Taking LSD was a profound experience, one of the most important things in my life. […] – Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple
LSD is a hallucinogenic drug, promoted a lot in tech circles for both recreation and the expanse of creativity it grants you. In recent years it’s been getting a good name, with many of my tech peers encouraging me to try it, some of the “greats”, like Steve Jobs endorsing it, and all manner of reddit anecdata about how it (or psilocybin) had changed their lives for the better, and renewed therapeutic research interests being approved for the drug.
I had dabbled a bit before with psilocybin, and don’t think it changed my life in any real manner other than showing me what mental illness is. I was mostly non-functional, wrapped up in blankets in my bed after eating three grams of the stuff, moving between fits of laughter and heavy bouts of anxiety while having my heart race at a million bpm the whole while. Coming back down to earth, puking all over the place, and remembering what my name was again, was the best part as it meant it was now all over.
So, enter LSD. I had a reasonable idea of what I might expect, having done psilocybin once or twice before. I went on a small retreat with a few friends, and we shared a few tabs. About 160 µg later and it was similar to psilocybin: see-sawing between euphoria and dread, heart rate turned to 11, but now with cool visual effects.
About six hours later, and it would be over. For most people.
It turns out that if you’re very unlucky, you’ll have strong negative side effects that may fuck you up for the rest of your life.
That’s me. I was very unlucky.
Before we go further, have a look at the image below:
Have you ever seen this? Take a look around you right now, maybe in a dark corner, or on a flat-colored wall. Look carefully. Do you see it?
Maybe you don’t, or maybe it’s not so animated. Do you maybe see something like this instead, on a ‘cream colored’ wall?
Maybe you see it now. Or maybe you don’t. It’s kinda like TV static, and the “dots” may be monochrome or colored, “moving” fast or slow or not at all. You might find it more noticeable in the dark, or in the bright. Or maybe only if you focus on it. Or, you might just not have it and that’s fine too.
This is called Visual Snow. I’ve polled many people I know who have and haven’t tried drugs. On both sides, some have had it “since forever,” and others have no idea what I’m talking about. For those I know who do have it, it’s pretty delicate and doesn’t really cause problems. It’s unclear what visual snow exactly is, and what causes it.
Halfway through my trip, about 4 hours in, visual snow started appearing on everything.
It ramped up slowly, and at it’s final form it was crisp, sharp, colorful, full of motion, and a total distraction. All of the time. Always. Everywhere. I was panicking and just asking everybody:
“Do you all see this too ?!”
“Oh yeah, I have that. Don’t worry, you learn to live with it.”
“LEARN TO LIVE WITH IT?! No way! WTF!”
On top of that, the loudest tinnitus you could imagine. I have a rather quiet tinnitus that I’ve had since forever, and it really only bothers me at night. This was a second tone, high pitched, loud, and with some ringing in it. Closing my eyes left me with afterimages, and trying to read in the dark would basically blind me for real.
So let’s sum up. There were a number of ways I was fucked up:
- First, the visual snow. Frightening and painted over everything.
- Loud tinnitus.
- I couldn’t drink coffee anymore. I like coffee. But even a few sips would cause me to get very jittery and terrified over nothing in particular.
- “Depersonalization.” I felt like I was experiencing life through a movie-theatre screen, and I was “trapped behind it” and unable to escape.
- Continuous anxiety about literally nothing. I felt like a student who didn’t do their homework, and was dreading their teacher calling on them - for 24 hours a day.
- Being really “suggestible.” I could think about things and they would appear as hallucinations in the corners of my vision. I could tell they weren’t real though, so it wasn’t exactly psychosis.
- Oh yeah, I had to continue to hold down a job: coding, working with people, and pretending that I wasn’t brain-damaged and terrified.
All of this added up to serious anxiety (read: right proper suicide and estate planning). I was pretty much convinced that I was going blind and deaf, that my life was over, and that one tiny tiny piece of paper can just fuck someone over permanently. Trying to find solace on the internet, I learned that this entire umbrella of problems was called “HPPD”, Hallucinogen Persisting Perception disorder.
I also learned that it might never go away for some, but you might have a good shot if you cold-turkey quit all recreational drugs. So I quit everything, including alcohol and caffeine.
I’m happy to say that today is roughly a year since that happened, and I’m basically 100% recovered. It took months, with good days and bad days, and now I’m just left with delicate visual snow that I’m pretty sure I’ve had since I was a kid, and is mostly ignorable unless I’m looking for it. Every other issue is gone, and I enjoy coffee on the regular again (and alcohol on the very occasional basis). I’ve quit every other recreational drug, and have given them all away, so I’ll be staying far away.
It’s unclear how things turned out this way, but I think it’s certain that LSD has very real and unpredictable risks for some people. Reading reddit anecdata about how LSD has changed people’s lives for the better - and the army of comments that dogpile on, agreeing - makes me upset at their naiveity and harmful promotion, and I wish to just post this entire story right underneath them and scream from the rooftops about how a single dose can ruin you. If anything, I got lucky with my bad luck, and fully recovered. Some don’t, and have issues for the rest of their lives.
And I didn’t even learn anything cool from the trip. Fuck you, Jobs.