Drugs: Trips down memory lane
Jon Snow was undone by a slice of flan laced with LSD, but he's not the only establishment casualty of acid
Tim Walker is The Independent’s Los Angeles correspondent, covering entertainment and other concerns from the West Coast of the US. He was previously a features writer and the editor of the paper’s diary column. His first novel, Completion, is being published in January 2014.
Friday 28 September 2012
Among the subjects invited to sample MDMA ecstasy for Channel 4's Drugs Live programme this week were an acclaimed novelist and a priest. The experiment recalled the early days of LSD, when respectable members of the establishment took the psychedelic drug for the purposes of public research. And it gave one of its presenters, Jon Snow (top right), a vivid flashback.
Snow claimed, in a blog written before the programme was broadcast, that he once ingested the hallucinogenic inadvertently, aged 22 or thereabouts, by eating two slices of an LSD-laced strawberry flan at a party in Oxford. He then attempted to drive home to London, but was forced to yield the wheel to a non-tripping passenger, after he became convinced that the Mini they were in was too large to fit beneath a motorway bridge.
Earlier this month, Strictly star Bruno Tonioli revealed a similar experience when he had a drink spiked in a Munich nightclub in the 1970s: "I thought I was Roger Daltrey," he told The Sun.
And Sir Sean Connery warned an author not to take LSD because he had experienced a bad trip when he tried the drug himself, it has been claimed.
Writer Edna O'Brien revealed in a new memoir that the star advised her against the drug. She claimed that Connery told her how his trip with psychiatrist RD Laing had a "freight of terrors".
Disgraced former Tory MP Jonathan Aitken was similarly critical of the drug when he "reviewed" it for the Evening Standard in 1965. "This drug needs police, the Home Office and a dictator to stamp it out," Aitken opined. Yet the art critic Brian Sewell, recalling the period more recently in the same paper, wrote that his LSD visions had "made the paintings of Salvador Dali in his prime seem the poor, pale, pedestrian inventions of a plodding mind".
Other high-profile individuals besides The Beatles have been similarly effusive in their recollections. Cary Grant took LSD regularly during the 1950s, as part of his psychotherapy. The DNA pioneer Francis Crick was reportedly a fan of its mind-altering properties, and even allegedly "perceived" the double-helix structure of his discovery while tripping.
Crick was a devotee of novelist Aldous Huxley, who wrote of his own experimentation with hallucinogens in his stories The Doors Of Perception and Heaven and Hell. The Apple founder Steve Jobs described his LSD use – he took the drug up to 15 times during the early 1970s – as "a positive life-changing experience".
Roger Sterling, the fictional scion of the Sterling advertising dynasty in Mad Men, was also converted to the pleasures of LSD in the most recent series of the 1960s-set drama.
But Snow might be more reassured by the news that Dan Rather, the esteemed former US news anchor, has also confessed obliquely to drug use – all in the name of journalism, naturally. In a 1980 interview with Ladies' Home Journal, he said that "as a reporter – and I don't want to say that's the only context – I've tried everything. I can say to you with confidence, I know a fair amount about LSD… my curiosity has carried me into a lot of interesting areas".
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