Opinion | From Stoned Apes To Modern Psychonauts
Were psychedelics catalysts in the emergence of the human species? Dev looks into Mckenna’s Stoned...
Are you 18 or older?
Please confirm that your are 18 years of age or older.
You are not allowed to access the page.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Chemical Collective or any associated parties. Always practice good set and setting when exploring any psychedelic compounds. We have a fantastic article looking into this subject you can read here.
LSD first crossed my path at a music festival in my home country when I was in my early twenties. As far as settings go, this one was magical. The venue was on the grounds of the beautiful Inveraray Castle in Scotland. Many other festivals I had attended at that time consisted of a few big, ugly stages erected at opposite ends of a flat, soulless field. This festival, however, was hosted in the lush forests of the castle gardens. The stages were nested amongst centuries-old oak and willow trees. The paths and walkways crisscrossed with rivers and gently flowing streams, and the sound of the water added a further layer of picturesque immersion to the glorious surroundings. Of course, the ancient castle sat at the centre of it all.
The weekend began much as you would expect at a festival. Myself, my partner and five of our closest friends set up our tents facing each other in a circle and then gathered to take in the sights and sounds. Towering trees, swaying in the gentle breeze, surrounded the campsite on all sides. The sky was clear blue, but September in Scotland is chilly so we were wrapped up in hoodies and woolly hats. Being natives, we were used to the cold, so it did little to dampen our enthusiasm. The atmosphere was anything but cold. Our fellow festival-goers all seemed to be in exceptionally good spirits and there was a palpable peace-and-love vibe everywhere you went. Everyone felt like this was going to be a special weekend. They were right.
At this point in my life, I had fully embraced a debaucherous lifestyle. I was smoking weed almost 24/7, indulged in heavy cocaine use every weekend and used ecstasy and ketamine once or twice a month. I used benzodiazepines and opiates regularly and drank alcohol fairly heavily as well. Often, I was taking all these drugs simultaneously, and that weekend at Connect would be no different, except in one respect. A new compound would make its debut in my consciousness – Lysergic Acid Diethylamide. I didn’t know it at the time, but my experimentation that weekend would start me on a path to a major turning point in my life, over a decade later.
Looking back, I was already an addict at that point. I may not yet have escalated to daily cocaine and opiate use, but I was addicted to intoxication itself – sobriety was a non-existent state of mind for me, but as ridiculous as it sounds in hindsight, I didn’t see my drug use as a problem back then. I had a good job, a strong relationship and spent every weekend with my best friends. My narcotic consumption would continue to escalate though, ultimately becoming unsustainable.
We decided we would chill in the campsite for an hour or two, have some drinks and then make our way into the festival in the afternoon to catch some of the bands we were excited about seeing (Bloc Party was top of my list). It was at this point that my friend revealed he had brought ten tabs of acid. I had never encountered LSD before and was surprised at how unassuming it looked – just some little squares of paper (they came from a single picture sheet but I can’t remember what the print was.) At that point in time, I felt invincible as far as taking drugs went, so I had very little apprehension about dropping my first tab. I put it under my tongue, as instructed, and waited to feel the effects I had heard so much about. Within a few minutes though, I accidentally swallowed my tab. Feeling slightly embarrassed by this rookie mistake, I put another tab under my tongue and stupidly decided not to tell anyone (thinking I had wasted the first one) and we continued to prepare to hit the festival grounds.
We were having a ball. Everyone was hyped up and tipsy and we were all laughing hysterically – I mean really howling, with tears rolling down our faces at times. I knew straight away that this was unlike any other drug I had taken. I went into my tent to get something and when I looked up from rummaging in my backpack, I experienced my first ever psychedelic visuals. The walls of the tent looked like waves on the surface of the sea – swirling and swishing like light refracting through water. I was mesmerised, and sat in awe for a few minutes staring at the undulating canvas. After that first realisation, the visuals intensified very quickly, and when I stepped back outside, my jaw dropped. Every colour had become incredibly vibrant. Tents stretched as far as the eye could see, in every shade imaginable. Billowing in the gentle breeze, they looked like a weird and wonderful coral reef submerged in an invisible ocean.
Every festival goer left trails behind them as they moved, and my own friends were a blur. The trees surrounding the campsite really blew my mind though. As they stirred in the wind, the leaves and branches warped, pulsed and vibrated. Melting and swaying in a hypnotic dance. It was at this point that I uttered the words that I would be mocked about for years to come…”Nature can’t create this!”
The sensory input was overwhelming and I was walking a tightrope between joy and panic. Fortunately, we had a tight-knit group. We reassured each other, pulled ourselves together and headed for the festival. Once we left the relative safety of our tent circle, the world erupted into a kaleidoscopic funhouse. Every face was contorted and even the ground looked like some kind of swirling, psychedelic swamp. Visuals were one thing, but I felt a state of mind I had never experienced before. It was like I was discovering the world anew, which was exhilarating, but at the same time, a strong sense of vulnerability was present on the edge of my thoughts. I was aware that I was suppressing panic, but there was nothing else for it.
It took far longer than it should have to traverse the path. Staying together was proving to be a challenge as well, as we were constantly getting distracted by mundane things that had suddenly become enchanting or hilarious. As I described earlier, unlike most festivals, the path led through dense woodlands. It was like some kind of fairytale forest – every leaf and puddle was magical in its own right, and where the sunlight broke through the trees, there were otherworldly beams of light shining through. I was loving every minute until we turned a bend in the path and were confronted by a barricade of yellow jackets.
Seeing the large police presence instantly shifted my mindset – I went from pure wonderment to absolute fear and panic. I had never felt such a rapid and dramatic change in emotion. I actually turned around and started backing up towards the campsite. Having a small amount of pills and coke on me, I was convinced that the security guards would search me. In my mind, the trip was so intense it must be blatantly obvious to everyone that I was on potent drugs. Visions of being huckled into a police car flashed in my mind. In reality, half the people in attendance were on drugs, and I didn’t really stand out at all, but of course, I wasn’t operating in reality at that moment.
My friend, who was more experienced at the time, grabbed me by the shoulders and told me to take deep breaths. When I calmed down, he put his sunglasses on my face and told me, without a hint of sarcasm, that they were magical sunglasses – ‘when you wear the magic specs, no one can tell how wasted you are’ he told me. Now, I was not a child and I was not an idiot (that was debatable to be honest), but in my scared and suggestible state of mind, I wanted it to be true, so I decided to accept it as an undeniable fact.
I strutted up to the entrance, supremely confident with my enchanted glasses, and breezed by the police without a hitch. Just beyond the barrier, the path led to an old, stone bridge that crossed the river. It emerged from beneath the forest’s canopy into the sunlight. A man was standing on the middle of the bridge, bathed in light, wearing a hoodie that said ‘free hugs’ on the front. I must have looked like I needed one because he beckoned me in with a sympathetic smile. I hugged that stranger with all my strength and thanked him for his honourable service. Then my friends and I crossed the bridge into the festival.
Every aspect of the trip was still intensifying as we made our way in, but after passing through the entrance, I felt an incredible sense of relief and elation. My friends went to one of the bars to get some drinks and then we headed for the main stage. When we drew close, my jaw dropped again.
Unlike most festivals, the stage was not on flat ground – it was at the bottom of a vast grassy slope, with a foliage-covered mountain towering behind it. Enormous, ancient trees encircled us with an intense energy that seemed to hold everything in place. From our position at the back, we could see the whole crowd laid out before us. Electrifying vibes washed over me, and I felt like I was in a different dimension. Seeing thousands of people dancing, singing and laughing with their friends is exciting on a normal day. This felt like some massive, cosmic playground, beautiful and terrifying in almost equal measure.
Thousands of multi-coloured balloons were released from the stage, and I instantly felt like I was entering a huge, bubbling cauldron. I was being pulled towards the stage like a magnet, and the further I went, the more intense the trip felt. I was almost delirious and momentarily forgot about my friends and wandered through the crowd in awe. Luckily one of my friends realised I was missing, located me and guided me back to our group, like a shepherd bringing home a lost sheep. I can only imagine how the day would have progressed if I had gotten lost – beyond this point I became almost non-functional.
The next few hours were a complete haze of intense laughter and wild hallucinations. We were talking to everyone and anyone, although I can’t recall a single conversation. The trails were unbelievably intense and being in a huge crowd was so disorienting. I realised at this point that I was much more affected than all my friends; that’s when it came back to me that I had taken a second tab thinking the first wouldn’t hit me. I was obviously wrong. This realisation brought on some fresh panic and I started to spiral – my thoughts were like a tornado of uncertainty, piling on top of each other, one after another, never finding resolution.
Despite my storm-clouded brain and heavily impaired vision, I spotted a group of people sitting in a circle on the ground at the edge of the crowd. Amongst all the surrounding chaos, they were a beacon of tranquillity – they looked like very chilled and smiley people who would understand my predicament (I’m now acutely aware of how preposterous this logic was.) In my frantic state, they looked extremely inviting and I literally ran towards them and dived into the middle of their circle.
Needless to say, they were somewhat alarmed at first – a complete stranger just exploded into their peaceful gathering after all – but once I explained my situation, they were so welcoming and reassuring; exactly what I needed at that moment. They actually sang to me while one of them stroked my hair! When I realised that half of them were wearing pyjamas, I knew I had chosen my new friends wisely.
We talked for ages, and it struck me that, despite how different we were in appearance, we were on such a similar wavelength. They explained to me that they spent the whole year travelling from festival to festival, getting high and living out of camper vans. One guy, wearing some lovely blue and white striped pyjamas explained their choice of garments in a single sentence – ‘If everyone wore pyjamas all the time, the world would be a much better place.’ This incredible and wacky ethos, and the genuine commitment they had to it, still makes me smile to this day.
My senses still felt overwhelmed and I decided it would be best to head back to my tent and decompress, away from all the crowds. Two of my new friends volunteered to go with me. I told my group where I was going (they thought I was crazy to take two ‘strangers’ back with me, but I had no such doubts) and we set off, back through the forest to the campsite.
As we walked, we talked about drugs the whole way, and from the sounds of it, these guys were very experienced – as you’d expect from seasoned festival chasers. They rhymed off a whole list of substances they had – all the usual suspects, the only thing they were missing was MDMA. When we got back to the tent I gave them each two pills for putting up with my nonsense and we drank a few cans of cider and listened to some chilled music. They were extremely grateful for the hospitality. So grateful in fact that they decided to share the wealth and dished out three small bumps of coke on the screen of a phone.
Now I have always had a very open handed attitude when it comes to drugs. When someone shares their stash with me – no matter how small an amount – I’ve always taken this as a symbol of our fellowship and dished out what I have in return. It just so happened that I tended to have excessive amounts of my favourite drugs, and this time was no different – I think I had an ounce of cocaine and 100 ecstasy pills with me that weekend.
Scrambling about my tent, looking for a surface bigger than my phone, I spotted an unopened carton of pineapple juice my girlfriend brought to mix her drinks – not a little carton with a straw attached, a big one-litre carton. Perfect.
As I dished out some of my own coke, the powder looked like it was blowing in a non-existent breeze, then returning to the surface. When the lines were set up they still didn’t look static – they wriggled and warped and appeared to glow. My pyjama wearing friends watched in disbelief, and at first, I thought they could also see the lines moving – it turned out it was just the size of the lines that shocked them. In fact, they thought I was joking – the lines were the full length of the carton, to be fair. I hoovered one smoothly and showed them I meant business. After that, they were more than happy to oblige and excitedly set about their own lines, taking two or three attempts to finish.
When I continued to dish out similar sized rails, they really seemed shocked by my excessive intake – I think part of them questioned my sanity, to be honest. Apparently, in one round, we had just snorted more cocaine than their whole group brought for the entire weekend. This gave me pause, but not enough to stop me from cutting lines out. If anything (I’m embarrassed to admit) my egotistical nature at the time saw this as a mark of my supreme drug taking abilities and I actually felt a measure of ridiculous pride.
We parted ways soon after, and my group turned up back at the tents. After a few more drinks, we headed back into the festival and watched Bloc Party play an amazing set on the main stage as darkness fell over Inveraray. An array of green lasers attached to the drum kit strobed in time with the music when they played my favourite track – Flux. They projected all the way from the stage to the castle, over the heads of the surging crowd. I’ll never forget when the rain started to fall, and each droplet was visible as they crossed the beams. In my melted state (I had taken more acid and several doses of ecstasy) it was utterly magical. The rest of the weekend blew by in a haze of pills, powder and weed, with lots of laughter and hugs thrown in.
Acid showed me something that weekend – it showed me that taking psychedelics can be a whole lot of fun. Despite the fact that these drugs would eventually change my life for the better, there was nothing more profound to be gleaned from that particular weekend. Contrary to what a lot of psychonauts will tell you, not every psychedelic experience is layered with hidden meaning and spiritual guidance – sometimes, it’s just fun to trip with the people you love.
On the journey home from Connect, I knew I would be experimenting with LSD in the future, but I couldn’t imagine it would be anything more than something that would add a new spin to partying. Little did I know, that same drug would help to drag me out of a black hole years later. There was something else from that weekend that stuck with me though; people who saw pyjamas, drugs and festivals as a way of life thought my drug consumption was a cause for concern, after just a few hours of sitting with me. I actually laughed about this for years after, and would often retell this story at parties, but sadly, in the end, it would stop being funny.
This is part one of three-part series on Dev’s experiences with drugs, addiction, and self-development. The second article in the series is now available here.
Dev | Community Blogger at Chemical Collective
Dev is one of our community bloggers here at Chemical Collective. If you’re interested in joining our blogging team and getting paid to write about subjects you’re passionate about, please reach out to Matt via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Using integration to get the most from psychedelic experiences.
Were psychedelics catalysts in the emergence of the human species? Dev looks into Mckenna’s Stoned Ape Theory and how...
What is the psychedelic afterglow, and how can we maximize its therapeutic potential? Sam Woolfe takes a look at...
Tripping while sleep deprived – what are the potential risks and other things to consider? Sam Woolfe takes a...
An in-depth look at everything set & setting from David Blackbourne.
5-MeO-DMT is a psychedelic tryptamine, 4 – 6 times stronger than the better-known DMT (N,N-dimethyltryptamine).
Login to see your ChemCoin balance