This article originally appeared on VICE Denmark, and is part of "Safe Sesh", a VICE harm reduction campaign produced in collaboration with The Loop and the Royal Society for Public Health. Read more from the editorial series here.
Dropping acid can be a wonderful, enlightening experience, or a deeply traumatising one. The effect LSD has on users often depends on their environment, their mental state and the mood they're in when taking it. Since the results can vary so wildly from person to person, I wondered what the constants are – whether there are particulars about the experience you only start understanding after doing it in different states of mind, sporadically, for years on end.
To find out, I contacted three Danish LSD OGs to plough their decades of experience and learn how taking the drug during different stages of your life can change your outlook on the world.
Peter Ingemann, 74
Peter: Probably not that different from most people’s first experience with LSD. It was kind of like putting on a new pair of glasses. Physical objects start to change in size and shape, and you start thinking differently about things. It’s hard to explain to someone who hasn’t tried it.
How did LSD affect your life?
I always tell people that LSD allows you to try out a temporary state of insanity. You can kind of compare it to how a dog’s sense of smell works. Like many other animals, dogs have a very powerful sense of smell, while humans don't. If a dog's sense of smell is the size of a football field, a human's sense of smell is the size of a stamp. With that in mind, it's impossible to fully imagine how they experience the world through smell. LSD is kind of like that, too. It allows you to see a glimpse of a world that is much larger than our own.
I think dropping acid humbles and opens you up to the fact that reality isn't always what it appears to be. At the same time, it’s important to remember that ordinary, everyday life is tough and your problems won't be fixed by taking LSD.
What would you tell a young person who's considering experimenting with psychedelic drugs?
My advice is pretty simple: don’t use drugs to escape your issues. If you're thinking of doing it, only do it to enhance experiences that are already great. In fact, I think any stimulant – booze, drugs, smoking, sex – can make life more fun, but you should only indulge if you're content without them. If you find yourself in a situation where you can't enjoy your life without doing drugs, you need to get help.
Holger Christensen, 64
Holger had his first trip when he was 17 years old at Thylejren, popularly know as the Danish Woodstock.
VICE: The first time you dropped acid, you were at a festival?
Holger: Yes, I was 17 years old and some friends and I were at Thylejren, which was then just a hippie commune on the Jutland peninsula. We knew we had to be careful, but the conditions seemed perfect, so we tried it a few times.
Do you remember specific trips you've had throughout your life?
Sure, there are two experiences I'll always remember. One time, I was walking through a forest and looking up at the trees, and I noticed something in the way the wind was rustling through the leaves – it just seemed so incredibly familiar. I soon realised it reminded me of looking up at the world from my pram as a baby. That opened up some interesting channels in my mind. The other moment I'll never forget was when time appeared to cease to exist. All that remained for me was a sort of movement through space. It's hard to describe. That experience piqued my interest in physics, astronomy and cosmology, which I’ve been studying ever since.
Would you say psychedelic drugs have played a big part in your life?
Yes. When I was younger, I lived with a friend in a tiny apartment in Christianshavn in Copenhagen, and we had convinced ourselves we were carrying out scientific studies into the effects of LSD. We were hoping that our little experiments would help us understand ourselves and be better equipped to deal with whatever life threw at us.
That experience turned me into a more carefree, spontaneous person. Before ever doing it, I saw myself as a very smart and together individual, ready to take on the world. But tripping makes you realise that your conscious mind is extremely limited in its scope. We are very myopic in how we see the world on a daily basis – our egos get in the way of properly perceiving reality. With LSD, all those filters disappear.
If you could impart some wisdom about LSD on your 17-year-old self, what would it be?
That, at 17, you’re too young for it. You need to be sure of yourself before you start going on that trip. And you should only do it when you're surrounded by people you like in a space where you feel comfortable, because things will change dramatically once you start tripping. A lot of people think taking LSD is all about kicking back and watching cartoons, when it’s actually the exact opposite. It can change you on a fundamental level, by forcing you to perceive reality in a completely different way.
Adam, who asked to remain anonymous, is a former member of the old Youth House movement in Copenhagen – an infamous commune for young people who considered themselves part of the first wave of Danish punks. He has been taking LSD on and off since the 1980s.
VICE: What role has LSD played in your life?
Adam: Tripping has always felt like I was adding a missing piece of the large puzzle inside my mind. Growing up, I could never sit quietly for long – I couldn’t focus on anything for more than 20 seconds, and I didn’t really know how to socialise with other people. I kept getting kicked out of one school after another. The doctors said I was hyperactive, at a time when most people didn't really know what ADHD was. When I started experimenting with LSD, I suddenly felt like everything fell into place. I learned how to focus my attention and communicate with others.
What was your first time like?
That was back in the 80s. Some of my friends were living in an old farmhouse outside the city, with a bunch of people I didn't really know. One day, someone I had gone to school with invited me to hang with them there, which was when I was introduced to LSD. The experience wasn't great at first, because all I could think about were all the horror stories I'd heard – about people jumping from rooftops because it had made them think they could fly. That was always at the back of my mind, so it was hard for me to let go, but eventually I did.
I personally don’t believe that LSD in itself has a negative impact on your mental health. But it can definitely trigger suppressed personal issues, because it opens up the floodgates to your emotions and you can’t really close them again – even if you want to. People always warn you about bad trips, but in my opinion those trips can also really teach you something about yourself.
What advice would you give young people looking to experiment with LSD?
You should never drop acid on a regular basis. There have been periods in my life where I did it a lot, but also extended periods that I didn't do it at all. And when you try it for the first time, make sure you're outside, surrounded by nature. I have a lot of friends who have fucked themselves up on acid, so if you struggle with mental illness, don’t do it. If you decide to do so anyway, be prepared to be confronted with everything – there’s no mercy. That's why LSD has the kind of reputation it has – there's this ruthless honesty, on a level that very few people have ever dealt with before.