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Taking Acid for the First Time? Read This Vintage Guide

Pro tips from a no-nonsense 1967 manual on what to expect when the stuff kicks in.

Daniel Oberhaus

Daniel Oberhaus

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Psychonaught

This story is part of When the Drugs Hit, a Motherboard journey into the science, politics, and culture of today's psychedelic renaissance. Follow along here.


Taking acid in New York City is a bad idea.

That is, according to Session Games People Play, an earnest, no nonsense manual from 1967 on what to expect when the Lysergic acid diethylamide kicks in. The manual was written by Lisa Bieberman, a woman whom Timothy Leary once described as the "wandering guerilla nun of the psychedelic underground," and "an authentic American anarchist, nonconformist and…pure-essence eccentric paranoid."

Fifty years later, Bieberman's manual is a joy to revisit for its unflinching use of Hippie-slang and, in some ways, it does actually work as a good user's manual to taking LSD. Although harm reduction practices have grown a little more sophisticated in the last half-century, there's still some things to be learned from Bieberman's guide.

For starters:

LSD is not magic
As Bieberman writes, LSD "will not make you smarter or give you special powers." Although new studies suggest that microdoses of the stuff may very well contribute to creative problem solving, Beiberman's right—the LSD experience is all in your head.

Also, while we're on the topic, you're not going to "have a super sex experience" on LSD either. Just FYI.

"How high you are can't be defined in units"
As this graph from the user's manual shows, there's no way to quantify how high you are on LSD. If I had to guess, I'd say you're around an 8. Still, as Bieberman reminds the reader, "you cannot compare how high you are to how high Joe is."

Image: Session Games People Play

Professional psychedelic guides are bullshit
In Bieberman's defense, however, she does hope that in "future years…there will be psychedelic centers, staffed by experienced guides" who will put LSD user manuals like hers to use. Bieberman's literature isn't quite making the rounds at psychedelic harm reduction courses today. But there are a number of psychedelic centers cropping up that are dedicated to helping individuals work through their experiences, such as the Center for Optimal Living psychedelics program in New York, or the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies' Zendo Project.

Stop talking about Eastern religions if you don't know anything about them
Ever been to a festival? Then you probably know the type—the yoga aficionado sporting a Buddha necklace, sacred geometry tats, Birkenstocks, and a strong conviction that Siddhartha is a town in upstate New York. "Don't plunge into oriental philosophy, unless you are already a lover of it," Bieberman warns. "The psychedelic state is no more eastern than western."

No "loud or weird" music
Ever heard Frances the Mute on acid? Probably not—and trust me, that's a good thing.

Image: Erowid

Disconnect your telephone
If this was good advice in 1967, it's maybe even better advice today. And Bieberman didn't even have to deal with liquid crystal displays on acid which are just, well, weird. Plus, no one wants to talk to grandma while tripping face, so do yourself and your fellow travelers a favor and please power down your mobile phone.

Do not have an orgy
Bieberman recalls how in one of her first "morning glory sessions there was a boy who kept stamping the floor nervously and insisting, 'let's put on some records and have a fuck'n party.'" Let's maybe not.

Do not hold a session on the beach
Watching an endless succession of waves roll forth from an infinite blackness at night can be a profound, albeit deeply unsettling experience while on acid. The beach is great, but as far as tripping goes should probably be left to the experts, warns Bieberman. Aside from all the people that will likely be around you, there's also legitimate physical dangers involved like, well, drowning. If you do go to the beach though, you should probably stick to a daytime.

Stop staring
Just because your companion's face happens to be "changing into a multitude of different forms" is no reason to be rude. Plus, Joe is high af himself and has no idea why you're staring at him like a weirdo.

So, there you have it. Good luck.

One last thing: If you follow all the advice outlined by Bieberman for your first acid trip, and at some point decide to found your own religious cult, you wouldn't be alone. Over time, Bierberman, a former school teacher, came to see herself as the messiah, and moved to Maine to start her own religion.

Like tripping on the beach, starting your own religion is probably best left to only the most experienced LSD users.