It was the worst drug problem I ever had
"I’ve just found a wrap on the floor in the toilets. I think it’s heroin. You can have it if you want"
A report last week claimed that a growing number of people are taking LSD and other psychedelic drugs — such as Ecstasy — to help with a range of problems including anorexia nervosa, cluster headaches and chronic anxiety attacks. Dr John Halpern, a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School, found that, of 53 people with cluster headaches, “almost all” obtained relief when taking either LSD or psilocybin, otherwise known as magic mushrooms.
Over in Switzerland, meanwhile, there is an experiment going on where people with a terminal condition are given LSD, along with psychotherapy, to cope with the profound anxiety brought on by impending death. While many of us might conclude instantly that the very last thing someone coming to terms with their own impending drop into the grave needs is wigging the hell out on a load of dappy-tabs, it seems that we are being overly cautious on the matter.
“If you handle LSD with care, it isn’t any more dangerous than other therapies,” says Dr Peter Gasser, the psychiatrist leading the trial.
Well, all I can say is, thank heavens I don’t suffer from anorexia nervosa, cluster headaches, chronic anxiety attacks or unusually keen niggles about tumbling from the twig. I spent most of my teenage years trying to get my hands on LSD “and other psychedelic drugs, such as Ecstasy” — indeed, any drugs — and found it to be one of the more vexatious “sourcing problems” of my life. Far harder than, at a later stage, trying to find a good state primary school for my children, or a reliable deli with a varied range of English cheeses. It’s almost as if they’re illegal, or something.
My father had always told me that I was “exactly the wrong kind of person for acid”. At the time, I thought he meant that I was so creative and imaginative that LSD would blow my already-open mind to crumbs and rubble. Latterly, I have come to realise that he just meant I have the kind of personality that means no one will sell it to me. And he was right.
When I became a music journalist at the age of 16 — hanging out with bands and their disreputable, piratical entourages — I presumed that I had just got the golden ticket to Drugtopia and it would be only a matter of minutes before I was sailing through a starburst cloudland, sparkles shooting from my fingertips like mimosa rain.
However, contrary to nearly every public information campaign ever mounted, it turns out that the world is not full of grown-ups trying to sell drugs to teenagers, after all. All the grown-ups I ever tried to get drugs from seemed incredibly reluctant to give me anything at all — possibly not helped by my cheerful inquiry of “can I get a half fare?” when discussing how much it might cost. I would attend parties at which pop stars were gouching out on mattresses, their eyes rolling down their chests and on to the floor like marbles, and every effort to — quoting the old lady in When Harry Met Sally — “have what (s)he’s having” — was met with gigantic disapproval and then, more often than not, someone saying “look, I’ll give you a cigarette, kid, if you promise you’ll just bugger off”.
I felt my lack of psychedelic experience very keenly — I was ludicrously touchy about the whole subject. One evening I got talking to a rock critic who was just starting to make a name for himself as a scriptwriter. I very much wanted to impress him. I was, therefore, horrified when he asked, “You been on any trips?” by way of conversation. In my nightmares I had worried that people would simply come up to you, ask you to list how many drugs you had taken and judge you accordingly — and now it was happening.
“God, I’d love to and I think I’m totally ready — I mean, I’ve had some really wiggy snakebite before now and I’ve had whiteys where I’ve gone blind,” I started to burble. Then I realised that he was asking if I’d “gone on a trip” — ie, gone abroad to interview a band — yet, not if I’d kicked the hinges off the back door of my consciousness and found myself in the Wild West saloon of my id.
“ . . . and I’ve been to Belfast with An Emotional Fish,” I concluded, in a very small voice.
I was similarly divvish the first time I was offered cocaine. I was on an Intercity train with a band who had just performed their single on This Morning with Richard and Judy. We were all very drunk — the champagne had been opened at 11am. As it had been a “Hallowe’en special” episode of This Morning, I was also in possession of a large, orange, pumpkin-face helium balloon, which I had tied to my lapel.
One of the band’s hangers-on leant across and asked: “Do you want to go to Wichita?”
I had absolutely no idea what he meant. “Wichita,” he repeated. “You know — Wichita! A birrov Glen Campbell. The Wichita Lineman.”
I stared at him, as dim and hopeless as an egg.
“Wichita. Lineman. Do you want to do a line, man?” the manager said.
“Oh!” I exclaimed, sudden and joyful. “You mean COCAINE!”
The entire carriage went silent. I did not get the cocaine. I did get to keep the balloon, though.
Amazingly, I was also, finally, offered the naughtiest drug of all — heroin — although the circumstances were not how I thought they would be at all. I’d always fancied that it would occur in some velvet-swagged hotel room, proffered by some hair-swagged rock star, and that somehow I would have turned into beautiful Stevie Nicks by that point.
In fact, it happened in a horrible pub in Camden, was presented by a member of a certain boy band who were a bit like the Showaddywaddy of Britpop, and I was still, very much, just me.
“I’ve just found a wrap on the floor in the toilets,” the bloke said, handing me a frankly filthy paper packet. “I think it’s smack. You can have it if you want.” And then, remembering that I was a journalist: “And thanks for all your support!”
Oddly, I felt massively disinclined to take the filthy toilet smack. For two weeks I kept it on my mantelpiece and showed it to everyone who visited, while laughing hysterically. Then, when I went back to my parents’ house in Wolverhampton for Christmas, I wanged it into the canal at Broad Street Basin. Thanks to my atrocious aim, it bounced off a very ill-looking moorhen, then sank. I suspect that there has never been a moment in history less “heroin chic”.
I gave up trying to get drugs after that. If I start getting cluster headaches, it’s going to be Migraleve or nothing.
November 02, 2009