This article originally appeared on VICE India.
I’ll never forget my first taste of psychedelics. It was at a secluded beach in Goa, India, on a breezy Monday afternoon around four years ago. I popped 250 micrograms of a Super Mario acid stamp, and I remember the exact moment its hallucinogenic effects bloomed in my brain. I was sipping on a fresh lime soda while looking out at the expansive sea when, suddenly, my mind tricked me into believing that I had stepped into the ocean and was now sipping salty seawater from the straw. What followed was an overwhelming, delirious rush of euphoria that turned humans into shape shifting blobs, sand granules into massage oil and a wooden wall into an extension of my own arms every time I touched it. I was overcome with a giddy, giggly madness, the kind that made me feel like I was floating in mid-air when I was just lying on the sand. My first time wasn’t a spiritual awakening of the senses. It was pure, probably adulterated fun. But eventually, even the all-consuming elation retreated into a quicksand of sadness, before giving way to a brutal guilt. My 18-year-old self felt ashamed for becoming a “druggie” and doing something my slightly conservative family would probably disown me for if they ever found out.
But what’s even more of a bummer than the comedowns that follow a good trip are the all-round bad trips. Mine took place at a crowded concert a year after the first trip, and was characterised by paralysing paranoia, a crippling loneliness and the constant fear of being stampeded to death by the other attendees. The euphoria rushed through my brain for maybe five minutes, before it transformed into the sinister feeling that every smiling face that surrounded me was secretly smirking at me, judging and dismissing me for being that same druggie I was afraid of becoming on my first trip. I kept imagining that everyone, from the bartender who gave me a glass of water to the random stranger raging beside me, was watching me closely, examining my every move so they could make note of it in a journal of Things Never To Do.
After that harrowing incident, I vowed to never put myself through this hallucinogenic hell ever again. And I’ve been a good girl for the last two years, choosing instead to gain my boost of raving energy by snorting lines of MDMA or popping a pretty pill of ecstasy. You know, safer options that don’t promise any profound experience, but have enough dopamine to fuck me up just the right amount. Options that seem more socially acceptable because everyone from movie characters to all my friends are doing it. That don’t make me question my purpose or actions or existence, and are thus preferential in a world that prides you for your productivity.
Of course I now realise that I don’t need a drug to make me feel existential: the current pandemic situation is doing that anyway, even in all its sobering glory. Being stuck inside for such a long stretch for the first time in my life has been pretty successful in killing my plans to take any mind-altering substances, but it hasn’t been able to kill the craving of wanting to feel connected to something, whether it's to a person or the great outdoors. Currently, the only meaningful connection I seem to have in my life comes from my WiFi and a Netflix account. So when I stumbled upon Have a Good Trip, Netflix’s new documentary on psychedelics, I figured “why the hell not?”. My decision was greatly rewarded because what lies beneath the surface of a 90-minute film that features famous celebrities including Carrie Fisher, A$AP Rocky, Anthony Bourdain, Sting and Ben Stiller talking about how they got sooo high is the spiritual trip sitter I wish I had had before I decided to dabble in the mystical world of psychedelia.
Four years ago, when I took the plunge into psychedelics, the only research resources at my disposal were either several studies on the therapeutic effects of psilocybin or badly produced anti-drug campaigns disguised as educational YouTube videos or random Reddit threads. Coming from a family and society that constantly reiterated the demonic effects of drugs, especially ones that made you hallucinate and see things that didn’t exist, there was this constant confusion about how morally and ethically acceptable my decision to take acid was, even after I had been exposed to its transcendental effects. But this documentary, or mockumentary if I may, turns those anti-drug instructional videos into the most satirical, sarcastic ray of orange sunshine, ultimately stressing that yes, you can bug out, but even if you do, it only helps you emerge stronger and with a better perspective on life.
Have a Good Trip isn’t just great because it has philosophical author Deepak Chopra waxing lyrical about how our consciousness is quantum soup or the effortlessly iconic Sting recounting his ritualistic experience of being initiated into a Peyote cult and bathing in goat’s blood or psychiatrist Charles Grob updating us about how far we’ve come in exploring the therapeutic potential of psychedelics. It’s greatest lines come from real-life Princess Leia, Carrie Fisher, telling you about that time she ended up topless on a Seychelles beach or talking to an acorn in Central Park. It’s when Latin dancer and actress Rosie Perez opens up about when she was dosed and truly believed she was a bed. It’s that scene of comedian Paul Scheer thinking he was part of a Van Gogh painting while high off his ass on psychedelic truffles in Amsterdam. It’s “artiste” A$AP Rocky flexing about how his dick shot out a rainbow and helped him have the most surreal sex. It’s actor Nick Kroll musing about how he walked around with sea kelp strewn all over his body only to find his skin covered in a gruesome rash the next day. It’s even Ben Stiller breaking down about how he had to call his dad to save him from an anxiety-inducing bad trip.
These stories aren’t just sprinkles of psychedelic experiences set to striking visuals, catchy music, and uproarious re-enactments. They’re not trippy for the sake of being trippy. They’re, in my experience, a very real representation of what anyone who has done psychedelics will go through: the good, the bad, the glorious and the ugly. Because it's only the ones who’ve experienced the bewitchment of psychedelics who can truly understand that it's not WHAT happened that’s enticing. It’s HOW it made you feel. And I've truly missed that amazing, intense feeling.
Watching this documentary not only helped me grasp concepts like set and setting, not looking in the mirror if you’re tripping and the more obvious ones like not driving when you’re rolling. It also made me remember the sheer beauty that tripping on acid brought into my life, even when I had a bad trip. The celebrity validation feels different from what we’ve seen in any movie based on the golden age of acid. Here, they speak about psychedelics in such a nonchalant, casual tone, that it brings this sense of social acceptance for someone like me, who didn’t really have a mentor or even a close friend who approved of acid. It helped me remember that even though my bad trip made me feel like everyone was against me, it also exposed me to the reality that I lacked self-confidence, something I have worked tirelessly to achieve ever since. It made me want to rewind to that lazy, hazy Monday afternoon in 2016, when I truly comprehended that happiness may be elusive, but some moments manage to trap it pretty well. Ultimately, it’s as Nick Offerman says right at the beginning of Have a Good Trip: “Drugs can be dangerous. But they can also be hilarious”.
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