The Old-Style Tranquilizer

ROBERT FONTAINE is the author of books, a play, and many light articles for the ATLANTIC and other magazines.

There is a monotonous sameness and an eager childishness about the results obtained by such eminent authorities as Aldous Huxley and Dr. Clemens Benda with lysergic acid, mescaline, and so forth. These drugs are apparently intended to open our minds to the Real World and to demonstrate for us how far off the beam we are in considering our own little illusory world pretty darn exciting.

I read every word about this stuff because if anybody wants out, I do.

I want to dance all night, swing with the angels, feel myself at one with Niagara Falls, and sleep in bluebell. But I find, I must say rather rudely, nothing but a lot of nonsense in the records kept on mescaline and lysergic acid.

Mr. Huxley’s report I cannot quote, but, as I recall, he had such a wonderful time with the juice that he simply could not put it in words — not words that anyone could understand.

Dr. Benda reports a client under the influence making all sorts of comments, and the doctor’s diary contains the following as high points: “Feels a little drunk . . . euphoric mood . . . ‘I feel intoxicated’ . . . there is a euphoric mood . . . gets more talkative . . . changes in sensation of taste . . . everything seems brighter in color . . . detached . . . writes ‘perctly’ for ‘perfectly’ . . . rapture . . . ‘I could snap out of it but I don’t want to’ . . . feels great efficiency . . . [drawing] is scribbled and disconnected . . . ‘I feel floating away’ . . . feeling of empathy . . . unreality . . . effect gradually petering out . . . drawing bizarre animals. . . .”

From this I would simply deduce that the subject is getting his kicks, but Dr. Benda feels, as did Mr. Huxley, that this is pretty rare stuff and proves something or other. I have not been able to decide what it proves in either case. In my case it proves that if you take drugs, you will act as if you are drugged.

What, however, makes the whole thing ridiculous is the general feeling among experimenters that mescaline, lysergic acid, and so on unlock doors, give us a unity with the universe, and get us “with it,” as the cats say.

That this is nonsense can be proved by simple experiments with an old-fashioned narcotic called alcohol. In my prime I was a twobottle man and, while I rarely kept a record, being too busy having a ball and chasing girls, there were a few occasions when I took the trouble of keeping track of my emotions and sensations, either while I was having them or shortly thereafter, when I could recall them and sit up straight.

Obviously, alter a pint of good cognac I felt “intoxicated” and in a “euphoric mood.” In fact, my scrapbook reveals the exact phrasing. “Got to go out and get more soda and ice cubes” probably is not as elevating as Dr. Benda’s results, but it does prove I knew what I was doing in spite of my euphoria.

“Helen dropped in,” I continued, apparently having got the ice and soda. I certainly, thereupon, became more talkative. I never took C2H5OH without not getting more talkative. Obviously, too, after a while there were changes in the sensation of taste, because alter a pint or two it did not matter what I drank — it all tasted good, and cigarettes tasted like roasted kapok.

As for everything seeming brighter, this is most characteristic of the flushed stage of drinking. In fact, I often offered people, as an excuse, the statement that alcohol made red redder, a mot I stole from George Jean Nathan.

It also made Helen more beautiful. At the end of a pint, Helen was a nice-looking Greek girl. At the end of another half pint, I wrote, “Helen is a goddess. Aphrodite come to Earth. She is perctly beautiful.”

I, too, became detached on brandy. When I say “detached,” I mean that when I tried to walk and my foot sought the floor, it seldom found it there, and when I reached for support from the bureau, I found that I was floating.

Helen and I then went out dancing. (Helen was joining in the experiment with cognac, and her name must go down in the records if Science has one smidgen of respect for an honest report.)

I felt great efficiency dancing. (I wrote this down when I was carried home.) I do not mean I danced efficiently. I mean I thought I was efficient, another very common attitude encountered in experimenting with alcohol. I also felt I was floating away, particularly when the orchestra played a tango and I had previously mixed two manhattans with my brandy.

After I had taken Helen home (or she had taken me home, or had gone home by herself, if it was still Helen), I found myself not precisely drawing bizarre animals but herding them up and down the wallpaper and all around the room. After dozing for a little while and consuming some several pots of black coffee, I found that the sensations of exultance and rapture began to peter out, and I presently fell asleep.

I might add that in many experiments with lysergic acid and mescaline there are reports that arms and hands seem to enlarge and extend, feet lengthen, and heads seem to become detached. I can only state that the following morning I noted that my head was considerably bigger than usual and that it appeared that at any moment it would become detached, thank God!

The extraordinary parallels between my own experiments with alcohol, experiments which I have been able to reproduce almost at will, and experiments with mescaline et al convince me that someone is playing games. I do not believe a whole new branch of psychiatric study and metaphysical philosophy can legitimately claim to have discovered anything that anyone who ever got good and crocked knew all the time.