LSD — My Problem Child
There are experiences that most of us are hesitant to speak
about, because they do not conform to everyday reality and defy rational
explanation. These are not particular external occurrences, but rather events
of our inner lives, which are generally dismissed as figments of the imagination
and barred from our memory. Suddenly, the familiar view of our surroundings
is transformed in a strange, delightful, or alarming way: it appears to
us in a new light, takes on a special meaning. Such an experience can be
as light and fleeting as a breath of air, or it can imprint itself deeply
upon our minds.
One enchantment of that kind, which I experienced in childhood,
has remained remarkably vivid in my memory ever since. It happened on a
May morning—I have forgotten the year—but I can still point to the exact
spot where it occurred, on a forest path on Martinsberg above Baden, Switzerland.
As I strolled through the freshly greened woods filled with bird song and
lit up by the morning sun, all at once everything appeared in an uncommonly
clear light. Was this something I had simply failed to notice before? Was
I suddenly discovering the spring forest as it actually looked? It shone
with the most beautiful radiance, speaking to the heart, as though it wanted
to encompass me in its majesty. I was filled with an indescribable sensation
of joy, oneness, and blissful security.
I have no idea how long I stood there spellbound. But I recall
the anxious concern I felt as the radiance slowly dissolved and I hiked
on: how could a vision that was so real and convincing, so directly and
deeply felt—how could it end so soon? And how could I tell anyone about
it, as my overflowing joy compelled me to do, since I knew there were no
words to describe what I had seen? It seemed strange that I, as a child,
had seen something so marvelous, something that adults obviously did not
perceive - for I had never heard them mention it.
While still a child, I experienced several more of these deeply
euphoric moments on my rambles through forest and meadow. It was these experiences
that shaped the main outlines of my world view and convinced me of the existence
of a miraculous, powerful, unfathomable reality that was hidden from everyday
I was often troubled in those days, wondering if I would ever,
as an adult, be able to communicate these experiences; whether I would have
the chance to depict my visions in poetry or paintings. But knowing that
I was not cut out to be a poet or artist, I assumed I would have to keep
these experiences to myself, important as they were to me.
Unexpectedly—though scarcely by chance—much later, in middle
age, a link was established between my profession and these visionary experiences
Because I wanted to gain insight into the structure and essence
of matter, I became a research chemist. Intrigued by the plant world since
early childhood, I chose to specialize in research on the constituents of
medicinal plants. In the course of this career I was led to the psychoactive,
hallucination-causing substances, which under certain conditions can evoke
visionary states similar to the spontaneous experiences just described.
The most important of these hallucinogenic substances has come to be known
as LSD. Hallucinogens, as active compounds of considerable scientific interest,
have gained entry into medicinal research, biology, and psychiatry, and
later—especially LSD also obtained wide diffusion in the drug culture.
In studying the literature connected with my work, I became
aware of the great universal significance of visionary experience. It plays
a dominant role, not only in mysticism and the history of religion, but
also in the creative process in art, literature, and science. More recent
investigations have shown that many persons also have visionary experiences
in daily life, though most of us fail to recognize their meaning and value.
Mystical experiences, like those that marked my childhood, are apparently
far from rare.
There is today a widespread striving for mystical experience,
for visionary breakthroughs to a deeper, more comprehensive reality than
that perceived by our rational, everyday consciousness. Efforts to transcend
our materialistic world view are being made in various ways, not only by
the adherents to Eastern religious movements, but also by professional psychiatrists,
who are adopting such profound spiritual experiences as a basic therapeutic
I share the belief of many of my contemporaries that the spiritual
crisis pervading all spheres of Western industrial society can be remedied
only by a change in our world view. We shall have to shift from the materialistic,
dualistic belief that people and their environment are separate, toward
a new consciousness of an all-encompassing reality, which embraces the experiencing
ego, a reality in which people feel their oneness with animate nature and
all of creation.
Everything that can contribute to such a fundamental alteration
in our perception of reality must therefore command earnest attention. Foremost
among such approaches are the various methods of meditation, either in a
religious or a secular context, which aim to deepen the consciousness of
reality by way of a total mystical experience. Another important, but still
controversial, path to the same goal is the use of the consciousness-altering
properties of hallucinogenic psychopharmaceuticals. LSD finds such an application
in medicine, by helping patients in psychoanalysis and psychotherapy to
perceive their problems in their true significance.
Deliberate provocation of mystical experience, particularly
by LSD and related hallucinogens, in contrast to spontaneous visionary experiences,
entails dangers that must not be underestimated. Practitioners must take
into account the peculiar effects of these substances, namely their ability
to influence our consciousness, the innermost essence of our being. The
history of LSD to date amply demonstrates the catastrophic consequences
that can ensue when its profound effect is misjudged and the substance is
mistaken for a pleasure drug. Special internal and external advance preparations
are required; with them, an LSD experiment can become a meaningful experience.
Wrong and inappropriate use has caused LSD to become my problem child.
It is my desire in this book to give a comprehensive picture
of LSD, its origin, its effects, and its dangers, in order to guard against
increasing abuse of this extraordinary drug. I hope thereby to emphasize
possible uses of LSD that are compatible with its characteristic action.
I believe that if people would learn to use LSD's vision-inducing capability
more wisely, under suitable conditions, in medical practice and in conjunction
with meditation, then in the future this problem child could become a wonder
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