(The Man Who Inspired) Timothy Leary is Dead

Albert Hofmann, who first synthesized LSD, has died. He was 102 years old. His “problem child,” as he once called the psychedelic substance, turns 70 this year. Which means he was 32 when he first created acid — kind of ironic when you think about that famous slogan of the 60s, “Never trust anyone over 30.”

I tried LSD once, when I was in High School. It was 1979. It was a very nice, sunny spring day; I went with a friend to Newport News Park near my hometown of Hampton, Virginia; we spent the day watching the trees breathe and marvelling at all the pretty colors. Under the rubric of “now I know what that’s like,” I’m glad enough that I did it. But I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, nor have I ever wanted to take acid a second time. And that’s because two years earlier I had a more thoroughly “mind-expanding” experience of the presence of God, which I recount here. Having experienced that unitive, eucharistic presence, and then trying LSD, I can safely say that an organic mystical experience trumps Hofmann’s drug in pretty much every way that I can think of. Sure, I didn’t encounter any respiring plants when I was incandescent with the consciousness of divine presence, but what’s a hallucination or two when compared to seeing the face of God? As I said in The Aspiring Mystic, “when I experimented with LSD or cocaine or magic mushrooms, those substances always seemed pale and physically jarring in comparison to the loveliness I had known that night” in which I encountered the felt presence of God.

Forgive me for being so blunt and indulging in an erotic metaphor, but frankly it’s the best analogy I can think of: comparing LSD to a unitive Christian mystical experience is like comparing masturbation to the mystery that transpires between spouses who truly love one another.

Don’t get me wrong: I suppose LSD may have its uses, and I wish there were opportunities for legitimate scientific research in ethical and safe settings. For example, it might be a wonderful tool to assist in the healing of psychoses or for creating spiritual awareness during a terminal illness. Even so, I don’t lament its criminalization for the simple reason that I believe far better means exist for inner exploration and liberation. If you want to know more, just poke around my website for a while.

“LSD can help open your eyes,” Hofmann once said. “But there are other ways — meditation, dance, music, fasting.”

I’ll say.

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  1. I can’t find his obit anywhere. How did you learn off his death?

  2. I have my sources.

  3. Me, too. Our friends, the “Alt-Metal” band, Tool, have this posting and link:


    Some good quotes here. A sad loss.

  4. I think I basically agree with your views on LSD, Carl.

    But unlike you, I think I took LSD something like 100 or 150 times–I tried to count once. Maybe that explains some of my bizarre behavior or opinions….

    On the other hand, when I did re-encounter Jesus after that (in the original Jesus People movement, in 1970), I was very much open to the radical spiritual nature of His Kingdom and His Spirit, and I sat and watched from the inside as He (when I was NOT on acid or any kind of drugs) miraculously and supernaturally healed and replaced my brain cells that had been damaged and destroyed through my use of LSD and other drugs.

    So I agree that there is no comparison. A very wise counselor once asked me what I thought of his analysis of my bio: I had met the literal or outer testimony of Jesus through religious teaching as a young Catholic; then I rebelled and rejected the formalism and learned about the reality of spiritual life and experience through my use of drugs and New Age meditation; then Jesus revealed Himself to me as the Supreme Lord and center of the spiritual universe, and I have been enthralled by the reality of Him ever since. I said, yes, I think that sums it up pretty nicely!


  5. I think I’m quite fortunate that I had my 1977 unitive experience as a baseline against which to compare LSD. Addiction runs in my family — I have a grandfather and a brother who have battled alcoholism — and I think if I didn’t have a sense that LSD was only a pale imitation of what I could find via spiritual means, I could have easily done acid 150 (or more) times. When I was in college, I did smoke a lot of pot, and mostly found it rather boring or unsettling. It took me a while to figure out that the “high” from THC for the most part wasn’t that impressive to me, whereas the negative stuff that marijuana provides: mild paranoia, racing heartbeat, the munchies — all added up to a basically unpleasant experience. Once I connected those dots, I stopped smoking pot. Years later, when I became a pagan, I had the opportunity to smoke again, and I did a few times: and it was the same old same old. Go figure. Drugs, unlike mysticism, basically offer the same results again and again. Or, as Keith Richards so succinctly put it, “Even dope can get boring.”

    Peter, you seem to be none the worse for the wear, but I’ve met others who aren’t so lucky. Which is why I give thanks that my drug use was, relatively speaking, rather limited.

  6. Thanks for that, Carl–but sometimes I wonder.

    I have encountered a Mojo discontinuity, a deep, wide break far below the surface of things, a profound disconnect between the original ideal destiny of the universe with its various components and the actual outcome of our present samsara experiences with all their horror and perversion. As I was commenting to my lovely wife on our pleasant walk this noon, I sometimes wonder whether the brokenness I seem to see all the time in others around me is merely a reflection (or projection) of the brokenness in me–or whether my experiences have made me particularly sensitive to the actual feelings of others, in a healthy kind of empathy.

    I guess that, like every spiritual gift, this one of empathy has to grow and mature so that it becomes an expression of the compassion and love of Jesus.

    Meanwhile I will continue to affirm unitive mystical experiences, and echo the caution against the possibly tempting but almost certainly disappointing “short-cut” of chemically induced mysticism. There is nothing like the real thing!

    Love in Him,

  7. I agree completely with your comments, Carl. I remember reading somewhere that Paul McCartney said about LSD something like: “It opens a few doors, but it isn’t any answer,” which sums it up pretty nicely. For me the first trip was really like the scales fell from my eyes and for the first time in my memory I saw things as they really are. And, instead of feeling afraid, I felt profoundly amused by the absurdity of the human condition, or more specifically, by the artifice we humans feel necessary to build around ourselves and “society.” It was very fun, very enlightening, and served to make me deeply aware of how connected we all are.

    I’m sure that everyone is different on this, but in my case all successive trips (not 150, more like 15 or 20) were markedly unfulfilling, so I stopped that soon enough. Just like Paul, I found it opened a few doors, but it was not an answer.
    Like you, I found that God was infinitely better on every level when I had an absolutely glorious personal encounter with Him. Ain’t nothing like the Real Thing, baby.

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