An 87-year-old friend, a former doctor, has been urging me for some while to have a look at the latest smart drug fad among affluent Americans, which is to go to work every day on a tiny dose of LSD. He’s an avid reader of the Scientific American and I think he must have read about it in there. He hoved into view at the Spectator Life party the other week and I turned aside from my conversation with the Hungarian ambassador to ask him whether he had managed to get hold of any yet. ‘I bought a ton of it,’ he said. (He is an enthusiast and always buys ‘a ton’ of everything, whether the latest smart drug or something off the street.) ‘And?’ I said. ‘It comes on tiny squares of blotting paper,’ he said. ‘The first time I was a little timid and ate a quarter of a square. Nothing happened. The next time I ate half a square. That was OK. I felt happy and alert and creative and so forth. The next time, I ate a whole one and immediately fell asleep. And I’d only been awake for an hour.’ We laughed at the hubristic image of him peacefully sleeping the day away in his vast apartment, then I introduced him to the Hungarian ambassador and went to look for a drink.
Then there was Sam Leith’s recent Spectator review of Michael Pollan’s book How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us. My mind has become as Matthew Parris says his has become: obsessed with the Brexit debate in a stupidly Manichean way and to the point of insanity. It badly wants changing. Or if not changing, at least switching to another channel for a week or two, or until that future bright day dawns when we take up arms and start shooting at each other.
And I have fond memories of LSD, which I took a few times with Grant, who in the 1970s sat beside the next plastic injection moulding machine to mine from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., six days a week. One year we took a late summer holiday together and went by coach to Perpignan to pick grapes with Spanish gypsies. There we met this saintly French priest called Yves who had his own one-man ministry to migrant gypsy workers. He wasn’t in any way evangelical. He didn’t even advertise his priesthood. He just worked alongside us in the fields as hard as he could, perhaps as a demonstration to the observant of how awful goodness is. One evening Grant, this priest and I went for a walk in the countryside, and at the walk’s farthest point Grant and I took a microdot of LSD each. He’d bought it off his brother who’d said it was good-quality acid. We’d been saving it up for the right moment of our holiday and looking forward to it.
The most obvious result of taking the LSD was that it took us a lot longer to walk back than it had taken us to walk there. And that Yves, whose saintliness had indeed been to my 19-year-old mind a kind of revelation, became uncharacteristically tetchy. Our idiotic laughter at the ineffable rightness of the shape of a small stone lying on the path irritated him; also our continual stopping to marvel at the amazing greenness and sentience of a grasshopper sunning itself on a stone, or the lightness and buoyancy of a passing solitary cloud, and I forget what else. And of course the irritated head of a saintly French priest was one of the funniest things we’d ever seen, too. At once the natural world had become prouder, funnier and more unified than we had ever seen it before. And 40 years on, that cloud, grasshopper, stone and French priest’s bewildered irritation remain as vivid in my imagination as they were in reality at the time, and imbued still with the same profound glamour.
So the other day I went online and typed in ‘buy’ and ‘LSD’. Scrolling down the results, the first thing I noticed was that you can’t buy actual LSD, but I can legally buy synthetic LSD in a form euphemistically called ‘research chemicals’, with a blotter of the cheapest costing about the same as a book of first-class stamps. Naturally, one has to go through a couple of hoops first. There was a form to fill in, on which I described my occupation as ‘humanitarian, activist and blogger’ and my gender as ‘recreational transgender’. To prove that I am not a robot trying to buy LSD I then had to tick which squares, superimposed on a hideously shabby street scene, contained a street sign. Et voilà! — tons of the stuff to choose from. The answer to the Frequently Asked Question ‘How big is my package?’ is ‘The size of an envelope’. I am looking out for mine daily.