LSD is back in the media, thanks to another ‘breakthrough’ involving brain scans of the drug’s effects.

I don’t know how much of a breakthrough this actually is– the pictures are sure pretty, but then, they usually are. I suffer from a lack of confidence in the ability or willingness of researchers to make sure these substances remain in the lab and off the streets. That’s because something about this class of drugs appears to turn some scientists into the equivalent of helpless fanboys. Just listen to Dr. David Nutt, former drug advisor to the British government and longtime advocate of psychedelics: “This is to neuroscience what the Higgs boson was to particle physics.” Such overstatement is common. I’m never sure where the scientist ends and the fierce advocate begins.

LSD is capable of producing all that brain activity at a research dose of just 75 micrograms– 75 millionths of a gram. Powerful stuff.

I’ve heard many claims over the years about the life-changing therapeutic potential of psychedelics, but I can’t help thinking back to freshman year (1966), when I served as  ‘guide’ to several classmates on their LSD trips. Guide is probably not the right term; it was more like ‘guy who agrees to remain mentally capable of using the phone to call for help if needed’. I don’t recall anybody suffering harm from the experiences I observed. There were some anxious moments– one psychonaut freaked because he happened to look up as the cat relieved itself on the edge of the bathtub, and became convinced its head had fallen off (wrong end, buddy). Other than that not much of note happened. There were the expected distorted perceptions, occasional rambling monologues, periods of high anxiety, brief excursions into the outdoors– and long journal entries that made little sense the following day, even to the writer.

Might have been different if we had been in a more chaotic atmosphere like Woodstock or Altamont. I certainly ran into folks who claimed to have experienced so-called bad trips. Looking back, it’s obvious that the stuff my friends purchased, allegedly 500 or 1000 micrograms of LSD, or that I used, supposedly ibogaine, could actually have been almost anything. There’s no quality control on outlaw chemists. Sampling their stuff required a degree of credulousness which, at 18 years old, we had in abundance.

Should legitimate research resume? I don’t see why not. I just hope it would be done with a degree of scientific objectivity. That means no glory-seeking PhDs or messianic descendants of Tim Leary out to change the world, one trip at a time. If you’d secretly prefer to be a subject instead of an investigator, you should probably forego the lab in favor of Burning Man.