Culture clash: LSD vs. Alcohol

You know how yogis, foodies, or fitness people are all able to seemingly magically find each other online through hashtags that directly relate to their lifestyles, hobbies, or lingos? For all intents and purposes they have a culture: there are promoted behaviours inside their communities, common goals, condoned behavior, and even a unifying speech that tells others these guys are all part of a team. The same thing happens with drugs -legal or otherwise-.

Smokers almost invariably agree on smoking ritualistic cigarettes with their morning coffee and right after a meal. Any marihuana user can tell you whoever rolls it goes first, and you should always “puff, puff and pass” whenever you’re part of a circle. It may not be obvious when talking about alcohol and LSD, but their communities also have pretty defined cultures that can be easily differentiated through their goals.

It’s all about perspective.

If alcohol were an actual person, he’d resemble that pushy, kind of obnoxious, friend we’ve all had in spite of having nothing in common with, and chronically suffering through his mildly offensive jokes. We keep hanging out with him out of a misguided sense of loyalty mixed with a bit of peer pressure because everyone else seems to like him and even find him hilarious.

In simpler terms: even though alcohol is a pretty powerful drug, we as a society, generally tend to think of it in terms of endearment. Most of us are pretty aware drunk driving is beyond dangerous, and alcoholism is a serious and potentially fatal disease. Yet binge drinking is expected, if not encouraged, among college students, we laugh at friends recounting their drunken adventures, there’s steady stream of articles finding humor in -and welcoming- drunken behaviour, and try to think of the last time you heard someone describe it as anything besides a “social lubricant”. Whether we like it or not, unless a very specific accident is being referenced, alcohol is generally well received and positively promoted.

…And the double standards.

As with any psychoactive drug, the overall result will vary depending on the composition of the canvas -i.e. You- it was poured on, but the properties of the drug itself are fixed and in alcohol’s case we’re talking about a depressant. It’s weird then that in most media, whether it is movies, music or tv shows, it’s associated with a more vibrant behaviour and positively received whereas substances that result in more common positive experiences are frowned upon.

In fact, find a social gathering and try to openly recount the story of the time you experienced an ego death (more on this in a bit) and were finally able to see your true self while on an acid trip. The pearl clutching is almost guaranteed.

The other side of alcohol culture

We all know the positive effects of alcohol. Even if it’s not a firsthand account, you’ve probably seen innumerable stories, in endless formats, in which a group of friends have a bonding experience over a night out drinking, or a shy protagonist finds himself having the courage of a greek god after doing a few tequila shots and finally talks to his high school crush. Alcohol doesn’t really need more exposure as the helpful little sidekick of the mildly awkward. Let’s explore the other side, that, though exponentially more harmful ,has been equally accepted.

You don’t have to be on a bender or on the verge of alcoholism to experience negative effects. Long term use, even within responsible parameters, include short term memory problems, liver malfunctions, acute dependence, severe injuries to your entire digestive system, and a whole host of cardiovascular complications among other things.

But let’s look at the not so positive aspects of alcohol culture you might be indulging in from the moment you crack open a cold one:

Think about it this way: what do you take home after a night out drinking?

  • A head full of clouds

Around 20% of ingested alcohol goes directly into the bloodstream so within minutes of drinking alcohol, on of the most constant blood user of your body -i.e. Your brain- is already experiencing the effects. Once there, it interferes with the communication between your neurons and decreases glutamine, responsible for excitatory responses. In plain english: you get a sluggish and foggy brain.

What does this have to do with alcohol culture?

All that means is that you’ll have a hard time communicating whether in oral or written form. Depending on the amount you’ve ingested and the tolerance you’ve built up, it will become harder to transmit your thoughts, and choose the right words just to form regular sentences. Long term use and binge drinking exacerbate the effects to the point of slurred speech and memory loss. That foggy brain and slurred speech are just common signs of a good buzz for binge drinkers. Maybe some do enjoy not being as sharp as they regularly are, or perhaps advertisers finally drilled into our collective mind that spending 5 hours as a slobbering mess is enjoyable.

  • An easy way out of confronting responsibilities

Frequent drinkers use alcohol as an easy way out of acknowledging uncomfortable situations. Just got dumped? Go for a six pack; Failed a midterm? Time to get a bottle of rum; Your ex started dating someone new already? Better be ready for some gin. Really think about it, why is it that alcohol’s culture, encourages people to ignore mild tragedies immediately after they happen?

Sure, avoiding reality is not necessarily the main reason for going out to a bar, but it is a strategy that’s advertised quite a lot. Writers like Hemingway and Bukowski thrived on the positive reception of the typical profound character that lost himself in a bottle. More recently, we’ve seen the resurgence of the anti hero archetype, often accompanied by a very heavy drinking habit that somehow endears them to audiences.

We’ve even come to expect intellectuals to be deeply connected to alcohol, separating themselves from their surroundings as they come upon innovative ideas that they would have never thought of while sober. Truth is real, lasting breakthrough doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and even the most seemingly disturbed and alienated artists confronted their realities and were able to acutely assess their surroundings to produce great works in their respective fields.  

  • A self image that’s out of proportion

Alcohol naturally makes you think you’re better than you actually are. While being confident is not bad at all, combine it with a sense of entitlement, an arrogant behaviour and a total lack of humility and you’ve found the recipe for a very unpleasant person. However, the over confident drunk is a staple of hilarity. You find him in movies, trending videos, and college stories all over the world. Almost as if alcohol gives you immunity against having to keep your ego in check.

  • A very real threat on security

Alcohol impairs judgment. This is not only what makes you think is a good idea to text your, soon to be married to someone else, ex on wednesday night at 3 am after finishing a bottle of vodka all by yourself and having a mediocre epiphany you won’t remember the next morning. It’s also what compels some to drink and drive, go home with dubious characters, partake in bar fights or end up with severe alcohol poisoning in more serious cases.

In some circles, the more extreme your behaviour is, the higher the chance your story gets told over and over again until you become a drunken legend. Sometimes good storytelling make some of those tales engaging and interesting, but when looking at the subtext all you find is extreme and reckless behaviour displayed by an actual human being that put himself (or sadly, others) in real danger.

How does this compare to LSD?

  • Intense communication

Sometime, along the way in humanity’s history, it became indecent to talk about anything besides the whether and what the celebrity du jour is doing any given minute. Whether it’s your intention or not, refraining from deep conversations leads to painfully shallow interactions and an absolute lack of feedback; which is another way of saying your self awareness will have very little depth.

Though taking LSD is by no means the only way of escaping superficial communications with others, the culture surrounding acid focuses greatly on meaningful intense connections with yourself or others. This goes beyond the basic levels of speaker, listener and message, as users are communicating within a more spiritual stance.

  • There’s no place for avoidance

I’ve already told you about the basics of experimenting with LSD for self improvement, but one of the main aspects we have yet to discuss pertains to the user’s willingness to face his or her reality head on and what happens when they make the choice. While we mainly tend to think of drugs as tools that alienate us from our realities, the opposite can be true when talking about psychedelics. Whether is LSD, psilocybin, or even ayahuasca, you’re taking a trip to inside yourself; and I do mean your entire true self. Think of the good, the bad and every gray aspects in between you might not have even consciously known existed, but that compose your true self. This is why you see regular users putting so much emphasis on psychedelic virgins to be on the right mindset before trying anything.

How does this affect the trip itself?

Once you ingest a blotter of acid, there’s no way out of the trip. No matter what you do there will be no shortcuts to take. Providing you were doing it for self improvement, experienced users tend to argue against resisting any thoughts or fears that might cruise through your mind during a trip. It might sound a little frightening, but it makes sense: If you’re already pushing your limits while looking to enhance your consciousness or fishing for a radical shift in perspective, there’s no reason to pull back and try to limit your experience to your comfort zone. There will be some dark corners eventually, but when you do find them, remember they were already there and you’re just now shedding a light on them. After all, the psychedelic is the vessel you used to open your mind, but you’re the one driving.

Let’s try a more concrete explanation

Imagine your consciousness as something existing outside of your body. Maybe a round plastic bubble resting on a table right in front you. When you inject that bubble with LSD, it will start expanding to a point that might start alarming you. You’ll feel like it’s about to burst open, and I’m not going to lie, it can be a very unsettling if not a downright scary feeling. Maybe you try to put a box over the bubble to keep it from growing even more and maybe the sight of contention actually calms you but at the end of the day it will still be expanding under it and all you did was make its environment more uncomfortable. On the other hand, if you take it upon yourself to let the bubble expand and grow you might find it had the ability to do so safely.

  • Have you heard about the “death of the ego”?

Timothy Leary described this symbolic death as the “complete transcendence” of the self. He was specifically talking about the LSD experience, but interestingly, this is an idea that has come up in literature, and several religions throughout the years.

Beware of treating your ego as your adversary

Before we go any farther it is important to clarify that your ego is not your enemy. We tend to throw the word lightly and in a pejorative way alarmingly often. A general misunderstanding of what the ego is, has caused it to be the scapegoat for many problems.

Let’s say you’re in a restaurant, and two tables over there’s a guy in a bright orange polo shirt, practically screaming about how he’s become so good at whatever job he has that Obama should personally thank him for single handedly keeping the world’s economic system afloat, he casually mistreats the waiter every chance he gets and has already sent three different plates back just because he can’t make up his mind as to whether he’d like pasta, chicken, or lasagna. Just as you think he couldn’t get more obnoxious, he goes on to gloat about having more matches on tinder than all of his friends thus proclaiming himself more important and desirable than all of them. Right after wondering how many friends could this jerk possibly have, and before you question how someone could openly display such a surprising lack of self awareness, chances are someone has already labeled him as an egomaniac.

Our imaginary narcissist is way too self involved and extraordinarily obsessed with receiving external validation, but we should stay away from arm chair psychology. The cause is not just “having an ego”. We all have one. As with all of the elements of our bodies, the problems surface when the ego becomes surrounded by an unhealthy environment.

Forget about going “egoless”

According to Freud, the ego is just one of the three structures that form the human psyche.  The ego is the one developed to act as a mediator between what you want and the external world. When you’ve worked out a healthy system, the ego looks for realistic ways in which it can satisfy the desires while thinking of social norms, expectations, and rules. You begin to have issues when all these outside elements become more important than your desires, and your ego starts delaying satisfaction. The barrier between your desires and the outside, will always exist. Start a fight against it and you will spend a lot of energy trying to get rid of something that’s not doing any harm.

So what is an ego death?

Scientist aren’t exactly jumping at the chance to study drug induced ego death so much of the literature you can find is merely anecdotal and relies on the analysis by people that have experienced it. A common description is characterized by the feeling of losing the sense of self but keeping awareness of the outside world. You might have heard about “feeling like you’re one with your surroundings” this is the consequence of your ego loosening up. When this is taken one step further and your ego completely vanishes you get people that feel like their individual selves are gone and all that remains is the universe. Once the ego comes back it’s relying on a new understanding of the outside world and the self.

Keep in mind that depending on who you ask, you’ll get a different answer that, although often intrarelated, actually comes from different belief systems. A buddhist might see the source pain in desire and therefore might view an ego death as a shift in what you perceive as desirable and how you handle your needs. Whereas someone with more of a new age spirituality, can associate the death of the ego as the death of the self and the transition or evolution into a higher form of consciousness.

Why is it important?

When using LSD to treat alcoholism, experts found that one of the many reasons that acid was so effective was because it helped alcoholics change their sense of self and their understanding of their surroundings. While, scientist didn’t go so far as to call it “ego death”, what they described is similar to other reports of loss of ego. It wouldn’t be entirely insane to extrapolate this to a healthy person and figure it would help them find a new perspective in life.

  • A life threatening overdose is not something you have to worry about

This is something that’s worth repeating over and over again every time LSD is being discussed. Despite LSD portrayals in the media, it hasn’t been responsible for any deaths; though it has been cited as being an indirect cause of death. While some outlets state that a user would have to take an insane amount of LSD to be able to overdose, others determine common symptoms (like hallucinations and synesthesia) as signs of an actual overdose but agree that it’s not life threatening. As long as there’s a moratorium on formal investigations, there won’t be a definite answer but something we can trust is that there’s no such thing as a life threatening LSD overdose.

Beware of the look alike: As I told you before, though, you should be extremely careful of 25I-NBOMe. This compound, developed in 2003, has been sold as LSD and has been directly linked to deaths, cardiac arrest, and harmful overdoses.

  • A memorable experience

How many times have you heard of someone’s drunken blackout? There’s thousands -or 67,300 to be exact- of videos over at YouTube either telling you how to get blackout drunk “the right way” or depicting other people in their drunken stupors. Why you would like not remembering your night out to be the pinnacle of your experience is anyone’s guess, but apparently is a common aim among frequent drinkers.

Contrastingly regular LSD users thrive on remembering their experiences. The emphasis is more than likely coming from the fact that you can’t really be consciously changed by something you can’t even remember. Even years after their first meaningful trip, chances are they remember it vividly.

Think about purity and safe consumption

Always remember experimenting should be done in the safest environment possible. It is extremely important that you minimize risks by knowing exactly what you’re consuming and avoid places that might trigger a negative experience in an altered state of mind.

Have you heard about psychonauts?

Most experienced users recommend having a “trip sitter” for your first time. Someone trustworthy that has more experience than you and can provide a helpful way out of a bad trip. Though it’s not exactly a widely used term among acid users, people that help others travel different states of consciousness whether through meditation, psychedelics, or other means, are called psychonauts. Even if it seems their experiences are more anecdotal than scientific, keep in mind that LSD users have had to relied on their empiric knowledge for a long time due to the ban on more formal research. Having someone watching over you during a trip, is another way acid users have to ensure a safer experience.




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