had thought the experience
rewarding. In time, because of this divergence of responses, it
was realized that the drug itself played a minor role in determining
the effect of the experience and that the salient point was to
have a warm, supportive atmosphere.
Observers who have audited many LSD sessions and have seen the
range of reactions that arise from various sets and settings claim
that professional accreditation of the guide is no assurance of
a productive experience; conversely, strictly regulated circumstances
need not rule out a pleasurable "trip." Seasoned witnesses,
however, do stress that the "warm, supportive atmosphere"
contains the essence of the outcome and unless something close
to "implicit trust" is felt by the experient for the
guide, there is not sufficient "warmth" in the setting.
The session can be programmed by choosing a setting complimentary
to the "set." As the mind under the drug works by an
associative principle, cues from the guide and the environment
are fed into the participant's stream of activated consciousness
and can color it entirely. Thus, if the session has been planned
with art appreciation in mind, the selection of appropriate "props"
must be made with careful forethought. (If a decorator feels it
important to understand "Action Painting," that is to
say, it will not be appropriate to surround him with reproductions
of Academic paintings simply because they fall under the heading
of "art.") All sessions, of course, are "programmed,"
whether advertently or not, since they are shaped by set and setting.
A consciously programmed session, however, is superior to an unplanned
session for it eliminates the "channel-shifting" aspect
and possible "static" that brings about confusion. Also,
unplanned sessions may not readily move beyond "visual"
The function of the guide is multifold: head nurse tutor, baby-sitter,
Mother Earth, sympathetic ear, scullery maid, priest, trouble-shooter,
tourist guide, doctor, navigator, soulmate, and blank screen
The competent guide knows that it is the subject's session, not
his. This is why he must void all of his own emotional involvements
to the best of his ability, become as nearly "blank"
as he can, and in the twelve-or-so hours of the session, superimpose
as needed the various other guide roles upon himself. He must
be prepared to make a quick change from soulmate to scullery maid;
or priest to trouble-shooter.
Probably the guide has had many sessions, at least one of which
was devoted to concentrating on the clues to becoming a good guide.
Without personal, first-hand experience with the psychedelics,
it would be virtually impossible for him to appreciate what there
is to be guided and to know how vital this trusteeship is. An
involved non-involvement is the desideratum
This didactic point of view, shared by the majority of serious
LSD advocates, is contested by some conservative clinicians.
They argue that a guide who has had the drug
has no objectivity and cannot properly maneuver the subject or
evaluate the outcome. Masters and Houston are emphatic in their
rebuttal of this and similar charges:
The argument that the person who has taken the psychedelic drugs
thereby disqualifies himself as a person able to objectively view
and evaluate the experience, must strike most seasoned researchers
as simply ludicrous... Work done by those who refused to take
the drugs does not demonstrate greater objectivity than that of
persons who have had the drug experience; and doubtless refusal
to experience the psychedelic state is a product, in some cases,
of anxiety about the person's ability to cope with that state...
In the early days of clinical use of the psychedelics, it was
taken for granted that the "medicine" need not be tried
by the therapist, but that it was like other medicines and could
be prescribed automatically for specific purposes. Because of
this, the few rather than the many actually took LSD themselves,
and when they did, it was usually out of curiosity. The patient
was given his "dosage" and left in a room by himself
while the drug took effect, with only a bell or signaling device
to summon help if he needed it. Gradually therapeutic practice
recognized that more than a signaling device or a "watcher"
was required. Now those specialists who have used the psychedelics
for eight or ten years know that a guide is absolutely necessary
and that he must be highly trained to cope with crises and to
interpret and direct the session. Dr. Van Rhijn, who at the Macy
Conference expressed the opinion that patients could get along
on their own, had by the time of the Amityville meeting (six years
later) recognized new variables which require more subtle and
complicated techniques, and therefore demanded the presence
of an expert guide. Specifically he suggested the following
It is agreed by most persons who have worked with the psychedelic
substances that the guide, to be effective, must himself have
taken at least one of the drugs, preferably on several occasions.
We see neither the need for nor possibility of a satisfactory
alternative to this, and would add that the psychedelic experience
of the guide-to-be should include at least two guided sessions
in which he is a subject.
I think the method could be learned by a qualified psychiatrist
in about half a year, through studying and observing methodology
while assisting a colleague (who should have, I think, at least
three years' experience in psycholytic therapy), in combination
with at least five of his own experiences, with dosages ranging
from 50 to 500 mcg.
A question frequently discussed is whether or not the guide should
have at least a minimal dosage of LSD during a session. There
are good arguments on both sides, but most cautious investigators
agree that anything above 25 mcg. for the guide would necessitate
the presence of a third person.
It is believed that a small amount of the drug helps to establish
a quicker and more fluid rapport between guide and subject and
also lessens the possibility of boredom on the part of the guide.
It is far from easy to sit from eight to twelve hours with a person
who may be silent and motionless much of the time. Furthermore,
the guide's responsibilities are so much greater and more complex
than that of an ordinary nurse that inattention may be disastrous.
A small quantity of LSD is in most cases considered adequate to
keep the guide alert and interested, while leaving him capable
of fulfilling his function. Having a bit of the drug himself also
frees his imagination, and his interpretations of the subject's
material are more trenchant.
A good rule of thumb is never to accept as guide a therapist or
anyone who is antagonistic personally, for vulnerability and naturalness
will be inhibited to some extent at least, regardless of good
A well-trained LSD therapist will never try to manipulate the
subject, i.e., probe obviously, ask loaded questions, etc. If
detected, these will be taken as hostile manifestations. Because
of the sensitivity aroused in the LSD subject, hints of underlying
ambivalence, either positive or negative, will be telegraphed
and will distort the session.
The following is an example of "discoloration" of the
LSD session through such material:
One group of five patients was tested while under LSD. Each was
accompanied by a selected nursing assistant throughout the test
experience. Only one patient had a psychedelic experience, and
he did so "because I found it too painful to come back into
consciousness to answer the questions. I just gave up and paid
no attention to the questioners." The other four patients
had psychotomimetic reactions, mostly at the paranoid level, and
were most vociferous in telling us so after the tests were over.
Because of our understanding the basis for the disruptive impact
of psychological testing, we gave them another opportunity to
have LSD, but in the informal, completely supportive environment.
We will not test patients anymore while they are undergoing an
This observation was made by Dr. Kenneth Godfrey, Assistant Chief,
West Psychiatric Service, at Topeka Veterans Administration Hospital.
He continued giving the drug to the group of four, using 500 mcg.
dosages, and all had psychedelic experiences. By doing away with
the testing program and providing a congenial setting, Dr. Godfrey
and his colleagues found that "almost 100 percent of the
patients began to reach a high level of psychedelic experience
within one and one-half to three hours.... Experiences of ecstasy
became somewhat commonplace."
A final word on guidingif full self-confidence is lacking,
more harm than good can result. As Drs. Leary, Metzner and Alpert
From our own research studies and our investigations into sessions
run by othersserious professionals or adventurous bohemianswe
have been led to the conclusion that almost every negative LSD
reaction has been caused by fear on the part of the guide which
has augmented the transient fear of the subject.
There is continuing argument among professionals as to who is
a good candidate for LSD and who is not The matter is simplified
if it is understood that the guide can be no more than an expert
navigator, and that the subject is both the captain and the ship.
No reliable captain would take his ship out without a navigator
worth his salt, but no navigator can save a ship from peril if
the captain refuses to act on his advice. This is why splendid
results have sometimes occurred in the most unpromising cases.
Among the proscribed have been middle-aged spinsters, neurotics
and social isolates. Yet if motivation and guide-trust are high,
these are among the very people who stand to gain the most from
psychedelic drugs. With poor motivation and an indifferent guide,
almost anybody, on the other hand, can run aground.
The success of a psychedelic "voyage" seems to depend
less on the psychological label of the candidate and his personal
history than it does on his willingness to surrender to the possibility
of great chaos. "Swingers," those who enjoy wild, uninhibited
activity, or those who can cope with a good deal of tumult, usually
do well in their sessions. On the other hand, if flexibility is
all pose, LSD can shred such protective facades, and at some point
it probably will. Being unprepared and defenseless under a flood
of confusion may give rise to shock and anxiety.
There are also those orderly, cautious personalities who require
an explanation for everything, who are most comfortable in a static
set of circumstances, and who are compelled to maintain a favorable
self-imagethose in this group tend to find the LSD experience
terribly upsetting, if not devastating. This need not always be
the case, however, if the pre-session briefing has been intelligent
and thorough, and if the guide is astute and gifted.
The cardinal qualification for the LSD odyssey is ultimately one
of honesty. In time of personal catastrophe, the most appropriate
reaction is an honest one, in which the individual functions with
a minimum of hysteria. So, too, when LSD swirls the voyager into
unknown regions. He must be prepared to confront, without panic,
unsightly scenes (his own image included), threats and tragedy.
Some who have had LSD experiences that they called "delightful
cruises," without "bad weather," may yet run into
heavy seas. Somewhere along the line there usually does comes
a reckoning from which there is no escape, especially if the subject
has been dissembling. Without a well-trained guide, the psychedelic
experience is best avoided by those individuals who must maintain
defenses that keep self-exposure at second remove.
Except for those who have been involved in drug usage for therapeutic
reasons, it would appear that the prerequisite of granite-bound
honesty deters many who might otherwise benefit from a well-guided
LSD session and restricts it to those already possessing the positive
attitudes the drug tends to elicit. This dilemma, however, is
resolvable. Those who desire such atrophied qualities rejuvenated
can overcome their hesitancy and face up to the fact that
the ultimate destination is worth the trip. To borrow the clinician's
term, the "highly motivated" are promising subjects.
Of course this, too, amounts to problem-solving. The awakening
or revitalization of such human qualities may be one of the greatest
benefits of the psychedelic experience. If the drug should be
taken with a definite problem-solving goal in mind, the shoals
encountered in the LSD trip will be far easier to navigate.
Dangers and Precautions:
The dangers of LSD use have popularly been presented in bogey-man
fashioni.e., exaggerated and not fully explained. In almost
every incident of failure, the subject has been left ignorant
of basic facts. The guide has been careless in his duty and neglected
to remind his ward that he must never forget that whatever is
happening to him is simply the effect of a drug, and that the
experience will terminate in a matter of hours. The subject must
understand in advance that although he may feel capable of "flying"
while under the drug, he must not let himself be deluded in this
regard. Properly prepared, his residual judgment will remain intact
and keep him away from windows and other danger areas. Similarly,
he must be reassured that the guide will not attempt to "freak"
him by misrepresenting realities. If the subject thinks he is
in eternity and that the whole universe is in similar condition,
he must be assured that on another level the old reality still
exists and that he will be able to return to it when he wants
to. Therefore, one of the main obligations of the guide is to
provide the subject with a firm perspective, whenever necessary;
if this is met, the dangers inherent to the drug are minimal.
Over-guiding, in contrast, can actually cause dangers where none
exist. Too much forewarning
in a negative fashion implants anxietyif not fearwhich may
become overwhelming in session, especially if the guide is not
especially capable. This was particularly true when the drug was
first known. Psychiatrists would say to their volunteers, "You
know you may go mad, don't you?"a suggestion more appropriate
to brain-washing techniques than keeping the patient out of harm's
Most LSD experients spend part of their session bewildered by
their surroundings, dazzled and in doubt of their external world.
When Albert Hofmann first tried psilocybin, for instance, he saw
his hospital ward change to Mexican scenery (earlier he had been
thinking about the source of the "magic mushroom") and
his German doctor transformed to an Aztec priest, hovering over
him with an obsidian knife. Try as he would, for several minutes
he could not return the situation to normal. In most cases such
alterations in externals are fascinating to the subject rather
than disturbing, especially if it is known that these visions
will pass and give way to other things. But to some of the inexperienced
who have received poor preparation and mediocre guidance, "traveling
via the mind to other lands" may not be at all pleasant,
especially if the sensation of being "lost" comes as
a surprise. The novice wanders into a side room or down a hall
and suddenly no longer knows where he is. His disorientationlike
other LSD mishapsis then amplified and reverberates. "How
did I get here?" "Will I ever get back?"
"Getting lost" is probably the most disagreeable portion
of a misguided trip as well as the most obvious step-off into
psychotic trauma. Yet it is possible to avoid, since it stems
from surprise and general ignorance of the drug-induced state
of mind. Advance preparation for the possibility of temporary
dislocation is usually enough to sustain the bewildered experient
until he can regain his bearings.
The next danger zone, not uncommon to the casual LSD session,
is sexual paranoia. The subject may feel victimized and spied
upon and fear that at any moment he will be helplessly swept up
into an obscene orgy with unwanted sexual partners. This suspicion
usually occurs to the subject when he has sent out distress signals
and his guide is trying to comfort him by physical reassurance.
If the subject and guide are of the same sex and if the subject's
libido is insecure, well-meant gestures may be interpreted as
an accusation of homosexuality and the subject may have a deep
psychotic reaction. This possibility will be obviated if there
is prior understanding of the guide's function.
It is not unusual to find cautionary advice in the psychedelic
literature, although the details are often scanty and tend to
be forgotten as soon as they are read. Without a frame of reference,
it is difficult to keep their importance in mind. It is all too
easy to gloss over such warnings and assume they are only for
the "other guy." Likewise, many assume that a first-hand
knowledge of marijuana or any other psychedelic drug is more than
enough preparation for LSD. This is simply not the case. To avoid
the obvious craters, and the small ruts as well, thorough and
concentrated briefing must take place, preferably including both
reading and discussion.
Dosage is regarded as the last serious consideration in an LSD
session, being preceded by set and setting, preparation and choice
of guide. The drug is, after all, only a key, and as long as it
is of sufficient strength, it will open the door to psychedelic
realms. Once these provinces are available for exploration, the
question really is how far the subject wishes to "travel."
Those people who are experienced with the "lock," who
know their way with LSD, can travel far and fast on small dosages,
and "setting" becomes secondary to "set" for
them. But the inexperienced adventurer who is reluctant to go
far afield may absorb a massive dose and stubbornly resist its
effect. There are even those who rely on heavy dosage to anesthetize
fear of "crossing the threshold," yet are unable to
attain psychedelic experience and escape instead into the safety
of blackout. This would seem to illustrate that initially the
subject must take the drug or the drug cannot "take"
The easiest way to understand the various strengths of dosage
is to think of the drug as a high-powered microscope with a range
of optic lenses that can be manipulated to suit the individual
eye or the matter being observed. The dosage in this scheme determines
LSD, because it is the most potent drug known to man, is not measured
in the usual milligrams, but in the smallest unit in the scale,
the microgram (a millionth of a gram). Anything lower than 15
mcg. rarely has an effect on humans and doses higher than 2000
mcg. are extremely rare in clinical literature.
The range between 25 and 75 mcg. brings the psychedelic microscope
into low focus and gives an effect similar to that of marijuana
At this level the drug is useful in group therapy. It also causes
perceptual alterations and heightens reception of auditory and
visual entertainmentthe ballet, for example. A dosage between
100 and 250 mcg will change the focal length so that the subject
is projected into the realms of the unconscious and will be concerned
with psychological and sexual matters. If his session has been
programmed for intellectual and artistic reasons, suitable material
will be brought into focus. This is the dosage most commonly used.
An increase in dosage to 300 to 600 mcg. will produce cosmic and
mystical experience, and above 600 mcg. the LSD field shifts into
what are often called "cellular" or "molecular"
realities. Because the dosage changes the type of experience,
the concept of "overdosing" in the narcotic sense is
not applicable and is inaccurate. The lethal human dose, if any,
is not known as yet
Each of these dosage levels should be understood as a necessarily
rough approximation since the effects depend upon so many variables.
With alcoholics and addicts, twice the dosage is needed to achieve
characteristic effects. Women require about 75 per cent of the
amount required by menbody weight being one of the determining
factors. Once above a certain dosage, a session has some aspects
of all of the LSD "states"the goal is more the determinant
than the dose. Nonetheless, the dosage defines the intensity even
though it does not rigidly restrict the terrain.
Many scientific researchers feel that the first experience requires
a "super dose" in order to get the subject propelled
with dispatch. Others, objecting to a rapid escalation, suggest
a "boost" if the subject remains on a low plateau. If
such a "boost" is necessary, it is generally thought
that a duplicate dosage should be given within the first three
hours. It is considered important, however, to allow more than
the standard 20 to 40 minutes for the drug to take hold, for some
people have high thresholds of resistance.
The other psychedelics, usually measured in milligrams (thousandths
of a gram), often have side-effects not ordinarily associated
with LSD. The dosage range for psilocybin falls between 10 and
40 mg., and one may expect some initial physical effects; perhaps
slight nausea, chill, slight cramp. The emotional impact is gentler
than that of LSD and the subject slips into the drug state instead
of being thrust into it. The same applies to mescaline (derived
from the emetic, peyote), for which the dosage range is 100 mg.
to 600 mg. In the gross sense, all the psychedelics lead to the
same "beyond within," but to the adept, the approaches
are quite different.
There are some scientists and laymen who feel that a combination
of drugs is the best way to put the psychedelics to use. As mentioned
earlier, Drs. Ling and Buckman, Dr. Ruth Fox and Dr. Jack Ward,
among others, gave LSD with a number of less potent substances
such as ritalin, librium, methedrine and other amphetamines and
some barbiturates. To prevent nausea, particularly induced by
peyote, some doctors recommend using Marezine, Bonamine, Dramamine,
Should it seem advisable to terminate the session, a strong phenothiazine-type
tranquilizer such as Thorazine (chlorpromazine) is used. An injection
of 100 to 200 mg., or 80 to 100 mg. taken orally, brings the subject
"down" when an average psychedelic drug dosage has been
ingested. For heavier doses, one milligram per microgram (of LSD)
is the usual terminant. Some doctors, on the other hand, prefer
nicotinic acid (200 to 600 mg.)in the larger doses to end the
session, and in smaller doses to reduce confusion and anxiety.
Nicotinic and ascorbic acid (vitamins B3 and C) are increasingly
used because they are readily obtainable and there is no danger
if an excessive amount is taken. If the intent is simply to ameliorate
the session and calm the subject without ending the experience,
20 to 100 mgs. of librium are also considered adequate.
A "dry-run" examination of an LSD experience would be
incomplete without a consideration of "tight spots"
and how to get out of them. Such moments of potential crisis are
due to the nature of the experience, for like any voyage, it is
not all smooth sailing. The following points out some of the "reefs"
upon which LSD users have run aground and suggests a few methods
1) Under LSD, the user is not simply adrift, a tourist cast off
at the mercy of the elements and in the grip of forces that cannot
be influenced. He is, instead, the master of his ship and can
change directions. Because of the overwhelming nature of what
occurs, however, this may not be easy to remember.
One subject became hopelessly enmeshed in a net of music and could
not break the thrall. He was listening to a recording of "Spellbound,"
and believed that the eerie music somehow was emanating from his
nervous system. As each recurring theme built to a climax, he
would twitch and wriggle along the floor. He felt "unable
to do anything" until a thoughtful assistant walked over
to the record player and turned it off. He was released at once.
Since "real life" continues after the ingestion of LSD,
there is always the need during the session to get up, move about
to some extent (to go to the bathroom, to cite a practical example).
But in the psychedelic state, few people feel capable of doing
sountil they try. The subject under LSD can function normally
and he can also alter the experience as he wishes. He should fully
grasp this fact before taking the drug. Once into his session,
he should take time out and practice "reversing" sensations.
He can turn water into wine (at least his taste buds will tell
him so) just by thinking it; he can make a light object feel heavy;
he can turn a tin can into a silver samovar; or he can turn another's
glistening tears into a dry-eyed expression of joy. When he is
sufficiently skilled, he will be able to "select hallucinations"
2) For the initiate, some difficulty may be encountered in "take-off,"
since the transition is comparable to a jet thrust. Care should
therefore be taken to reduce rigidity and awkwardness. The best
approach for entering "inner space" gently is made with
the aid of a "fluid" selection of music and simple breathing
exercises, or a massage, since a tense, tight attitude may grow
out of "waiting for something to happen."
3) During the eight or ten hours of altered reality under LSD,
much that is shocking or distasteful may occur within the subject,
especially unpleasant fantasies of a physical nature. Cardiac
specialists as well as other doctors often direct their heightened
psychedelic sensitivity to their bodies and witness in surgical
detail the actions of internal organs. They may develop the delusion
that they are bleeding to death, suffering an attack, or experiencing
the collapse of lungs or other organs. These physical scrutinies
also preoccupy the layman of course, and birth experiencesbeing
born or giving birthare within the ordinary line of LSD events.
As mentioned previously, disorientation with regard to time can
terrorize the most valiant.
All of these "hallucinations" are merely subjective
experiences with little basis in everyday fact. If the subject
wants them to "go away," his best remedy is to dispense
with the natural impulse to "fight them." "Going
with them" or "giving one's self over" disperses
the unwanted vision and the "screen" is cleared for
Facing terrifying LSD events calls for courage and stamina in
the early sessions.
4) If resistance remains high, the experience may become repetitious,
leading up to a crucial point but without a breakthrough. The
subject vacillateshot and cold, back and forth, endlessly affixed
to the same treadmill. He cannot make decisions. He has been through
this all many times before.
In such instances, "boosting" may be called for. An
additional dosage is usually enough to "break the set"
and move the subject off his plateau. Dr. Duncan Blewett gives
One of the things we discovered is that if you don't give a large
enough dose of the drug, a person gets into a sort of interim
position. He has one foot in the camp of the usual frame of reference
and the other in the camp of unhabitual perception. He finds it
impossible to make a break between these two... But if a large
enough dose of the drug is used, so that the person is propelled
rapidly out of the old context and cannot maintain the self-context
as he has known it, he thenrather than becoming more uncomfortable
as you would thinkbecomes much more comfortable and able to
accept as valid this new and novel way of seeing the world.
One of the reasons for the occasional vortex-like recurrence of
the same material seems to lie in the fact that the drug effects
come in waves, and if the subject is allowed to persist in one
particular area too long, he may be caught in an undertow. The
favored method for breaking through this "hangup" is
to change the subject matter completelywith the intention of
returning to it later if it seems worthwhile. If the recurrent
material is deliberately brought up again after some time has
passed, the subconscious will have had a chance to devise other
approaches and the insight level will probably be more acute.
A good technique in such instances, borrowed from hypnosis, is
to suggest to the subject that in a specified length of time he
will return to his problem and then be able to resolve it
5) The development of physical symptoms (such as coldness, nausea,
pressure on the spine, restlessness, tingling, tremors or "a
pain in the kidneys") is often the body's way of evading
psychedelic effects. With peyote, and to a lesser extent with
magic mushrooms or morning-glory seeds, these effects may be attributed
to the drug, but with LSD and other synthetics, such symptoms
are a sign of the subject's resistance. The guide should in such
cases recognize these symptoms as an indication that the drug
is about to take effect, and he should reassure the subject that
these physical symptoms will soon pass, with "the psychedelic
experience" taking their place.
6) Another evasion of the full psychedelic experience may involve
over-intellectualizing what happens and talking on and on throughout
the session. Because language depends upon familiar ways of thinking,
reliance on words keeps much that is non-verbal from developing
and restricts the LSD experience. To carry on a lengthy conversation
confines "psychedelia" even further, since the subject
when questioned or spoken to is somewhere "out in orbit"
and must then come back and touch down before replying. For the
average person, a period of verbalization may not develop into
a problem, but a rigidly defensive person, on the other hand,
may use words to avoid the experience, and as time passes he may
become increasingly desperate. This may make him aggressive, causing
him to react with hostility toward the guide. He may impute a
variety of menacing motivations to him. In such a situation the
guide should refuse the various "ploys," gently reminding
the subject what he is there for.
7) If terror grips the subject continuously during the session,
physical comforting may lend the needed reassurance. But as pointed
out previously, this is a delicate matter unless the guide is
certain that the subject will not misinterpret the gesture. Because
attendant LSD distortions may seem too vile or alien to be shared,
the subject who has lodged himself in a crevasse can most successfully
be brought out, if other means have not been satisfactory, by
the guide's taking him into his arms and soothing him.
8) If "reversing" the disturbing hallucinatory material
has not dispelled anxiety, counter-diversion should be attempted.
The subject should be encouraged to try some appropriate physical
activity such as dancing, keeping time to music, playing the piano
or even typing. Taking deep breaths and paying attention to the
lungs as they expand and contract is quite effective. Such diversionary
efforts will in all probability become the new focus of attention.
9) The skilled guide always has extra resources up his sleeve
or is capable of fast, imaginative thinking. One example, which
can serve as a pattern for the latter, occurred when the subject
decided she was made of metal and was unable to move. "Oh,
you're the friendly robot in that TV serial," the guide remarked
genially, and as the subject was familiar with the program referred
to, she immediately "recognized herself" and began moving
about gaily in a deliberate parody of an automaton's gyrations.
Dr. Leary had an amusing and instructive episode to recount along
these lines. An electronics engineer had taken psilocybin and
was reacting with great anxiety:
... his traveling companion was unable to calm him down. The
psychologist in charge happened to be in the bathroom. He called
to his wife, who was drying dishes in the kitchen: "Straighten
him out, will you?" She dried her hands and went into the
living room. The distressed engineer cried out: "I want my
wife!" and she put her arms around him, murmuring: "Your
wife is a river, a river, a river!" "Ah!" he said
more quietly. "I want my mother!" "Your mother
is a river, a river, a river" "Ah, yes," sighed
the engineer, and gave up his fight, and drifted off happily,
and the psychologist's wife went back to her dishes.
10) Pinpointing the source of the unpleasant hallucination can
eliminate it rapidly. One subject, for instance, convinced that
the house was on fire said he could actually see his "charred
limbs" in the ruins. He was set straight when he was shown
a burned-out candle in an ashtray, still smoking because the wax
had been set afire by cigarette butts. Another person was able
to deal with distasteful hallucinatory material when told that
he was "merely a visitor passing through a slum" and
that "a better neighborhood would soon emerge."
11) Crises do sometimes arise even in well-planned sessions.
If the subject is unable to cope with them in a sober manner,
the guide may suggest "game-playing." The subject should
be instructed to think of himself as a versatile actor who must
portray a character in a serious role, stand aside and let the
12) If the subject has insisted upon taking a stroll through heavy
traffic, wants to drive a car or undertakes some other ill-advised
pursuit, and if the guide has been outwitted or has lost contact,
the subject should remind himself that what is happening is due
to the drug he has taken and that its effects will, in time, wear
off. He should realize that finding his way home is not an impossible
feat. He should try to recall, step by step, how he did it the
day before. Since evaluating distance may be difficult, he should
force himself to obey all traffic signals rigorously in crossing
streets, taking his cue from the surge of the crowd. He must curb
his inclinations toward bizarre behavior and bear in mind that
his mission is simply to get home.
If the subject has been driving a car, upon realization of his
situation he should park as soon as he can and take a cab, a bus
or proceed on foot. Although he may not believe it, most people
will have no idea of his condition, either through their own preoccupation
or the simple fact that it is not always easy to detect psychedelic
These final precautions have been deliberately emphasized because
they deal with the rare mishaps which the popular press has presented
as run-of-the-mill, without suggesting any means for avoiding
or coping with them. In point of fact, "runaway" and
out-of-control sessions are extremely unusual. Rather, those who
fear the ballooned Mr. Hyde (promised by the press to lurk just
beneath Dr. Jekyll's thin, suave veneer) and who reject the drug,
sight unseen because of this, usually find if they eventually
take LSD that the "Mr. Hyde" who lives in their unconscious
is not such a bad fellow after all.
The carry-over of the psychedelic experience, once the session
is completed, depends upon where the stepping stones have been
placed, or if the desired bridge has been reached. A single resolve,
clung to throughout the whole of the session, strengthens the
effects. So does the delay, or avoidance, of return to established
routine. Ideally, time should be allowed for relaxation in "normal
reality" to let the subconscious integrate its new insights.
This is the time to put the "psychic house" in order;
to speculate about what has been resolved and what remains to
1. It has been recently disclosed that grants
to study the effects of LSD are not available to applicants who
have used the drug, whether they have done so professionally or
not. Since the National Institute of Mental Health is the sole
legal distributor, this decision limits research even further.
2. Another danger situation is over-preparation,
or too much eagerness for the experience, especially if long awaited.
Jane Dunlap, in her LSD memoirs, Exploring Inner Space, unwittingly
records well over fifteen episodes during her five experiences
which any objective reader would find gruesome, disgusting or
terrifying. Miss Dunlap, however, seemed to take them all in good
stride because she was so grateful for the other aspects of her
LSD experience. The point, though, is that all of her negative
sensations were intensified as a result of inadequate guiding.
When she felt utterly helpless in the early part of her first
session, for instance there apparently was no one who knew what
to do. "This blood-freezing emotion, I knew, could be relieved
if Dr. Snow, seated near us, would pray for me. Although I asked
him to pray and he is a deeply religious man, he was now wholly
a psychiatrist and remained silent." (back)