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Why Can't Psychedelics (and Other Drugs) Just Be for Fun?: Podcast

LSD, psilocybin, and other hallucinogenics are gaining new acceptance as serious medicine. But what if you want to do them just for fun, asks Jacob Sullum.

ReasonReasonIn a career spanning 30 years, Reason Senior Editor Jacob Sullum has been one of the most insistent voices in favor of "pharmacological freedom," the right of individuals to use whatever substances they want to control, modulate, and change their mind, emotions, and moods. In the latest issue of Reason, Sullum reviews Michael Pollan's popular new book on psychedelic drugs and boldly asks the question, "Who Controls Your Cortex?" The answer, he says, is the individual.

In a wide-ranging and personal conversation, I talk with Sullum about the immense changes in drug policy over the past quarter-century, why the marijuana legalization movement has succeeded, and what the future holds for less-popular and more-potent substances such as MDMA (ecstasy) and psilocybin as they gain various forms of government approval as "legitimate" medicines. We talk frankly about our own experiences and how, as parents, we talk about legal and illegal drug use with our children. Sullum is the author of 1998's For Your Own Good, a history of the anti-smoking movement, and 2004's Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Use.

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Audio production by Ian Keyser.

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  • ||

    Why Can't Psychedelics (and Other Drugs) Just Be for Fun?

    Because they freak out the squares.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    What about the circles?

  • ||

    The circles are just fine with it.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    [nods and takes a swig from a Klein bottle]

  • ||

    Hey now - be careful. You can lose your lips doing that!

  • ||

    Gotta watch those fucking triangles though...

  • Trifrozion||

    Because according to Mr. Popo (while on lsd btw) "all these squares make a circle"

    Squares are just block chain pieces to a circle.

  • SOFL Hockey Fan||

    Man!

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    It's all fun and games until someone accuses someone of trying to run over Bill O'Reilly's kids.

  • Vernon Depner||

    Because they can be very dangerous when used recklessly? Or are you specifically asking if they should be legal to use?

  • ||

    Because they can be very dangerous when used recklessly?

    Psychedelics? How so? I mean, yeah, I wouldn't recommend driving while on them, or operating heavy machinery, but what makes you think they are dangerous in and of themselves? They have almost no detectable physiological effect.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Heavy machinery, on the other hand, can be quite dangerous if used recklessly. That's why we should ban all heavy machinery.

  • TuIpa||

    Except you didn't answer the headline's question.

  • Jerryskids||

    Plus there's the tautology - literally everything is dangerous when used recklessly. Drug use is also perfectly safe as long as you don't use drugs in an unsafe manner.

  • Vernon Depner||

    Using psychedelic drugs for fun without medical supervision or need IS using them in an unsafe manner.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    By "dangerous" I assume you mean the hallucinogenic effects might cause the affected person to do something dumb?

  • Vernon Depner||

    No, I mean that playfully using powerful psychoactive drugs without medical supervision can cause or exacerbate mental health problems.

  • PeteRR||

    I'd like to try psilocybin. I'm mostly over my PTSD, but I still get wicked nightmares a few times a month.

  • ||

    Psilocybin is a good place to start, since it doesn't last that long. LSD is a bit of a commitment. If you start not having fun two hours in, you've got a long haul ahead of you.

    Try it with a guide - it may snap you out of the PTSD, but it may induce anxiety if you're not in the right "set and setting."

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    My experience was the exact opposite of what you described.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Really. I've, ahem, heard that LSD lasts twice as long, or more, than the friendly mushrooms.

  • ||

    My experience was the exact opposite of what you described.

    You mean duration-wise? I suppose it could happen - the main thing I dislike about psilocybin is the unpredictability in both strength and duration. Mostly it seems to not last more than 3-4 hours, but I've heard tell of 16 hours+. I like that LSD can be dosed pretty precisely and the impact and duration are pretty knowable (12-15 hours). It's just such a major time-commitment, and now that I'm north of 40 pulling all-nighters takes an awful lot out of me (last time I took it was about 10 years ago).

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Just so we don't get on the wrong foot, I'm not disagreeing with your description, just pointing out I had a totally different experience.

    I had multiple LSD experiences, but only one Psilocybin trip. The LSD was provided TO me by a girlfriend and the source seemed to change almost every time. I suspect the doses I was receiving were of varying strength, because I did have one very strong (not positive) trip that lasted a whole night.

    My single Psilocybin trip lasted something like 16 hours and had very intense imagry-- and my trip wasn't positive, and I remember thinking about three hours in that I was probably in this for a long time to come.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    I should add that while most of my LSD trips were positive, (imagery more fluid-- hearing colors, seeing sounds), I don't recall any long term after-effects. The Psilocybin imagery was more ordered, crystalline-- even arachnid-like at points, but the after-effects were very long term and lined up with what the research indicated: very positive- possibly life changing, although I can't say in good conscience that they had an affect on me longer than ~3 months. Any changes to my character and mood in the ensuing years could easily be chalked up to the normal aging process I would guess.

  • ||

    One of my favorite conversations on Mad Men was a few episodes after Roger had taken LSD and had a transformative experience but then slowly went back to acting like his normal self again. Don asks him "what happened to your Enlightenment?" Roger: *shrug* "It wore off."

    Sounds like your experience was opposite of mine in many ways - I was blessed with consistent suppliers of high-quality LSD, often straight liquid. Took it 2-3 times a week for years through the early '90s. Mushrooms were in considerably shorter supply, and were way less predictable.

    The life-altering effects you describe from psilocybin I had from LSD - went from a directionless high-school dropout to a motivated straight-A student pretty much overnight.

    But I've never noticed the actual good/bad quality of the experience to be tied to the drug itself. Worst experience I ever had was on LSD when I was camping with some friends, one of whom completely lost her shit over things she overheard from another campsite to the point where she had gotten her gun out of her van and was going full hunker-down (she thought they had thrown a baby into their campfire). She also had a puppy who was 2/3 German shepherd and 1/3 actual fucking wolf who wouldn't stop jumping all over me every time I got up.

    It took me a few months to get over that. Needless to say, I don't think it would have been good PTSD therapy.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Mushrooms were in considerably shorter supply, and were way less predictable.

    You should swing through the Northwest some time, they grow wild up here.

    The life-altering effects you describe from psilocybin I had from LSD - went from a directionless high-school dropout to a motivated straight-A student pretty much overnight.

    That's interesting. I really don't recall any after-effects from LSD, but I definitely felt them after the 'shrooms.

    She also had a puppy who was 2/3 German shepherd and 1/3 actual fucking wolf who wouldn't stop jumping all over me every time I got up.

    That wasn't the dog.

  • ||

    You should swing through the Northwest some time, they grow wild up here.

    I think that's where we were getting them from. But I had loose ties to some fairly inner-circle Deadheads (despite not really actually liking the Dead), so I could get a sheet of really high-quality LSD for less than what an 1/8 of mushrooms was running. Made it free for me, for reasons I won't go into.

    I really don't recall any after-effects from LSD

    Just from what you say here, it doesn't sound like you ever got a very big dose. We would regularly take 500 mics at a time. If you only took, say, 100 mics that wouldn't really cause any sort of life-changing thing. Cheap stuff can also be cut with nasty things that really don't help - speed being pretty common (causes some physiological effects that mimic the start of a trip well enough that the dealer is long gone before you realize what you actually got). That's obviously harder to pull off with mushrooms.

    That wasn't the dog.

    Let me have my protective memories.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Just from what you say here, it doesn't sound like you ever got a very big dose. We would regularly take 500 mics at a time.

    Check out Timothy Leary over here...

    Look, a hot chick handed me a small cardboard tab and said, "put this on your tongue" what was I gonna do, say no?

    Cheap stuff can also be cut with nasty things that really don't help - speed being pretty common

    I believe someone told me after the "bad" trip that it had probably been cut with that.

    Don't get me wrong, I had great LSD trips and is still my favorite psychedelic to this day. Just all around better visuals compared to 'shrooms but I honestly don't recall any altered worldview afterword.

  • ||

    No wrong gotten - different strokes for different fokes. I actually think a lot of the "revelations" are things that would come with time, anyway (and stick better when they do). People tend to put too much stock in drug experiences. They can be helpful kickstarters, but you can't rely on them to carry you.

  • Wise Old Fool||

    a dog can't be 2/3 and 1/3. It might be 1/2 or 3/4 but not 2/3, that's not the way genetics works.

  • frankania||

    My one experience with mushroom high, lasted about 8 hours--all night long-- and it changed my life. During this mildly pleasant session, I understood how the universe was made, with the stars, planets, speed-of-light rays, magnetism, gravity....everything became clear. to my already scientific mind.
    A big change, was I changed from a complete atheist (I was a catholic my first 20 years of life) to an agnostic, somehow seeing a great intelligence behind the universe, and living species etc.

  • Wise Old Fool||

    You didn't understand how the universe was made because you tripped, bro. You just imagined it.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    I'd like to try psilocybin. I'm mostly over my PTSD, but I still get wicked nightmares a few times a month.

    PeteRR, I'm no clinician, but given my experience and the research I've read, I think psilocybin -- primarily the after-effects could benefit you greatly.

  • PeteRR||

    I've looked at signing up for clinical trials with no success. Texas is a bit too old testament to try acquiring 'shrooms illegally.

  • ||

    Yeah - I heard something somewhere about not messing with Texas.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    As I posted above, head up here to the Pacific Northwest, they grow wild. :)

  • SIV||

    Cows + Gulf coastal plain. They grow wild in Texas

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    You grow wild in Texas.

  • Kaatje||

    Ketamine too! Works for PTSD.

  • Eman||

    Of course they have wild ketamine in texas

  • Kaatje||

    PeteRR you can also try a ketamine infusion, it may help with PTSD.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Because those in power hate fun. Fun is an expression of individuality that doesn't reinforce in-group obedience and conformity. Can't have that.

  • ||

    I think there's something to that, actually. Not so much just the "fun" angle, but the spread of recreational LSD use in the 60s correlated quite strongly with rejection of cultural norms, and especially cultural norms regarding adherence to and respect for authority.

    And, importantly, it wasn't the juvenile "disrespect for authority" of 50s greaser culture - it was a calm and deliberate "turn on, tune in, drop out" rejection of the social narratives that prop up authority. It's of a piece with older mystical movements that looked at authoritarian society and said "we don't have to play along with this. We can remove ourselves."

    So, of course, it needed to be outlawed and violently suppressed.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Health and medical benefits contribute to society. Your range-of-the-moment good time doesn't.

  • Mongo||

    I've been told otherwise on this site but I found it impossible to obtain LSD.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Your experience would match up with my understanding of the LSD Market as it exists in the United States. I can't get a confirmation of it though.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Just go to any music festival that features dudgeridoos, hang drums, and ukeleles.

  • Sonny Bono's Ghost||

    partucularly had to come by as a liquid.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Because if it doesn't have a valid, medical purpose that fits into the healthcare and therapeutic State, then the public should not have it.

  • Jerryskids||

    Nobody needs 23 different kinds of recreational drugs when there are hungry children in this country.

    /Having children mimics many of the after-effects of drug use except the headaches, the fatigue, the nausea, the regrets and the ruinous cost last a lifetime.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    The best thing about not having kids is that no one can give you shit for not driving a hybrid.

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    Because the neo-puritans hate fun.

  • Mickey Rat||

    That ain't no way to have fun, son, as mama told me.

  • Eddy||

    Millions of tiny regulations
    Explode into the universe
    Throttling harmless fun
    The dog-headed Egyptian god of Chaos
    Eats the neo-Puritans
    Stirring up my throbbing member

    (Whatever happened to him by the say?)

  • Duke of url||

    I miss A.C.

  • ||

    He's been taken up, and is now Everywhere at All Times.

  • Duke of url||

    I was pulled over by a retarded highway patrolman who asked to search my car.
    He said, "If I failed to consent to a search, I must have something to hide, and that is probable cause".
    I politely declined, and so he searched.
    Anyway, he 'discovers' a sandwich bag on the floor that had held leftover pizza.
    In the corner was a 0.6 gram glob of toppings.
    He took me to jail (first time ever) for felony possession of peyote!
    I didn't even know what that was at the time.
    Thousands of dollars later, gas chromatography/ mass spectrometry proved me innocent.
    That was my Libertarian moment.

  • ||

    That was my Libertarian moment.

    "When you realize that the people in charge are incredibly stupid."

  • Kaatje||

    I'm hospitalized three, four times a year for weeklong ketamine infusions. The side effects (visions, hallucinations) were severe at first and I didn't enjoy it, but ketamine brings my neuropathic pain level from a 10 to a zero. I've had so many infusions, that I'm now lucid, hence my soon to publish book's title, The Queen of Ketamine. Its about spinal cord injuries, ketamine and comedy. Ketamine has neuroregenerative and anti-inflammatory properties and is increasingly used for PTSD and refractory depression. Doesn't depress breathing, great for poorer countries as an anesthetic, and also used in the ER. I've emailed Jacob Sullum about ketamine as a safe, non invasive alternative treatment for intractable pain. It also comes as a nasal spray and troches (soft lozenges). No answer yet from Jacob, I wanted him to include ketamine treatment juxtaposed against the opioid "epidemic" and his pain article. I know I'm biased though; and am lucky ketamine works as it's about 3 in 4 patients.

  • Sonny Bono's Ghost||

    Surem why not. Ive been medicinally using alcohol for years so....

  • John-Y128||

    "Who Controls Your Cortex? The answer, he says, is the individual."

    Unless your a democrat, then your controlled by the party and it's Groupthink. An example of that was in 2016;

    In the weeks and months preceding the United States presidential election, 2016, there was near-unanimity among news media outlets and polling organizations that Hillary Clinton's election was extremely likely. For example, on November 7, the day before the election, The New York Times opined that Clinton then had "a consistent and clear advantage in states worth at least 270 electoral votes." The Times estimated the probability of a Clinton win at 84%. Also on November 7, Reuters estimated the probability of Clinton defeating Donald Trump in the election at 90%, and The Huffington Post put Clinton's odds of winning at 98.2% based on "9.8 million simulations."

    It was enough for an individual to want to alter their reality and reason with an elicit of some kind.

  • AlmightyJB||

    Maybe we should tell the left that the cortex is in the vagina.

  • Wise Old Fool||

    LOL you're the one with any lack of pragmatism or common sense. Go back to your basement oh one who can't forget about that washed up nasty woman Clinton.

  • Bill Goode||

    Shame on Reason, Nick Gillespie and Jacob Sullum for using libertarianism to promote psychedelic drugs such as LSD. These characters are just drug pushers. They have no concept of the damage these drugs do to people.

    A very significant factor I the rise of terrorism in the last 35 years has been the use of drugs. It would seem that Gillespie and Sullum support this trend, as they promote the worst class of drugs - psychedelic drugs.

    This promotion of psychedelic drugs, leading to terrorism, gives libertarianism a very bad reputation it does not deserve, as Reason and Gillespie are generally thought of as being libertarian. Promoting a cause of terrorism is not libertarianism.

  • Wise Old Fool||

    Oh go away, most people will never get hooked. I'd like to see some evidence of this terrorism-psychedelics connection. That's utter bullshit. Terrorism is tied to religion and psychos. I'm not sure they're not one at the same though.

  • MrSeaTwin||

    This has to be trolling....

  • Wise Old Fool||

    I have no problem with drugs as long as you don't have a problem with not asking for government assistance when you get hooked and lose everything. As long as my tax money isn't paying for your upkeep I don't give a fuck.

  • Robert||

    I left my comments on the SoundCloud.

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