Thursday, November 09, 2006

Hypertension 6: My Favourite Non-Prescription Drug Story

Since we’re talking drugs, here is my favourite non-prescription drug story.
Take the time machine, Sherman, back to 1969. I was the Co-Director of "The Trailer", an experimental social work project of the Jewish Child and Family Service in Toronto. We were “street” social workers, i.e. people from the community, who helped people who had taken hallucinogenic drugs and were having a really really really bad experience—“freaking out” was the phrase. Freaking out meant the kid was just not having a bad time--he or she was terrified. Intervention was required, in a major way. Things had to be pretty bad if we were called—the kid’s friends had to be desperate.

At first we talked the kids down (it helped to play Donovan records). Generally, an LSD trip took ten to twelve hours before the hallucinations started to wear off, so talking them down was a lengthy process requiring a lot of patience. Eventually, however, a doctor on our team discovered the 'valium blanket': taking 80 to 100 mg of valium, which started to chemically cool off the kid in about twenty minutes.

Pills: the North American solution…to pills.

Because of our work, our fingers were on the pulse of hallucinogens circulating in Toronto. Based on what we knew, about one in every 250 LSD trips was bad enough to warrant our services. One in every 250 trips is a high (sorry) percentage.

Now, LSD was considered on the street to be an urban, 'neon' drug. It had the reputation of being a 'bad' recreational drug, largely because of the ‘freak out’ rate. It was also, at that point in time, legal in Canada.

But there was a universally agreed upon “good” hallucinogen: Mescaline. Mescaline 'stemmed' (haha) from a mushroom. Unlike LSD, we knew of only one person who had freaked out on Mescaline. It was the hallucinogen of peace, nature and love. LSD was an SUV while Mescaline was a cow patty. Mescaline was the drug you took in the woods, dancing around with your clothes off, communing with nature. Mescaline was as legal as LSD.

Being legal and creating hallucinations was all the two drugs had in common. LSD was made in a laboratory, Mescaline was bits and pieces of a mushroom. Yet….we did wonder why the “pieces of a mushroom” drug usually was sold on the street as a drip of moisture on a tablet or a bit of blotter paper. You’d think if it was crushed mushroom bits, it’d come in a capsule. We thought it…odd…that a Mescaline “hit” looked just like LSD.

So we went scientific on Mescaline’s butt.

In the Summer, 1969, we developed an arrangement with the Province of Ontario's Addiction Research Foundation. We would send it samples of street Mescaline, it would test the samples and give us the results. We had to wait two weeks for those results—I think ARF was worried we would tell people what Mescaline was “good” and what was “bad”. The street life of such a drug then was about a week, so by the time we got the results, the drug was long gone.

We collected 23 samples of Mescaline. And not just any old crap, either. Nope, we got the best stuff. We got Mescaline from dealers who refused to sell LSD because LSD was 'bad'. Some dealers were kinda religious about it.

And…yes…NONE of the 23 samples were Mescaline.

One third of the samples were pure LSD. One third were LSD laced with impurities such as atropine (to create body rushes). One third were—well, who knew what they were? But NONE were Mescaline, and two thirds of the samples were the “bad” drug, LSD.

Yet…although one in every 250 LSD trips resulted in a terrible experience, no "Mescaline" trip was anything but beautiful.

The moral? It did not matter what you put in your mouth, what mattered was what you THOUGHT you put in your mouth.

I am sure it is no different today: if you take street drugs, you have no idea what drug you are actually putting in your mouth.

I have told my children this story many times.


judih said...

Great story, excellently told. Thank you, Victor. Got here from Janette's blog.

carolyn said...

It's a good story, except for the science. Mescaline is quite a bit different then LSD and mescaline does not come from mushrooms. mushrooms contain psilocybin, a completely different psychedelic drug.

It's true that mescaline is rarely available as a street drug and almost all "mescaline" is actually repackaged LSD. Mescaline comes from cactus and requires a very high dose (400mg) compared to LSD (0.1mg == 100ug) which means that absolutly pure mescaline would be 2-3 full gelcaps per dose.

Otherwise, "Set and Setting" is a good message.