To Live Outside the Law, By Leaf Fielding

The highs and lows of dealing LSD
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Leaf Fielding was a linchpin in the gang that flooded Britain with cut-price LSD during the 1970s.

He was busted in Operation Julie, a mammoth investigation which involved 800 police and resulted in more than 100 arrests. His memoir is a tale of adventure and an absorbing period piece.

Fielding embodies the ambiguities of the hippie era. The youth upheavals of the Sixties came in response to the stultifying drabness of post-war Britain. The hippies may have intended to upend the establishment, but they also fuelled a consumer explosion – in music, clothes, and illegal drugs. The latter is now among the world's most successful industries.

Like many hippies, Fielding was a public schoolboy; it's easier to drop out of the system, after all, if you have a secure place in it to start with. His school, Woodbridge, sounds appall-ing, and so the University of Reading came as a relief, even if it was rather dull. Then he swapped a Hendrix album for a couple of tabs of acid, and soon he was hitching around Europe and heading to India. Like his peers, Fielding believed that LSD would lift mankind into the next stage of evolution, turning on the straights and transforming the world for the better. Yet war continued in Vietnam, the Prague Spring of 1968 was ruthlessly suppressed, and it became clear that hippies had little purchase on wider events.

Suddenly it was the Seventies, and money became a consideration. Fielding set up a health food shop but the rewards for dealing were too large to ignore. The bust followed. A policewoman present at his arrest wept at the pathos of the scene, but prison wasn't so bad: Fielding went to boarding school, remember. He got eight years, a comparatively light sentence, and was granted parole for a chunk of it.

LSD is not always benign. Fielding says he never encountered casualties, but acid can unleash psychosis and other psychological problems. But fashions change in drugs. Nowadays, acid has been largely superseded by amphetamine, a less hazardous chemical without the same vertiginous heights and terrifying troughs. Those who are willing to take the risk, however, will attest that LSD can provide peak experiences that the others do not touch.

Acid didn't change the world, but it has left a legacy. It has been a seminal influence upon a vast contingent of creative artists, and produced a seismic cultural shift with effects that are reverberating still.

As for Fielding, these days he's happy selling organic produce in the south of France. His book has been assembled and crafted with the same assiduous zeal he once used to stamp out tens of thousands of tabs. The narrative starts with his arrest and maintains dramatic suspense by alternating episodes from his time in prison with his picaresque existence on the out. The result is a compelling read which – every so often – offers vivid intimations of the ferocious protean power of the substance that altered his life so decisively.