Psychedelic Before Psychedelics Were Cool

How a high school hallucination continues to entice and enthrall

Mookie Spitz
10 min readApr 6, 2024


Hex to Rx

Nixon’s “War Against Drugs” was arguably one of the worst policy decisions in American history. Ostensibly designed to incarcerate Black people, the destructive repercussions were vast, including the elimination of entire, already demonstrated viable drug classes from research, development, and clinically tested and approved distribution.

A racist President wasn’t the only problem early on — psychedelic scientist-celebrities epitomized by Timothy Leary sowed as much insanity as they did insight, spreading confusion and mixed messages to an already terrified and misinformed public. As addiction and ignorance raged, non-addictive drugs with the greatest untapped therapeutic were shelved.

The history of psychedelic science is expansive and complex, with a state change in legal, clinical, therapeutic, and commercial attitudes happening about two decades ago. Since then laws are changing, academic institutions are researching, key influencers are driving, drug companies are manufacturing, and doctors are actually prescribing psychedelic drugs.

As astonishing as legalized weed, FDA-approved pharmaceutical ketamine — and likely soon MDMA and others — seemed inconceivable back in the early 80s. As rambunctious high school juniors and seniors, my friends and I clandestinely ingested psilocybin mushrooms, LSD blotters, and various other illegal, societally denigrated mind-altering chemicals.

We were inspired by Aldous Huxley and Pink Floyd, and self-identified as smart ass, counter-culture renegades. The disapproval of our parents, peers, and teachers was positively reinforcing. Unlike morally questionable teen recreational activities such as bullying, shoplifting, vandalism, and similar hooliganism, our style of being Bad Boys felt karmically kool.

Cascading off a horrific bout of sophomore depression, I embraced our recreational drug use and wild hallucinogenic shenanigans with gusto. Feeling I had nothing to lose after nearly losing it all, my reckless abandon made me fearless, bold, and eager to indulge every trip. In retrospect, these adolescent pyschedelic odysseys are some of my fondest memories.

Grave Heart

One such memorable evening was spent with my fellow daytrippers, Fran and Ed, an amazing hallucination germinating at the Calvary Cemetery in Evanston, IL. Flush with the lake of aptly named Lake Shore Drive, the spooky place was our go-to haunt. We’d often get wasted in the graveyard first, then dash over to the beach usually patrolled by the cops.

Fran parked in a side street, and we skunked to our preferred entry point where low-hanging bushes covered the wrought iron fence. More burnout than jock, we still knew how to climb, or at least lunge over the top without skewering ourselves on the pointy posts. Once inside, we had the resting place of more than a hundred thousand Catholic souls all to ourselves.

Prowling around the shadowy vaults, monuments, and mausoleums was enticingly macabre, this evening’s heavy drugs layering fresh dimensions of fright night creepiness onto our adventure. Spirits whispered from the darkness, leapt in front of our faces, vanished into whisps of weed smoke. We wandered aimlessly, got lost, stumbled upon our favorite shrine.

The grave of Patrick Murphy, who died on July 18, 1876, beckoned. His monument was adorned with a statue of robed and rosaried Jesus, IHS- and sunflower-engraved cross to his side, arm above his head, finger raised to Heaven, the vector of the deceased’s ascent in the after-life. Fran saluted then yelled “Boo!” to initiate three-way Rock, Paper, Scissors: Ed lost.

Ed chugged a bottle of Mickey’s, tucked the empty into his army jacket, and began to climb the monument. He slipped at the pedestal base, fell back, and we caught him — “One, two, three!” — we pushed, enough for Ed to wrap his arms around Jesus’ legs and shimmy-up the stone until he got face-to-face with Our Savior, hugging him for support. “Kissy-kiss,” Fran taunted.

Resolute, Ed reached into his jacket and removed the bottle. Leaning heavily on one foot and holding the statue steadfast with his other arm, he stretched far as he could and delicately balanced the green grenade-shaped glass upside-down and opening-first onto the tip of Jesus’ finger. Ghosts howled as Ed edged his way back down. We high-fived our bro victorious.

Surf & Turf

The celebration was instantly cut short by raging paranoia. Until that moment we skulked among the dead, minding our own disrespectful business — but having pranked the Son of God we felt exposed, and hallucinated sinistral silhouettes eyeing us suspiciously from the dimly lit windows of sombre brownstones overlooking the graveyard’s perimeter.

“To the beach, my dudes!” commanded Fran, cowardliness in direct proportion to his impulsiveness, sprinting back to the fence before Ed could brush himself off. Climbing-leaping over the sharp iron stakes, we ran after Fran into rushing traffic on Sheridan Road, the perversely skewed perspective making it impossible to judge our distance from speeding cars.

Tripping deers in headlight trails, we froggered our way across the busy highway, dodging autos and miraculously staying alive. Honking horns dopplered into screaming high pitches that echoed across the sand as we ran with abandon onto the beach. We flung off shoes and shocks, the dunes undulating beneath our feet as we splashed into the freezing lake water.

The jarring shock to my exposed flesh shot up my legs, titillated my dick and balls, shuddered throughout my chest cavity, and exploded inside my head. The electrifying clarity was breathtaking, a liberation felt by them, too, who threw off all their clothes and shamelessly ran buck naked into the frothing waves, diving beneath the moonlit water’s surface.

Time to choose, first willful act of the night for me: join my compadres within the cold and wet, deep and dark — or stay dry on the beach, out of sight and out of my mind. On cue with my uncertainty and indecision time sped up, slowed down, sped back up, the shouts of Fran and Ed rising and falling in frequency and volume, Micky Mouse whines to Goofy guffaws.

“Spitzzzzzzzzzz…” Fran called out into the white noise of the waves crashing on the shore, the streaming traffic up the highway, the wind reverberating between the cityscape buildings. My elementary school classmates used to jeer at my name and spit at me — until Olympian Mark Spitz won his record 7 gold medals, the quantum leap from Zero to Hero throwing me for a loop.

Ever since then I became a last-name kind of guy, the single-syllable abruptness and sharp ‘tz” at the end phonetically fitting my wiry frame and impulsive ADHD personality. Tonight’s clarion call through acid-enhanced filters summoned me into the frigid waters like a snake charmer’s hypnotic melody when without a second thought I, too, got naked and dashed in.

The ice cold lake was numbing, cleansing, and purifying. I sensed true buoyancy, a zero-g womb-like environment that dissolved the boundaries between mind, body, and world. Suspended within 1.3 quadrillion gallons of fresh water, its maternal qualities surrounding, protecting, and calming me, I was a postmodern punk immersed within a frigid, prenatal reality.

The euphoria lasted for a tripmester until a sharp object below tore into my foot. The seering pain shot up my leg, through my spine, and roared into my brain, birthing an out-of-body experience: I floated a hundred feet above, saw myself swimming with Fran and Ed below, then flew to the beach where I was already sitting, watching myself watching myself fly in.

I re-entered my body and found myself fully clothed again except for my shoes and socks, placed right next to me. Ed and Fran were still lolling in the lake, their shouts of joy indistinguishable from cries of terror. If they drowned I would have to retrieve their bodies, perform last rites, and bury them. I dug my hands into the cool damp sand, feeling every grain, groovy.

My punctured foot throbbed, heart pounded, blood circulated, a salty metallic flow reminding me of the big dark lake and my friends who might still be alive in there. Living or dead, they lurked below a mirrored surface stretching into an infinite hazy horizon asymptotic with the dome of a cloud-shrouded sky. Time accelerated, and clouds circulated in a frenzy.

Years later I would view Van Gogh’s paintings in their 3-D glory at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Studying them in books does their astonishingly layered topography no justice, thick paint rising above the canvas in tortuous peaks and valleys, each masterpiece an entire universe unto itself. Was the savant on drugs? Where does madness end, art begin?

Starry Fright

Behind me the cars racing along the northern tip of LSD were fast as Speed Racer at Mach 5, leaving long overlapping trails, reminding me of the machine gun tracers Apocalypse Now. The time dilation had an even more dramatic effect on the swirling clouds above, chaotically morphing into bizarre shapes embossed across the shimmering sky’s vault.

A fluffy cloud stopped, spiraled clockwise, transformed into the split face of an old, bearded man, who began talking to me. Hallucinogens my friend, having already experienced some weird shit, this one took the prize. The vision was so jarring that I had to recruit my “Third Eye,” the Self watching my hallucinating self hallucinate, just to get a grip and hang on.

Was I actually seeing and hearing this? I was. Cloud angel’s voice was alien-sounding yet hauntingly familiar, his words unintelligible yet emotionally soothing. I couldn’t discern his accent or meaning — was his timbre tenor or baritone, was his language ancient or modern? I blanched again, double- and triple-checked this was really happening to me. It was. He kept talking.

Dreams are bizarre enough — having them while awake even stranger. Where do dreams come from? Which part of us is dreaming, which part experiencing that dream? What’s the boundary between dreamer, dream, and dream observer? I grappled with a view of my conscious self, observing the observer of the awakened dreamer, dreaming dreams while awake.

The LSD had annihilated once-sacrosanct sensory, cognitive, and emotional divides. I appreciated the meridian lines surrounding me, the singularities between fright and flight, audience and artform, life and death, water and sky, lake and sand, dream and dreamer. The dangers here were becoming manifest, the reason many people lose their minds.

I held on. The face kept speaking, faster now. Mouth moved, eyebrows furrowed, indecipherable words echoed across the sky. I felt profound mystery, egregious agony and boundless ecstasy, not wanting the show to ever stop — until long shadows appeared on all sides. I swung around: streetlights along the highway cast swaying silhouettes of my seated body.

When I gazed back up the clouds had dissipated and the ancient face had vanished, the scintillating sky silent except for the howling wind. Lonely, I yearned to join Fran and Ed again within the cold, dark, murky lake. Dying together we’d eternally lurk below, haunt the shores, taunt future generations of tripping teen burnouts with our ghoulish prankster hijinx.

Next thing I remember we’re back in Fran’s MG Midget roadster, damp but refreshed, smoking another joint and finishing the last of the Mickey’s. The intense hallucinations had tapered off, our minds lubricated with booze and tweaked with weed. But reality still hadn’t recalibrated as we pulled up to a traffic light. We gawked at the signals, trying to figure them out.

“Is the light red, yellow, or green?” Fran asked, squinting through the dirty windshield. “They all look purple to me,” Ed said, riding shotgun. “Spitz, you’re the misunderstood genius, what do you think?” Folded like a six-foot human accordion in the back crevice, I had to crook my neck to get a viewable angle. “The bright purple light is at the bottom, so must be green.”

“Advance to ‘Go’!” screamed Fran — pedal to the metal, shifting into third, engine roaring, tires squealing — “collect two hundred dollars!” The burst of acceleration thrust me back against the folded convertible top, which I now noticed was open again, the momentum nearly hurling me out the back as I desperately clutched their headrests and assumed the fetal position.

Fran’s 8-track player blasted Black Sabbath, his musical tastes more conventional than Ed’s nuanced post-punk picks. Hanging on for dear life, at that moment I appreciated the band’s head-nodding groove and Ozzy’s hypnotic vocals of “Paranoid” — All day long I think of things, but nothing seems to sa-tis-fy — Think I’ll lose my mind, if I don’t find something to pa-ci-fy…

We pulled into the driveway of Ed’s house and made a concerted effort to chill, knowing his parents were likely still up. Although we’d been acting like shameless fools in public for the past five or six hours, we now felt acutely accountable. I checked my watch, phosphorescent big arm at 2 and small at 10, night still young, the partying to continue if we kept our cool.

Unloading & Decoding

Ed’s basement bedroom was our Stoner HQ, down a flight of steps and opposite the laundry room. Bespoke and quirky just like Ed, right of the door was a draftsman’s desk covered in art supplies and illuminated by a standing jeweler’s lamp — his unmade twin futon ran flush with the far wall, opposite which a vintage sound system and speakers stood like a shrine.

We piled in, closed the door, and assumed our ground state: Ed at the stereo cranking Cure and King Crimson; Fran in the far corner smirking smugly, smoking Parliaments, ashing into a potted weed plant; and Your Humble Narrator sitting on a broken wicker chair, babbling non-stop about the glacial origins of Lake Michigan and the personas of Kabbalistic spirits.

“The talking head in the sky looked just like the Archangel of the Tenth Sephiroth, Megatron,” I explained. “Half his face covered in blinding white light, the other half obscured by the ‘Infinite Negative Light’ of YHWH, who’s omnipresence and omniscience precludes mere mortals from ever comprehending Him, all that information imploding like a Black Hole…”

“Drink this,” Fran insisted, “it’s called ‘Shut the Fuck Up Juice’ — you’ll love it…” While yabbering I hadn’t noticed both guys had left the room, raided the refrigerator, and brought back a 12-pack of Beck’s. We were at that late phase in acid trips when the brain, overwhelmed by sensory overload, is exhausted — serotonin receptors still agonized, nerves raw and crackling.

Whatever happened at the beach that night, happened to me and the entire Universe. I felt then, as I do now, that the chemicals had short circuited not only my neural networks, but the fabric of space and time. That meant they were all interconnected, common components of the same emergent reality. The world had created me, and I was re-creating the world.

What had the Cloud Angel or Demon told me? Akin to waking from a dream and forgetting the details, I sensed that if I could only remember, a deep truth would be revealed. I couldn’t be sure what the colors were, but from their position they communicated an action, perhaps a prescribed direction. Then I let it go, sensing a part of me knew the answers all along.

I recount the entire evening in this short story, check it out



Mookie Spitz

Author and communications strategist. His latest book SUPER SANTA is available on Amazon, with a sci fi adventure set for Valentine's Day 2024.