Book Review: Acid Test (Round Two)

Acid Test: LSD, Ecstasy and the Power to Heal

By Tom Shroder

Having read this 2014 book cover-to-cover earlier this year, I’m left with an uneasy reaction having read it a second time: anger.

This well-researched read is terrific. So why was I angry?

After the second reading, I looked up the book on Goodreads to find it rated at 4.8 stars. Amazon readers had given it 5 stars while three Barnes & Noble readers each gave it 5 stars. In terms of star power, my inclination tracks with readers’ consensus so it might help for me to elaborate about my anger.

I stumbled upon this title about a year ago in one of those rabbit-hole searches for lists of books I’d like to read. “The Power to Heal” part of the title caught my attention as, I admit, did the colorful, psychedelic cover design. (Maybe the old judging a book by its cover adage is incorrect.)

Bear in mind that most of my life I had come to believe that psychedelic drugs would cause users to do crazy things, leave them irreparably brain damaged, induce flashbacks, or end their lives by suicide.

While it’s true that illicit use of drugs, psychedelic and otherwise, have caused users to behave in notable, non-conformist ways harming themselves and society, my viewpoint has lacked the story of the medicinal side. Splashy news stories of the extremes over decades served to solidify my views. In fact, as a young teen I distinctly recall being told about an acquaintance who had died in a car accident. The story of his death had it that he’d been driving when a he’d had a flashback which “they” believed stemmed from his youthful use of LSD which then caused him to crash and die.

My teen brain digested this information as correct without considering how, if he had been alone, anyone could prove for certain whether he’d had a flashback.

And if so, could it be confirmed that said flashback was a direct result of LSD use, or even the cause of the crash? Had he recently taken LSD or some other psychedelic drug? Did he have a PTSD-induced flashback making LSD an easier object of blame? Did he deliberately crash intent on suicide? Did he, in the throes of this state, swerve to avoid an entity of hallucination that stood between him and his intended destination?

In covering psychedelics, including psilocybin, ayahuasca, MDMA (ecstasy), and a handful of other drugs Acid Test is chock full of history. Shroder detailed key players in the research of these drugs for pharmaceutical use, the recreational and therapeutic/spiritual use of psychedelic substances and the backlash created by the scientific and ethical legitimacy of Timothy Leary and others.

Despite efforts over the course of decades by people who were determined to find out whether the use of MDMA would be an effective treatment for PTSD, false narratives were held up as reasons to discontinue research, self-sabotaging loose lips made conservatives nervous, personal vendettas and what reads as over-zealousness of the DEA, together played a role in disallowing trials to be conducted. Their Schedule I classification as “drugs that have no medical value and high potential for abuse” thwarted steps toward the aim of using them for healing purposes.

It’s notable that under the heading “What is the history of MDMA?” on the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NID) website, you’ll find “MDMA gained a small following among psychiatrists in the late 1970s and early 1980s, despite the fact that the drug had not undergone formal clinical trials nor received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in humans.” Yet this was a period of time when the so-called small following of psychiatrists was trying to get FDA approval and illicit use of ecstasy had taken root. This was so much so that by 1985 the DEA stepped in to assuage what it viewed as the danger of MDMA to the community as a whole, and issued an emergency ban on its use. Illicit use continued to escalate when, according to Shroder, “members of Congress, led by the senator Joe Biden, sprang into action, introducing the Reducing Americans’ Vulnerability to Ecstasy (RAVE) Act,” which increased penalties for trafficking MDMA.

While this act and drug regulations before it may have been of good intention, they negated the possibility of yet-to-be-proven therapeutic use. It all appears to have been predicated on the idea that psychedelics, and MDMA in particular, have no medical value. Okay fine. If you believe that from the bottom of your soul, then don’t bother reading the last seven chapters of Acid Test. They’ll be lost on you.

This brings me back to what made me feel angry.

I have a heart and great respect for war veterans who experience PTSD. I’m aware of the lifelong traumatic effects that result from child abuse, rape, human trafficking, and those who witness gun violence, and the PTSD that results. Based on the narrative Schroeder pulled together in this book its clear to me that research needs to happen to prove whether psychedelics work to eliminate PTSD. Based purely on what I’ve read in Acid Test it seems a strong probability that they’d prove highly effective in treatment.

Hearkening back to the guy in the accident…while I’m not a medical professional, I think if he did have a flashback, it seems more likely that it would have been the result of some traumatic event that he had experienced rather than a sudden, momentary emergence of some latent grain of LSD released at precisely the wrong moment. Had he had clinical access in a structured setting to psychedelics, he might be alive today. He’d be old, but alive.

Yet, in the seven years since this book was published, only tiny steps toward solid discovery have been realized. MDMA remains on Schedule I in the United States. Even skeptical people who are desperate for healing from PTSD and opioid addiction now travel to foreign countries to obtain access to drugs with psychedelic properties when they’ve exhausted other options. An article entitled Inside Ibogaine, One of the Most Promising and Perilous Psychedelics for Addiction by Mandy Oaklander in the April 12/ April 19, 2021 issue of Time magazine leaves me with the same conclusion as Acid Test did.

I’m angry on behalf of the many who suffer, frustrated knowing that at least five decades of valuable research time have been wasted mostly because the powers that be have created a Catch-22. Drugs on Schedule I that “have no medical value” cannot by definition be so if they have not been afforded the opportunity to be proven effective.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Acid Test, for making me better understand my mistaken beliefs about psychedelic drugs, 5 stars.

 

Book Review: Untamed

Untamed by Glennon Doyle

The Backstory

Sometime between seven and ten years ago, I discovered and followed Glennon Doyle’s (then Doyle Melton) momastery.com blog. Her honest observations about mothering, being a wife and what its like to be a woman often made me laugh out loud. I found myself nodding in solidarity when she expressed anger or tearing up when she shared her fears—the same ones I had. I related to situations she shared and found her posts a refreshing change of pace.

In the summer of 2016 as Glennon continued to gain popular acclaim, I heard she’d be coming to a nearby high school that September to speak at a local mental health organization’s fall fundraiser. Ticket prices, I learned, included a signed copy of her then new book Love Warrior. I was excited to have the opportunity to hear Glennon speak and I would have purchased a copy of the book anyway. The book signing part was an added bonus, plus the event supported a camp that helps young kids who have been impacted by substance abuse in their families to build confidence and coping skills.

I arrived two hours beforehand, early enough to allow time to stand in a book signing line. The crowd gathered in the lobby, but most arrived within about a half hour of showtime to check out the silent auction and get snacks prior to the opening of the auditorium doors. I had expected to see a table with the author beside a small mountain of books happily signing and chatting with attendees. I thought it was a little weird that I saw neither. As time ticked by I wondered if they planned to do the signing as everyone left.

“Yeah, that makes more sense,” I thought, proving that my thoughts are occasionally um…flawed.

Finally, the auditorium doors opened. My ticket placed me a good distance from the stage near the back, but as I waited for the crowd to move through the aisles, a woman in an obvious rush stopped me and said, “I have to leave right now! Here’s two tickets near the front. Take them.”

Dumfounded, I thanked her and took the two. I headed down the aisle closer to the stage to find my newly acquired seats and realized that I, alone, held three tickets just minutes before the show was scheduled to begin. I needed to at least find someone to take the seat next to me. There wasn’t enough time to offload the single ticket in the back.

I scanned the crowd behind me to look for anyone who appeared to be sitting alone and spotted a young woman. Ticket in outstretched hand, I approached, quickly explained the situation and offered that she join me seated closer to the stage. At first the stranger looked skeptical but finding no reason to object she decided to join me.

When Glennon took the stage she started by saying, “You guys,” in the personal way she speaks like a friend who chats with you around the kitchen table. Requesting forgiveness, she launched into an explanation about how the FedEx delivery for the event got misrouted, so the promised books were in some other city! I cringed for her imagining how awful that must have been to have to announce. Not her fault. Still, she promised that the books would be shipped to everyone who’d purchased a ticket on a one-ticket-to-one-book basis and we’d need to check our email to confirm shipping addresses. To the credit of her “people,” I had a signed copy of her book in hand inside of one week.

Glennon covered a myriad of topics that evening including her struggle with bulimia, her alcohol and drug addictions, her first and unexpected pregnancy, her church, her kids, her marriage and more. I found her approach honest and real, and I was happy to have had the opportunity to see a person I’d come to admire through her blog.

That was then. These days, on any given day I have as many as ten books that I’m in the process of reading, plus magazines and online articles and I write a lot! I share this with you so you know how I came to anticipate reading Untamed when it became available at my library. In this case my choice for the “read” came in audiobook form read by the author. That way I could listen in my car and during lunch breaks at work.

Untamed: The Review

I do my best not to spill any significant, proverbial beans because I hate spoilers. While Untamed contains several sound bite keepers, my focus here is on two passages that rang true for me.

Why is everyone so gay?

One segment which struck a chord for me centered on the question: “Why is everyone so gay?” The anecdote Glennon relates is about a church engagement she had in which a woman in the audience (or congregation…I don’t know if it was at church or in a church) asked this question.

To clarify, the woman’s question (as I understood it) was her attempt to understand why so many people today are coming out as gay, or bi, pansexual or trans, or they want to be referred to in a specific way such as queer, or his/him, her/she, or them, and that there’s all this fluidity about gender identity and sexuality. In her answer, Glennon likened the phenomenon to two glasses of water. Her answer hits you with the logic stick.

In the past, she said, there have always been two glasses. A person had to fit in to one or the other; male or female, gay or straight. But it’s become apparent that there ought to be more glasses or maybe no glasses at all because people don’t necessarily fit into one or the other. Worse, forcing a person to fit into one or the other is unhealthy. Doing so may cause that person to be unable to fully live their best, most perfect life.

I’d add that continuing to live inauthentically inside such a glass can only lead to one of two results; to gradually wither and die, or by forcefully fitting the person it it eventually shatters he glass from the pressure. Either way that’s a detriment, a life lived in a state of suffering – cancer or a heart attack, disconnected or suicidal, going through the motions of life or lashing out at the world. I have noticed that gender identity and sexual preference issues are kind of smeared together like a group of preschoolers were let loose with finger paints on a roll of butcher paper. It’s as though gender identity and sexual preference are one in the same discussion. But in my opinion they are not. I think a combination of suppression, oppression, and the norms that society has dictated (the two glasses approach) have entangled these two separate topics.

Glennon goes into more depth about her family, her belief system, and societal expectations. The glass analogy just made sense to me.

Why do we hate on powerful women?

Glennon suggests the idea that our conditioning tells us to expect women to be quiet, to avoid self-promotion, etc. As women, we therefore do not support women who are confident, assertive, or powerful precisely because of our conditioning. But, when we force ourselves to take a beat to consider that we feel this way, we can make a point to change the way we react to those sorts of women. It’s then that we can become more powerful and confident. That’s the gist anyway. So I’m inspired to make it a point to be more aware of women who I at first find irritating and try to decide if it’s a conditioned response on my part. I think that’s the whole point of Untamed.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Four and a half stars!

Book Review: Survive Like a Spy

Survive Like a Spy: Real CIA Operatives Reveal How They Stay Safe in a Dangerous World and How You Can Too by Jason Hanson

Survive Like a Spy

Former CIA agent Jason Hanson’s retelling of how spies handle assets and use various spy craft tools, coupled with advice about how the rest of us might use these techniques could have made for an interesting read—and it almost did.

I wanted to like this book.

The shameless insertions of author-owned websites and periodic touting of his first book pissed me off. These could have been addressed in the introduction and would have made me feel a whole lot less like an assault victim duped into reading a glorified advertisement.

To its credit, the graphic design editor deserves kudos for a the clever choice of font throughout which lends well to the visual impact of this book.

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Painful.

Wrecking Books and other Blasphemy

I always subscribed to the notion that books ought to be treated with near reverence.

“Careful not to bend a page my dear.”

“Do not set that cup of milk on the cover, it will make a ring my dear.”

“The jacket stays on to protect it my dear.”

Books, I believed, must be guarded from harm. A certain hierarchy existed. The Bible in any size, edition or cover held the position of literally sacred and most carefully guarded. Next in order of importance were: the dictionary, encyclopedias and other reference books along with library books and school textbooks.

Beneath them came hardcover books then paperbacks (which when using utmost caution to avoid dropping them directly into the ocean, could be brought to the beach.)

Yes, books required care or so I thought until one particular day in church when the preacher asked each member of our congregation to get out a pen.

“For this project,” he said, “the mini-golf pencils will not do.”

He instructed us to open our Bibles to a specific passage in the New Testament.

“We’re going to find a path to salvation,” he said.

Hesitant though I was, he suggested we created a trail of verses much like a treasure hunt. He read the passage and instructed everyone to write the next address (chapter and verse) in the margin. We proceeded to find that address, read the next passage, write a new address on that page and so on until we reached an end.

IMG_1225There it was—blue ink in the most revered book. The exercise changed my perspective on books and on faith.

I think I had always confused protection with abuse.

“Let’s not throw the book during an argument my dear.”

“Let’s not burn the books my dear.”

“Your books are not to be strapped to your feet and used to ski down the steps to the basement, my dear.”

Books are meant to be read, their pages marked with faint ovals from fingers turning one after the other. Dog ears, highlights or underlines should delineate words worth remembering and paths worth pursuing.

No matter the religion, faith is a journey from one chapter and verse to another.