This piece originally appeared on VICE Netherlands.
Last February, I was heading to a rave in a London warehouse when I started to feel uneasy. I told my friend I didn’t want to drink or take anything that might give me a hangover - two years of the pandemic topped off with a fresh breakup had been tough. “Why don’t you try some acid?” she asked, offering me about a fourth of an LSD tab (between 19 and 25 micrograms based on the average LSD dose).
At the rave, I experienced sounds and lights more intensely, but I wasn’t hallucinating. Pretty soon I felt upbeat, chatty and cheerful - but then, everything became overwhelming.
Suddenly, I realised I was trying to laugh and smile through a wave of uncontrollable emotions caused by the LSD - in a room full of ravers, I felt very alone. This wasn’t what I wanted to experience on the dance floor, but I decided to just let it happen. After a few hours, something clicked: I realised I wasn’t really alone, I always had myself.
The week following the party, I didn’t have a hangover. Quite the opposite, I’d processed something important and hadn’t felt this good in a long time - this way of partying felt like a revelation.
Since then, I’ve met quite a few people who’ve replaced stimulants with psychedelics at parties. According to Ton Nabben, criminologist and drug researcher at the University of Applied Sciences in Amsterdam, the growing interest in psychedelics in the Dutch club scene is “largely due to the increase of scientific research into psychedelics” over the past few years.
With psychedelic drugs becoming more socially acceptable, taking them in the club also feels less dangerous. “People used to be very careful because they were scared of tripping,” says Nabben. “But now they’re experimenting with smaller doses, which allows them to use them in different settings. These doses can be combined with other substances, too.”
Nabben adds that users who are familiar with the peaks and waves of ecstasy, and other typical party drugs, might be looking for something new. “Your experience on psychedelics can be much richer, they do a lot of different things to your senses,” he says. “In a club setting they can open the door to new ways of connecting.”
The rise of psychedelics says something about the uncertain times we’re going through, too. “We’ve had a lot coming at us,” says Nabben. Psychedelics can be a way to find answers to our anxieties and better understand what’s happening around us, he explains.
Isabel, 29, works for Nachtburgemeester Amsterdam (Night Mayor Amsterdam, a local nightlife foundation) and chose not to share her full name for privacy reasons like others in this piece. When she goes out, she usually uses between a quarter and half a tab of LSD for a night - it makes her feel more cheerful and in the moment.
“I experience the music and lights more intensely, and I have more meaningful conversations,” she says. “It’s very different from when I use ecstasy, which often makes me quite withdrawn.” She also doesn’t have the physical or mental hangover that usually comes the week after popping pills and even feels really good about her life. “That’s nice because I love to go out a lot,” she adds.
Nick, 28, is an Amsterdam-based DJ and for the past year he’s frequently used shrooms in the club.
“When I was 12, my parents got a divorce and there was a lot of tension in the house,” he says. “I found an escape by DJing at a gabber festival at that early age.” The scene revolved around a lot of drugs and alcohol. “At some point, I started drinking a lot and added substances like cocaine, which took a mental toll,” Nick continues. His drug use problem went on until he turned 24 and sought professional help.
Alongside therapy, Nick participated in ayahuasca ceremonies and started microdosing psychedelics. He now microdoses while performing in clubs, too. “Going out can no longer be a form of escapism for me, it’s my whole life; my job, my outlet and the place where I meet my friends,” he says. “Psychedelics mainly help me to keep my life balanced so I don’t lose myself in the nightlife.”
Art student Ruby, 25, enjoys using psychedelics at parties because she’s noticed they make her more relaxed than other drugs. She’s experimented with substances like 2CB, LSD, DMT, and rapé – an Amazonian plant similar to tobacco but much stronger - but for the past three years, she’s mainly used truffles.
“They help me get out of my head and feel more things,” she says. “I feel calm, content and I have more compassion for myself and other people.” They also help her smoke less and deal with annoying party situations better, like long lines for the bathroom or energy-draining conversations. “With truffles, it becomes easier to put those things aside,” she adds.
Ruby uses psychedelics for fun, but also to heal. Before she goes out, she pauses to take stock of how she feels and what she wants to get out of the evening. She asks herself questions like, “Why do I want to go out and what do I want to avoid? Is there anything I’m worried about? How wild do I want things to get?” She says she stays “open to receiving answers and affirmations”.
Ruby thinks that being more mindful about her drug use has helped her stay on track with her life. “Of course I like to get loose from time to time. Sometimes I combine LSD with a bit of ecstasy or MDMA to completely lose myself,” she says. “But at the same time, I live a busy life so truffles are a good option because they don’t cause a dip or a hangover, and they give me a lot.”
Isabel agrees. “If you go out two or three times a month and work five days a week, it’s physically and mentally unsustainable to use other substances,” she says. “Changing things up with psychedelics helps finding a fun and sustainable work-party balance.”
Nabben emphasises that - despite their positive effects - the substances are still potentially dangerous. “It’s still a psychedelic,” he warns. “It turns your world upside down. Every now and then, you read about terrible accidents on the news and these things happen - you can experience psychosis, take too much and go into panic mode.”
Psychosis and mania are highly chaotic mental states which can be triggered by psychedelics in people with a propensity towards them.
“But in terms of damage, psychedelics are not as bad as alcohol or cocaine,” Nabben adds. The risk of becoming addicted is very low for the “classic” psychedelics, like mushrooms or LSD. Although they can temporarily affect your heart rate and blood pressure, users aren’t typically at risk for serious reactions like overdoses, either.
Ruby, who’s had negative experiences with LSD, described those bad trips as an emotional ordeal. “When it’s over, you realise that the trip can teach you something, because everything you saw or felt was already inside of you,” she says. “Some things feel scary, but they mean something deeper. What I learned from this is that psychedelics hold up a mirror.”