• A woman dances in the glow of psychedelic light at the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco. (Getty)Source: Getty
One writer shares both his good and bad experiences with various hallucinogenic substances.
Evan Valletta

7 Feb 2018 - 3:10 PM  UPDATED 7 Feb 2018 - 3:10 PM

SBS does not endorse or advocate illegal drug taking, or condone the possession or supply of prohibited substances. In keeping with the spirit of Hamilton's Pharmacopeia, this story is intended to educate and inform readers about the effects of psychedelic substances based on one person's experiences. The author's experiences were not undertaken at the behest of SBS.

This week on Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia, we travel to Mexico and witness three very different men (including our own Hamilton Morris) take an intense psychedelic substance found inside the glands of a Sonoran Desert toad. The substance is said to induce one of the most extreme trips possible, or in other words, the equivalent of 15 years of therapy in 15 minutes.

If you were ever interested in sampling a psychedelic substance, you’d have literally hundreds of options from which to choose. While many swear by the psychedelic experience as an avenue to personal growth, many more are either way too cautious to go there or simply think it’s a waste of time.

Either way, I may or may not have been down a few hallucinogenic roads in my time. Here's what I've learned...


But first, three important notes about psychedelics


Each psychedelic substance affects each person in a different way and for a different length of time, depending on dosage, location and state of mind. In fact, two separate experiments with the same substance can lead to drastically different experiences. The below is merely the experience of one person, who went against recommendations and took most of these substances alone. It is imperative to be monitored by a sober and informed friend.

Are they addictive?

The best-known psychedelics are generally considered non-addictive in nature, and are said to not alter the brain chemistry in the same way other addictive substances do (with the exception of drugs like MDMA, which straddle the line between stimulant and psychedelic). That being said, psychedelic substances can be habit-forming, especially in cases of depressed and anxious folk looking for relief from consciousness.

Can they kill you?

An “overdose” on psychedelic substances very rarely leads to death, but injesting too much of an untested substance can result in heinous psychological disruptions that can take years to reverse, if at all. There are exceptions to most rules, which is why proper research and preparation is paramount.


Magic mushrooms

What is it?

The Psilocybin mushroom arrived on my doorstep in a large snap-lock bag, which was filled with a meal’s worth of dried-out fungus. It took me a good while to chew down the contents.

How did it feel?

At first, there wasn’t all that much to rave about. My bedroom lights were brighter and the colours of the clothes strewn around my room were that much more pronounced. Then the full effects kicked in.

Some forms of mediation ask that you focus on parts of your body at a time — your jaw, your shoulders, your feet, etc. During my 'shroom eve, I felt able to focus on specific parts of my internal body — from either of my lungs to my lower intestines to the blood coursing through my legs. It was as if these gobs of fungus had given me heightened awareness of every aspect of my living machine, and it made for a fascinating and frightening experience.

Any side effects?

For a lot of people, the potential to act irrationally is rife. There’s also the chance of sweating, nausea, headaches, dizziness, fear and paranoia, but I didn’t experience any of that to a noticeable extent.



What is it?

A synthetic compound called lysergic acid diethylamide, first cooked up in 1938. These are most commonly taken in tabs made from edible paper.

How did it feel?

While my mushroom experience was more bodily, my LSD trip was primarily located in my head. A few tabs of acid seemed to unshackle my mind, stretch out my gaze, amplify my senses, and screw with my sense of time and place. I went for a walk that seemed to last 15 minutes but actually ran for four hours.

As is common to the LSD experience, I gravitated towards nature, where your average tree became a thing of unending wonder – every branch, every leaf developed its own character and charm. The simple contour of a tree’s bark made me burst into laughter or exaltation.

Any side effects?

LSD is unpredictable. Paranoia and skewed motor function are common, as is dizziness and headaches.

For me, when I arrived home, things turned a little darker, as this new perspective made me feel as if I’d been wasting my life blindfolded in a pit of cynicism. I fell asleep nursing a pledge to change, and woke up wondering what the hell I was thinking.



What is it?

Many psychonauts claim DMT (dimethyltryptamine, aka “the spirit molecule”) is an ensured path to enlightenment – the closest thing to interacting with the crux of the universe, or God, or whatever you want to call it.

How did it feel?

I had heard stories of DMT obliterating the mind’s connection to the body and taking one’s consciousness into a kaleidoscopic world, bound by a completely different set of parameters to our own. I thought this was an exaggeration and decided to smoke a mound of Changa (DMT infused with other herbs), thinking it would give me a tiny taste of what to expect.

On my front porch, as I exhaled the single toke, the houses across the road parted and a flood of fluro water rushed toward me. I bolted inside and sought refuge under the covers, closing my eyes in the hope my mind would quickly reconnect with reality. Some folk, though, while in the correct headspace, embrace this otherworldly experience.

Any side effects?

As DMT is savagely potent, it can lead to increased heart rate, high blood pressure, dizziness, nausea and vomiting, and in extremely high, unchecked doses, coma or respiratory arrest.

For me, it just messed with my head and conjured inner fear in a way I hadn’t anticipated.



What is it?

A cactus containing the hallucinogenic substance mescaline, used by various cultures in a ritualistic fashion.

How did it feel?

Before I could lament the fact that I’d tracked down some mescaline, which isn’t too easy to find down under, extreme visuals entered my consciousness. I ended up having a heart-to-heart with the backyard wall, which I swore had transformed into my high school bully, and that ended in positive tears.

Any side effects?

Nausea is common, and while vomiting isn’t usually a coveted experience, with peyote it’s seen as a means of purging one’s psyche of demons.

Severe anxiety is common in higher doses. While I didn’t throw up, I definitely felt the nausea aspect, but only to a mild extent.



What is it?

A synthetic drug that straddles the line between hallucinogen and stimulant. Also known as ecstasy and, more recently, molly.

How did it feel?

I’ve experienced MDMA on more occasions than I’d like to admit, but in most cases have felt an increased sense of trust and connection to anyone and everything, as evidenced by a particular occasion when I met The Most Fantastic Couple Ever Coupled. I thought they were so amazing I agreed to mow their sprawling lawn for $100.

The next day, I was pacing outside their house, calling their phones, both of which were surprisingly turned off. Hatred overtook previous feelings of love.

Any side effects?

Stripped appetite, detachment from the self, confusion, restless legs, chills, headache and sweating, as well as the potential for a tough comedown into a trench of sadness. I have experienced all of these.



What is it?

Also known as Special K, ketamine is a compound first synthesised in 1962. It is used for anaesthetic and analgesic purposes, and, recreationally, as a hallucinogen. New studies are exploring microdosing the stuff as a treatment for depression.

How did it feel?

An initial taste led to feelings of connectedness and the alleged ability to handle any situation.

A redose in the form of a thick line up the nose can only be likened to Shaun Micallef’s tilted room sketches, as it took me to a place where walking a single metre turned into an elaborate obstacle course. There wasn’t any relief from neuroses or path to enlightenment there, just the installation of a completely new set of controls when it came to working the human body.

Any side effects?

I experienced all the rumoured side effects: blurred vision, confusion, dizziness and almost complete loss of motor function. By the end, everything was spinning worse than any drunken binge, and I thought it would never end (also known as a K-hole).



What is it?

An extremely potent compound first synthesised in 1974. It shares similarities with MDMA, but in my opinion, is far more complex.

How did it feel?

I became hyper-focused on the tiniest of details of everything around me, particularly in the sonic arena. I fixated on music, any music. Considering I’m quite picky when it comes to recorded sound, it’s perplexing that suddenly I was enraptured by any track that came on the radio. I was in awe at every note, and came to the conclusion that there’s no such thing as bad music.

Unfortunately, this major epiphany disappeared the following morning – of course Johnny Cash is better than Vengaboys.

Any side effects?

Apart from a mild headache and a pretty severe comedown (as well as embarrassment over the faux-epiphany), I was lucky not to experience the jitters or brain tremors, or any of the many severe gastro anomalies common with its use.


If you or someone you know needs help dealing with a drug problem or wants information about treatment options, the Department of Health has a helpful list of support services on its website or you can call the Alcohol and Drug Foundation on 1300 85 85 84.


Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia airs Tuesdays at 8:30pm on SBS VICELAND. Watch the psychedelic toad episode at SBS On Demand:

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