Coming-of-Age on LSD: Dawson Students on Psychedelics
By Josephine Ross
Author’s note: This article discusses suicide, psychosis, and addiction.
Psychedelics have interested me since my first time tripping. Although I am now sober, they continue to interest me, particularly in the context of what they can do for a person and their personal development in the transition from childhood to adulthood. Three Dawson students permitted me to anonymously interview them on their encounters with psychedelics, allowing us to view the topic through the lens of our peers’ experiences.
“Compared to cocaine and heroin, which are usually seen as ‘dirty drugs’, people tend to ignore the dark side of acid. No one knows how to properly take it, and that’s where I went wrong.”
Lisa, 18, first tried LSD at age 14, a time when she didn’t know how to properly cope with the emotional distress that accompanies coming-of-age. “As a teenager, growing up, having your issues, questioning your sexuality, experiencing conflict with your friends, feeling like the odd one out in high school... Some turn to drugs. I struggled with addiction a lot, and one thing that set me off was acid.”
Due to her abuse of the drug, Lisa feels that her experiences with psychedelics were more often negative than positive: “It was beneficial to me the first few times I took [LSD], because I didn’t abuse it.”
Although psychedelics aren’t addictive in the same way that a drug like cocaine is, Lisa warns that LSD is “a substance that alters your senses; [the novelty] is a dopamine rush, and you can get addicted to that feeling”.
“The first time I took psychedelics, I took acid, and I was 16. I didn’t really know what to expect, I had all these ideas in my head of colours and patterns.”
Kat, 19, has had a considerably more positive experience with psychedelics. Whilst other chemical drugs are associated with violence and life-ruining addiction, psychedelics have developed an identity of their own, now associated with buzzwords like “enlightenment” and “spirituality”. Recounting her 19th birthday acid trip, Kat remembers having “experienced positive feelings regarding the concept of growing older. I’m okay with aging, I’m excited for the future. Coming out of the past two years, which were not great years, I finally felt hopeful.”
Many use psychedelics with the goal of self-improvement. Although Kat has never set out to have this type of realization, they came to her anyway. “I’m someone who can be a bit self-centered. I feel like I talk about myself too much, I like attention.” LSD allowed Kat to come to terms with those aspects of her personality, thus allowing her to work towards becoming a better version of herself post-trip. “They were always constructive realizations. I never felt like ‘I’m a terrible person’ because I do those things.”
Today, Kat says that she reaches for psychedelics when she wants to ‘reset’. “It brings me back to reality by first removing me from it.”
“The first time I did psychedelics was in April 2020, when I was 16 going on 17. I took them because I thought it would expand my mind. I heard all these stories of people taking them and coming out a changed person, but I didn’t feel that much of a change; it just changed my perspective, for better or for worse.”
Rex, 18, recounted his varied experiences with psychedelics, from being enamoured and excited by them, to realizing that tripping doesn’t always go as planned. “My last trip on acid, in early November 2020, was with two friends. I felt like a pioneer, the first person to introduce them to acid. I was so hyped about doing it, but I bad-tripped.” Rex described his insecurities arising as the trip unfolded; “I went into the bathroom and looked in the mirror. I saw myself like the fish from The Little Mermaid, so desperate to impress Ariel, but unable to. Just this kid who wanted so badly to be a hero.” Rex revealed that this particular trip had negative effects on his already unsteady mental health, effects that continued for some time, even after being off the influence of the drug. “I’ve always been a little suicidal, but after the acid trip, I was thinking of killing myself, like there was nothing worth living for.”
Previous depression and anxiety are major risks when experimenting with any mind-altering substances. Psychedelics tend to amplify the thoughts and feelings held by someone, subconsciously or not, at the time of consumption. Ensure you are in a sound mental place and a consistently safe, familiar environment if and when you decide to do them.
Ultimately, the decision to take psychedelics, or not to, must come from you. For some, like Kat, experiences with psychedelics have proven to be enjoyable and even helpful. For others, like Lisa, those positive experiences became escapist and addictive. As Rex’s experiences hint at, psychedelics are as much of a tool for self-improvement as they can be destructive to oneself. As a rule of thumb for psychedelic use, try understanding why you are seeking them out to begin with, and analyze whether you are in a good enough place to handle what the drug can worm out of your subconscious.