Why I Wrote Trips: How Hallucinogens Work in Your Brain

All through the late 1960s and early 1970s, dropping lysergic acid diethylamide — you know, LSD — was a popular and highly illegal pastime among young people around the country.

Dropping acid also was seen as a danger to future generations, at least after 1963 and beyond, when the Saturday Evening Post and other media conflated the deformed babies whose mothers who had taken a chemically flawed morning-sickness drug called Thalidomide with rumors that LSD could damage chromosomes.

Thalidomide was taken off the market in 1961, and the notion that LSD damaged chromosomes was scientifically disputed in a 1971 Science journal paper by researchers from Mendocino State Hospital, the University of California-Berkeley and San Francisco State College. (Science 30 Apr 1971:Vol. 172, Issue 3982, pp. 431-440)

Still.

By 1967 to about 1973, when my friends and I were up to here in popular drugs of the time, and despite the removal of Thalidomide from the market in 1961, we’d always heard about the deformed babies thing associated with LSD.

Rumors = Crap

During my last semester at the University of Maryland-College Park in 1987, I wrote an honors thesis on LSD research. In my research for the thesis, I was reading that the rumors were crap. In fact, LSD and the other classic hallucinogens — DMT, ayahuasca, mescaline, psilocybin and others — were among the physiologically safest recreational drugs people could take. And even psychologically they’re safe and useful when taken with the right guidance and in the right setting.

But when people asked me about my thesis and heard it was about LSD research, almost to a person, even those who wouldn’t take hallucinogens on a bet, they recalled the deformed-baby theory of LSD.

I graduated in 1987 (BS in science journalism) and six years later, in September 1993, I attended a big conference in Lugano-Agno, Switzerland, celebrating the 50th anniversary of Prof. Albert Hofmann’s discovery of LSD.

Between 1987 and 1993 I’d been telling anyone who asked me about LSD about how it and other hallucinogens had gotten a bad rap by being associated with the truly horrible Thalidomide problems.

Happy Mickey Mouse gif by Feliks Tomasz Konczakowski.

Then, while sitting at the conference dinner, it came to me. I’d write about all the stuff I’d learned researching the honors thesis. I’d call it Trips. And, because LSD research was pretty technical, I’d ask Robert Crumb, who created the underground ZAP Comix and others in the late 1960s and early 1970s, to do the cover.

Underground Art, and Science

I didn’t know Crumb or where he was, but eventually I found him in the south of France and wrote to him. He kindly wrote back, saying he was too busy to do a cover but that I could use any of his early work for the book. Thank you, Robert, and the other brilliant artists who contributed to ZAP and to Trips. And the underground art, plus jokes and gags, did make it possible to get a pretty technical book into the hands of people who really had an interest in LSD.

Eventually, in 1998, Seven Stories Press in New York published the book. Trips is pretty old now and a lot has happened scientifically with psychedelics despite their continued listing, along with cannabis, on Schedule 1 of the Drug Enforcement Agency’s Controlled Substances Act. This is where bureaucrats put what they consider the most dangerous drugs with the highest potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use.

Snort. Don’t get me started.

But today, determined and talented researchers and physicians are doing clinical studies, using psychedelics with psychotherapy and helping people who have anxiety, depression, severe PTSD, addiction to tobacco and alcohol, and even inflammatory diseases. You can read more about this in my psychedelic medicine blog posts.

If you want to take a look inside TRIPS: How Hallucinogens Work in Your Brain, you can do that on Amazon. The science has passed it by, but the cartoons by the genius ZAP Comix artists like Robert Crumb are timeless.