As an introduction to Martin Witz’s outstanding documentary on Albert Hoffman, The Substance, I thought I’d share my experience of ingesting 20,000 mics or so of White Lightening acid when I was 16 years old—my first religious experience and one that reverberates through my being still to this day.
It was a typically hot and humid Washington D.C. afternoon in 1967 and John and I were packing what was reputed to be Owsley’s latest batch of White Lightening acid into gelatin caps. The source was close to Owsley and the quality was certainly of Owsley’s caliber. We had no reason to believe it was anything less. John was my high school English teacher and he had good connections in San Francisco. He’d fly there regularly to purchase the latest batch of acid from Owsley’s people: Licorice-flavored Batman acid, purple tabs, orange tabs, white tabs, window pane, blotter, white powder… Was it all certified Owsley? We liked to think so.
Filling double 0 caps with fine LSD-laced powder was tricky business. We wore surgical gloves and masks so the acid wouldn’t get into our mouths or the pores of our skin. White Lightening was extremely pure and powerful LSD and the pile we were working with contained several thousand doses (at approx. 500 mics per dose). It wasn’t a precise system but we were careful. Packing the caps just so, not too tight, not too loose.
At one point, we stopped to take a break. There was a fan in the room that kept the humid air circulating and relatively dry. It was cautiously pointed away from the table. I had taken off my mask to get some air and was feeling slightly high from being exposed to some of the powder. John was feeling higher and did something stupid or, depending on how look at it, divine. He got up and absent-mindedly turned the fan in the direction of the table and the pile of acid. The White Lightening immediately became a psychedelic dust storm spinning toward my face and into my mouth and eyes. I ran to the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror. I looked like Marcel Marceau. But this wasn’t clown makeup. This was several thousand micrograms of high grade LSD. I blurted out “oh shit” and it was punctuated by a puff of white dust.
I started splashing my face with water, irrigating my eyes and washing out my mouth. But, it didn’t help. The acid was kicking in and I began the ultimate ego death trip.
Timothy Leary said if you didn’t go through a death trip experience on LSD you hadn’t taken enough. Well, I had. I sat on John’s living room floor and for what seemed like an eternity (and it was, relatively speaking) I died, was reborn, died again, born again, flipping the metaphysical television dial from cosmic station to cosmic station, whipping through the Bardo planes while hungry ghosts growled and laughed and mocked and danced and poked at me with their long ancient galactic fingers, chakras opening/closing, kundalini doing the serpent power mambo up my spinal cord, heart unfolding like a giant pulsing red lotus. I was passing through dimensions not even Rod Serling could imagine. Walls shimmered and breathed, rainbows everywhere, mandalas spinning like heavenly roulette wheels… I was so fucking high! And as far OUT and IN as I went, I remained calm. I was so overwhelmed that my ego made no attempt to resist. I was without fear. I felt at one with everything: huge, expansive, complete and unbounded, totally absorbed by the entirety of the Universe. GOD, or whatever you want to call it, wasn’t somewhere out there, it was suffusing me, penetrating me and I was dissolving into its essence. I was in that moment of complete union with all things. I was no longer functioning as a separate entity; there was no fear because the one who did the fearing no longer existed. I was complete in my absolute non-existence. This was the white light experience where the ego is absorbed into the infinite molecular dance of absolute reality.
Enlightenment doesn’t happen to you because there’s no “you” for it to happen to. Enlightenment is there always. It’s that door of perception you walk through and suddenly disappear into. One moment you’re on the diving board. The next, you’re in the ocean.
12 hours later as I started to “come down,” I felt exhausted but refreshed, renewed and reborn. Within a matter of days, I returned to being my usual egocentric little self. But, I had had a genuine religious experience, one that has lingered throughout the years and one I often return to in small ways to put things into their proper perspective. LSD was wonderful. I tremble still in awe of its magic and often dream of finding some really pure acid out there… if it still exists. The Church of My Brain could use a nice house-cleaning.
The Substance successfully toured film festivals last year to much acclaim. It’s a terrific movie and I hope that more like it get made. Society as a whole need to re-address the use of psychedelics and acknowledge their undeniable benefits. LSD is a life-changer and there’s plenty of lives that need changing. I know mine did.