My One Bad Acid Trip: A Lesson in Paranoia
I can’t seem to face up to the facts / I’m tense and nervous and I can’t relax / Can’t sleep ‘cause my bed’s on fire / DON’T touch me I’m a real live wire… —David Byrne
I’ve written in detail about many of the significant events in my life, but I’ve never written about this one, until now. My exposure to the virtual onslaught of conspiracy theories available on the Internet has brought this event to my mind several times lately, and I think it may shed some glimmer of light on why so many people are so addicted to conspiracy theories, including belief in conspiracies which, if real, would necessarily involve dozens or even hundreds of governments over hundreds of years, to cover up some fact which would hardly warrant the superhuman effort to keep it a secret. I still don’t fully understand it, though it is a very common phenomenon to which everyone is exposed. But on with the story.
The event in question took place way back around January of 1991, just a month or so before I went to the monastery and “renounced the world.” Consequently my memory of it is rather hazy—although it may be just as well that I forget some details, so as to make the story not so long. But the details which follow are essentially accurate, I’m pretty sure, even if others are forgotten.
So, what happened is as follows. Shortly before my ordination, back when I still had long hair and used money, I had four hits of some fairly potent LSD stored in my freezer. The plan was to take them all at once, which was more acid than I had ever taken at one time, and to “see God” before renouncing that kind of stuff and becoming a good boy. I would end my years-long practice of (occasionally) taking LSD with a kind of glorious crescendo. I may as well add that I had taken acid maybe four times per year for about ten years, had almost always had mystical or “religious” experiences on the drug, and had never had a bad trip.
But as it turned out, I made the mistake of informing my old friend Marv about my plan of seeing God. Marv had been my party guru when I was a teenager, when he was in his early twenties. He taught me how to party and was one of my best friends. If you took Ricky and Julian from the old TV show “Trailer Park Boys” and combined them, you’d have Marv, or maybe two Marvs: he looked more like Ricky but acted like Julian. He even drank lots of rum and cokes. He was a party animal who had a hollow leg with regard to any intoxicant; and as a high school student I would wake up on Friday mornings with the thought, “Well, going out partying with Marv tonight. Going to puke and pass out again.” I just couldn’t keep up with him. Also, somewhat like Julian, although he had a sense of barbarian honor he was also rather amoral, and was certainly capable of doing what in Trailer Park Boys jargon would be called “greasy.” But, as I have said, he was a guru of sorts to me, one of my teachers in the school of life, and I shouldn’t badmouth my sensei but should rather stick up for him. So maybe I shouldn’t mention that my father utterly despised him.
Anyway, after misguidedly informing Marv of those four hits of acid, he began strenuously persuading me to come over and take it with him, and that he had a friend with some mushrooms who could contribute to the party; and I eventually let him talk me into preferring him to God. So I eventually wound up driving to his place, which was in a trailer park. He lived there with his lovely wife, Carol.
It turned out that the friend with the alleged mushrooms never showed up, but a different friend did. I think he was a meth dealer, although I don’t recall any methamphetamine being sold or used that night, and he was evidently a mild-mannered fellow and polite as the next guy. Even so, he was a stranger, and I got a strange vibe from him. Deep down I didn’t trust him, and it eventually proved to be the case that I didn’t trust Marv 100% either.
Taking a powerful drug like LSD under such circumstances, in such an environment—in a dingy trailer park, on a cold, drippy winter night, with a known unspiritual rascal and a subliminally shady meth dealer whom I didn’t know—was not a good idea. I think with psychedelics especially the environment is very important, as well as one’s mental states going into the experience, since a drug like LSD magnifies what’s already there. That’s why in the past clinics that specialized in LSD therapy were well lit, with lots of bright colors and flowers everywhere. I took two of the hits and gave the other two to Marv, and he shared one of his with the friend, whose name I don’t remember.
Marv’s plan was that we would play a kind of science fiction board game “and laugh.” But due to bad luck or the inevitability of karma, plus a badly designed game, I got bad rolls of the dice and lost the game almost immediately; and when we started again I lost again, after just a few turns. So then Marv suggested we watch a movie. The other guy started loading bong hits for the three of us. (Carol had already gone to bed.)
By this time I was definitely feeling ill at ease, due, I suppose, to my reaction to the environment and my companions. Marv started us watching a movie that seemed to have no point, and featured pornographic actors, although they were keeping their clothes on and mostly just posing and leering at the camera. I didn’t like it, so I asked him to change the channel. So he switched to the old movie Dark Star—which is pretty much of a comedy, but I was too far gone at this point and was given the willies by that, too. I remember the scene in which the captain, who is frozen solid but still conscious, is complaining about how cold he is, and that struck me as creepy. The guy loading the bong hits was scooping some mysterious substance (probably just fragments of weed, in retrospect) out of a small container and putting it into the bong bowl…and not being sure what it was at the time, I began entertaining a paranoid notion that he was trying to drug me—not with cannabis, but with something else.
So I sat there, with my two companions contentedly watching something that seemed creepy and maybe even satanic, and one of them offering me some drug (again, probably just weed) that I couldn’t identify…and I found myself entering the realm of real paranoia. My old buddy Marv had turned to the dark side, had become a devil worshipper, and was even willing to drug me and then sacrifice me to Satan or some demonic minion of Satan! I was appalled and indignant that my friend could do such a thing. I determined that I would remain awake at all costs, since they’d sacrifice me as soon as I lost consciousness, and I occasionally shot Marv especially with an accusatory glare.
After awhile Marv’s friend excused himself and left, I would guess in part because of my own grim, dour, unfriendly demeanor; and not long after that Marv also announced that he was going to bed. I didn’t trust them, and figured they were still lurking around waiting for me to lose consciousness so they could propitiate their evil Lord. Meanwhile, my paranoia was escalating.
From two guys wanting to sacrifice me to the devil the situation developed into a truly apocalyptic one: The final battle on earth between Good and Evil was at hand. (I may as well add here that, at the time, I occasionally gave thought to the Book of Revelation in the New Testament and had not yet come to the conclusion that it is essentially a false prophecy. I tried to understand it, and to interpret it in light of contemporary events. In other words, I still took the Book of Revelation more or less seriously.) Without hesitation I determined that I would be on the side of Good, even if I died horribly because of it. It was all starting to make perfect sense.
I went for a walk outside at around two in the morning, maybe a little later, in order to get away from the dark scene I was in and to help me stay awake. I was psyching myself up for the final battle, the American, western front of Armageddon, and was expecting an attack from the minions of Evil at any moment. But still, everything was quiet, so the proverbial shit obviously hadn’t totally hit the fan yet. I walked to a nearby grocery store and acquired some orange juice; but because the checkout counter was automated, or seemed to be—maybe at that hour the only checker was elsewhere and I was just confused—I stood there helpless, not knowing how to pay for the carton of juice, until finally somebody saw me and sold it to me. As I was walking back to the trailer park a cop in a police car drove by, stopped, and asked me what I was doing; and with some serious concentrated effort I held up the juice and told him, essentially, “I bought some orange juice.” This evidently satisfied him, and he drove away, and I also was very satisfied with myself for having successfully enunciated a coherent sentence in my state of intense inebriation. And that was on just two of the four hits I had planned to take.
So, I went back to Marv’s trailer and drank the orange juice and remained fiercely diligent and wide awake. Because it was after three in the morning, and because this was in 1991, the TV stations were off the air. Instead, on the screen, rather than the old test pattern with the Indian chief there was simply a video of waves washing against a rocky shore. This was easily interpreted as further evidence that the world was coming to an end. Obviously, the people at the TV station had left a camera on and directed at the waves, so they could go home and spend their final hours with their families (much like what happened in the 2011 end of the world movie 4:44 Last Day on Earth). The thing is, I could (and did) spin anything so that it fit in with my apocalyptic narrative. It all made perfect sense to me. No matter what I saw or heard it fit neatly into the elaborate narrative that the last day had come, that the forces of Evil were unleashed upon the earth, and that my old buddy Marv had sided with Evil and wanted me sacrificed and dead.
Fortunately for me, I still had some capacity for rational thought even though I could hardly speak a coherent sentence, and I reminded myself that I was on drugs. The apocalyptic narrative seemed pretty obviously true, but still I had enough sense to remember that I was high as the proverbial Georgia pine, and that I should wait till I had come down before making any firm commitments or final decisions. I had to stay awake all night—or, more to the point, I had to stay awake until Carol got up.
Regardless of how paranoid I had become, and how chaotic and amoral Marv was capable of being, I still trusted Carol. Carol was a total airhead and had precious little common sense, but she was very sweet and almost like a sister to me. I knew, really knew, that she would never deliberately hurt me. So I knew that once she was up, I’d be safe. She wouldn’t let Marv sacrifice me.
So, to make a long story even longer, by the time Carol got up I was coming down from the high anyway, after holding a nightlong vigil against the forces of Evil. When she came out into the living room I told her in heartfelt tones how good it was to see her, that she was a sight for sore eyes…or words to that effect. She was evidently unused to being complimented on her looks immediately after getting up in the morning and was a little taken aback by it, although I noticed a little later that she had gone back into her room, fixed her hair, and applied some makeup. As for Marv, he took it all with equanimity. He knew I was having a bad trip and was getting paranoid, more or less, but, as I have said, he was a veteran barbarian party animal sensei and had seen it all. He’d seen lots wilder stuff than I provided that night; in fact he’d seen lots wilder stuff than that while partying with Yours Truly. Plenty wilder…though that’s a bunch of different, and irrelevant, stories.
* * *
I felt as though I was convalescing for months after this, my first and only bad acid trip, like there was an injury to my heart that was slow to heal. I could feel it in my chest, as well as in my mind. I suppose it wasn’t exactly PTSD, but certainly it took me many weeks to recover fully from the effects of it. That experience may have been in part a karmic way of making a clean break with psychedelics, decreasing my positive attitude towards them; my last sexual encounter before my ordination was similarly abnormally dissatisfactory—though that also is a different and irrelevant story.
But the main thing that I took away from that little psychotic episode is the realization that, when in such a state, it is possible and even easy to integrate ANYTHING into the narrative as supporting evidence. Anything that anyone said or did, and any event, would practically effortlessly be interpreted in such a way that it supported my weird idea that the world was coming to an end. A person can assert that some narrative is obviously wrong, and it will immediately be interpreted as that person being on the other side trying to sow confusion and deception. I had a friend long ago who had cracked up temporarily due to excess of ascetic rigor (so to speak), and he said the same thing: No matter how psychotic and delusional one becomes, everything still makes perfect sense, or seems to anyway. It’s almost like dreaming in one’s sleep, in which extraneous sounds, like a dog barking outside or a dripping faucet, are incorporated into the narrative of a dream that is very different from the actual situation of one’s sleeping body.
Which leads me back to conspiracy theories. Or rather, to some people’s fervent belief in them.
LSD and other psychedelics can be psychomimetic, that is they can trigger symptoms of organic mental illnesses, in this particular case paranoid schizophrenia. Also, most mental illnesses are considered to be simply exaggerations of the normal, “healthy” state. So virtually everyone has these symptoms or tendencies to some small degree at least, with some having more than the usual dose; and some of the conspiracy theories that are making the rounds lately have hardly any more concrete proof substantiating them than did my solipsistic apocalypse back in January of 1991.
Of course some conspiracy theories have more solid empirical evidence backing them up than others, and some conspiracy theories even happen to be true; much more often than not, though, the evidence in support of, say, Mossad’s alleged creation of the Wuhan coronavirus, or Jeffrey Epstein’s alleged survival to this day on his orgy island (or in Israel), or the existence of advanced human civilizations on earth tens of thousands (or even millions) of years ago, is nowhere near to being proof, and can be interpreted in more than one way.
Even so, some people seize on such theories eagerly and not very critically, and then endeavor to work out more persuasive corroboration later. All the relevant evidence, and much that isn’t relevant, may be spun to fit the narrative much in the same way as I was spinning the behavior of the meth-dealing stranger or the early morning waves on the TV screen. The initial sentiment seems to be that the official narrative, even if superficially obvious, is bound to be a lie. (I may as well add here that there was plenty more evidence over the course of the night that I spun to fit the End of Days narrative, though I’ve forgotten most of it over the years.) Again, some conspiracy theories, even some with little available evidence to support them, are true, but the ease of accepting them, even the habit or character trait of believing in them eagerly, appear to be symptomatic of a foible of humanity that is found in virtually everyone, but is stronger in some than in others.
The main divide between open-minded people and the authentic lunatic fringe is at the point where the dose becomes so large that the “theory,” the “maybe” aspect, of conspiracy theories devolves into “knowledge” or “proof,” especially when the evidence appears flimsy (at best) to educated normies. At this point the person becomes like the person on hallucinogenic drugs who forgets he’s on drugs. Or maybe he’s like a religious fanatic who is oblivious to the plain fact that he can’t actually prove most of the points on which he vehemently insists.
The main thing I’ve been stewing over lately, at least with regard to this issue, is why even healthy, normal people have this tendency to believe what is not well supported by the preponderance of known evidence, which is exaggerated in some folks to the point of being a clinically significant case of mental illness, like paranoid psychosis. What is the survival value of believing in sinister plots (sometimes involving dozens or hundreds of national governments over hundreds of years) or radical counter-explanations to rather mundane commonsense theories?
To some degree it may be an assertion of one’s individuality and independence, maybe even superiority, to believe something at odds with what the majority believe; although that clearly wasn’t the case with me on acid that night. Or maybe a certain amount of paranoid suspiciousness, a ready distrust of perceived outsiders, really has saved enough lives over the centuries that it has been naturally selected in our species. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a special area in the brain for it. To some extent it may be a stray aberration of the human capacity to believe damn near anything, regardless of how obviously absurd it is (recall the religious fanatic, or the person who takes Social Justice seriously). I really don’t know why it is.