Drugs: They’re Not Big And They’re Not Clever

ChemistA Life Coaching client and friend, Carl Harvey from Personal Development Planet, asked me to read his blog recently to see what I thought. After checking out a few posts, I responded that it didn’t ‘sound’ like him at all and I was a tad disappointed.

Carl is a bubbly, irreverent, fun guy a bit like a (very) junior version of me, but I didn’t get  any of that from his writing. Not that there was anything wrong with it, far from it, it was fine. Just that it seemed to me it could have been written by almost any one of the 1.6 million self-development blogger wannabes out there.

I have no idea whether there is a recipe for success with blogging, but I do think there is a recipe for failure and that is to write what you think people want to read rather than what you want to write about.

First and foremost, how do you ever really know what people want to read? In my experience only a small minority of people offer feedback and the people that comment on blogs don’t necessarily represent what the majority is thinking.

Secondly, and probably more importantly, it’s draining. There’s a quote by (I think) Oscar Wilde that goes like this:

“Be yourself, everybody else is taken”

In other words be authentic.  With writing that means write about what interests YOU, crack jokes that make YOU laugh and tell stories that are personal and fascinating to YOU. That way writing becomes easy as you only have one person to please and that person is amazingly enough, YOU.

Over the last 18 months I’ve pushed the boundary a fair bit to where I want it to be and not to where I think other people think it should be. That has meant taking on such thorny topics as Enlightenment, Politics, God, the Law of Attraction and my testicles.

I’ve never felt even remotely nervous about writing or publishing such controversial material, because it’s stuff that I love to talk about. My take is that some people will like what I have to say and some will not. The former group can read on, and the latter group move on.

I’m nervous about this post though and think the boundary may be being pushed a tad too far this time. I have a sense that some people will be appalled by the admissions of a Life Coach to having taken recreational drugs. Then again, is The Discomfort Zone the right place to be for somebody so easily offended? Probably not.

As you may or may not know I owned a record store for a number of years way back when. A large part of it was dedicated to selling vinyl to DJ’s. Not just your average wedding disco DJ, but serious DJ’s that played what we called at the time ‘proper music in proper clubs’

The clubs in question tended to be all-nighters and in the early days unlicensed and bereft of alcohol.

What they weren’t bereft of though was drugs, and in particular ecstasy and to a lesser extent, acid (LSD). I embraced that scene for a period of time on a semi-regular basis. I wouldn’t say I engaged in the overuse of ecstasy though. That would have probably been a real disaster.

I am neither ashamed nor proud of my past, it is what it is.

I made decisions that at the time seemed like good decisions. If I had kids today I wouldn’t want them taking drugs. However, if they were to, I would want them knowing the facts of what they’re getting themselves into.

Drug education is pathetic. Or rather it is in the UK, I’m not really familiar with how it works over here. My suspicion though is it’s similarly long on lecturing and short on real education.

We tell kids, drugs are evil and they kill people. Then they see their buddies having a great time and presume we’re lying.

This breaks down trust and helps nobody, especially when we have an epidemic of people dying due either directly or indirectly to tobacco and alcohol use every single year. The Government does little of real substance to curb that.

DJAnyway, back to the point. We used to sell tickets to one particular event that held party nights every month. In a small town of 20,000 people we would sell anything from 30 to 80 tickets depending on the line up of DJ’s for the event.

Approx 95% of those people took recreational drugs. In fact, I can only remember one person that never did and he was one of those rare people that genuinely seemed to be constantly high on life itself.

Guess how many of the regular clubbers died or even became addicted?

Yep, that’s right, none. Although one friend did get very cold once when he had a bad acid trip and decided to walk home 25 miles on New Years Eve to escape the inflatables hanging from the club roof that apparently wanted to kill him.

It was a rites of passage thing that ran its natural course. In other words, even though we had some great times, we all grew up and realized there was more to life than partying all weekend and felling like crap on a Monday morning.

I could have avoided talking about that quite easily and seriously thought about doing so. However, it would have been somewhat less than honest, especially when I’m reviewing a book like The Harvard Psychedelic Club that is in effect all about taking drugs.

Before we kick off with the review I want to tell you a funny story. I’m presuming the people that are up in arms about me and my murky history have passed out with shock and we’re all alone now, so I feel a bit safer.

Around the age of 20 I heard about magic mushrooms for the first time. Along with a friend that had already tried them out, we decided to acquire some of the said mushrooms and giggle ourselves senseless for 6 hours.

Where we lived they grew wild for about 6 weeks a year in certain areas and you could literally PYO. Although not illegal to consume fresh from the ground I was still very nervous about accompanying my friend on the trip (pun intended).

I say it wasn’t illegal to eat the mushrooms and that’s true, but it did require sneaking onto farm land at first light without permission, which I suppose is technically trespassing and thus, illegal.

We’d been picking these mushrooms for a few minutes when we heard a shout. I looked up to see this old guy running towards us waving a staff. Oh deary me I thought (or words to that effect) here comes Farmer Giles to beat the shit out of us with his walking stick.

When the guy got close he said “Are you two picking magic mushrooms?” I stood there paralyzed with fear as my friend quite brazenly said “Yeh, what of it?” “Oh nothing” said the guy “I just wondered if you could tell me which ones were the right ones to pick, I don’t want to make myself ill.” With that he whipped out a huge bag and prepared to create his own stash.

The Harvard Psychedelic Club

It seems almost incredible to me, that less than 50 years ago two Harvard professors were not only taking hallucinogenics themselves, but giving them to students (although not undergraduates) with the tacit blessing of one of the finest Universities in the world.

It was all in the name of research of course, but not the kind of research we usually take for granted involving people in white coats with clipboards and employing strict control situations. These experiments often took place in peoples homes, in loosely controlled environments that would be abhorrent to most serious scientists.

There was one trial described in the book that became known as the Good Friday Experiment which could have gone horribly wrong. One of the students high on LSD left Marsh Chapel where the experiment was being undertaken determined to see the Dean of Theology.

After wrestling with a startled mail man and taking a special delivery letter for the Dean off him, he announced he had the real special delivery and it was in his heart. Fortunately for the student he was restrained and taken back to the Chapel where he was given Thorazine to calm him down.

Dog in prisonAnother experiment in Concord Prison didn’t quite work out as planned either. Leary and Alpert knew how important it was to make sure the set and the setting was right in order to avoid sending people into a nose dive of paranoid hallucinations.

In this instance that was difficult to do as they had to conduct their work on prison grounds for obvious reasons. Needless to say gray walls with caged windows do not a happy scene make and some inmates had a less than ecstatic experience.

The intentions of the group were without doubt worthy. They all believed they were conducting serious science into expanding consciousness and demonstrating the true potential of the human mind.

Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (now known as Ram Das and famous for his seminal book on spirituality, ‘Remember, Be Here Now’) really believed that taking acid or mushrooms was a short cut to higher levels of consciousness.

Leary even believed that psilocybin (the ingredient in mushrooms that delivers the high) could be given to terminally ill people to make the whole dying experience one of ecstasy. Not sure about that one.

Lattin claims The Harvard Psychedelic Club and it’s four main protagonists of Leary and Alpert as well as Huston Smith and Andrew Weil, changed the face of American history.

I’m not convinced about that, and if they did, I think it was minimal at best. There were occasions when I was reading the book I was shocked by how much less tolerant large sections of Society are now toward drugs than they were nearly half a century ago.

The Harvard Psychedelic Club is a fascinating, at times very funny, well written and superbly researched book and I highly recommend it if you have more than a passing interest in the subject.

Prior to reading I knew some about all the main characters including Aldous Huxley who drifts in and out and was a huge influence on the group.

However, I didn’t know a lot, and my knowledge of Leary was sketchy at best. In fact other than he that coined the phrase “Turn in, tune in, drop out”, loved taking drugs and is dead, I couldn’t have told you much more.

The Harvard Psychedelic Club lifts the lid on a complex character that seemed to like alcohol and drugs more than he liked his kids, but not for the normal reasons.

Leary and Alpert (Ram Das) weren’t your everyday hippies, far from it. They were highly intelligent people committed to their work and honestly believed they were doing research that would benefit mankind. It remains to be seen if they were right, but my sense is, they probably weren’t.