“Why don’t you try a little acid?” my good friend Olha asked. We were going to a rave in a warehouse in London, and I’d just told her I wasn’t feeling well and didn’t want to take anything that would make me sick. She offered me about a quarter of a paper seal of LSD (a seal of LSD contains around 100 mcg on average).
Pretty soon I became cheerful, cheerful and chatty. Once at the rave, I experienced the lights and sound more intensely, but there was certainly no hallucination. I felt a smile on my face that I couldn’t resist. But was I really happy? I became aware that I was trying to laugh at the uncontrollable feelings that the LSD brought up. Two years of corona, two years of working on myself and a broken relationship were hard for me. In a room full of ravers I suddenly felt lonely. That wasn’t what I wanted to feel on the dance floor, but I decided to let it be. After a few hours something clicked and I realized that I was not lonely at all, because I always had myself. The following week I didn’t have a hangover, on the contrary: I had processed something and hadn’t felt so good in ages. This way of going out felt like a revelation.
In the past six months I have regularly encountered people in clubs within the electronic music scene who replace other drugs with psychedelics – a phenomenon known as ‘California sober’. What drives people to do this?
According to Ton Nabben, criminologist and drug researcher at the HVA, there is indeed a growing interest in psychedelics within the Dutch club circuit. “That’s mainly because there’s been more intellectual interest in psychedelics in general for a few years now. Substances have become more widely known among the public and there is much discussion about their therapeutic uses in books and lectures. Secondly, the threshold for taking it in a club has become lower. People used to be careful about that because of the trip effect. But now they are experimenting with psychedelics in micro and medium (meso) doses, which has taught them how to use them in other settings. In these doses, it can also be combined with other drugs.”
According to Nabben, the increased use of psychedelics is partly due to a desire for something new. “Users are now familiar with the peaks and waves of XTC. But the experience you gain with psychedelics can be much richer. It does everything with your senses and creates new contact moments in a social setting like a club.” But according to the drug researcher, it also says something about the uncertain times in which we find ourselves. “A lot of things are coming at us. Psychedelics can also be a way to get answers to questions you have, to better understand things in your own environment, or to see connections between all kinds of things that are going on at a more abstract level of thought.”
Isabel (29) is from Amsterdam, works for the Nachtburgemeester Amsterdam foundation and is a UX designer. Gaining new insights and experiences is an important reason for her to take LSD more often. “When I go out I regularly use a quarter to a half stamp. It makes me happy, I live more in the moment, I experience music and light more intensely, and I have valuable conversations on it. That is very different for me than when I use ecstasy. I am often withdrawn from that. The following week I usually don’t have a physical or mental hangover and sometimes I even feel really good. That’s nice, because I like to go out a lot.”
Nick (28) from Amsterdam is a DJ and works in the music industry. For a year now, he often uses magic mushrooms or magic mushrooms drops in the club when going out. “My parents divorced when I was twelve, there was a lot of tension at home and I already found my way out at that age by playing at Thunderdome. There was a lot of alcohol and drugs used there and I started copying that behavior at a certain point. Since I was still young, this was alcohol at first. Later on, substances such as coke were added, which had quite a mental repercussion. This went on until I was twenty-four. Then I went to therapy.” In addition to his regular therapy, Nick participated in ayahuasca ceremonies as a way to “go to the root” of the problem. He also started microdosing psychedelics and at some point decided to use these substances during club nights. “Going out should no longer be a form of escapism for me. My whole life is in the nightlife: it is my job, my outlet and the place where I meet my friends. Psychedelics mainly help me to get in touch and stay in touch with myself. It helps me balance my life and not lose myself in the nightlife.”
Ruby* (25) lives in Amsterdam, is a maker in the creative industry and is currently graduating from the art academy. For over six years she has been using various psychedelics such as 2CB, LSD, DMT, truffles & rapé when going out. She notices that this allows her to relax better when going out than when using other drugs. “For the past three years I have mainly used truffles. It helps me get out of my head and feel more. I feel calm, content. I have more compassion for myself and other people. In the club I sometimes tend to get emotional when I have to wait a long time for the toilets, for example, or when I end up in a conversation with someone who is draining energy. With truffles you can easily put this aside.”
For Ruby, the use of these various resources also has a deeper meaning. “I use psychedelics for pleasure, but also for healing. Before going clubbing, I take a short moment for myself to check how I’m feeling and what I want to get out of the evening. Why do I want to go? Am I worried about something? How furry do I want to make it? What do I want to ‘look up’ or avoid? I am open to receiving answers or confirmations. So it’s about feeling, recognizing my needs and desires and being critical.” Ruby says going out on psychedelics gives her insights into her own coping mechanisms, and that she’s less likely to smoke, for example. “I feel that the dance floor and the synergy with the music in itself enhances the potential to ‘capture’ such insights. You have to learn to deal with yourself, with yourself in relation to acquaintances but also to strangers. Because of the awareness it gives me, I can choose to do things differently than usual at that moment.”
So for people like Ruby, the dance floor is not only a place to escape, but also to meet yourself and become a better person. In recent years there has been a lot of talk in the media about “agenda hedonists” (or in the words of the police: the yoga sniffers), who take controlled turns in the club at carefully planned moments in their lives. Journalist Tom Grosfeld recently wrote a book about this phenomenon, in which he describes how not only our working lives but also our private lives are organized as efficiently, effectively and productively as possible. Aren’t the ‘California frugal’ users within the productivity-oriented society we live in then the next move towards an experience that you have to get something out of: the nightlife as something to experience as efficiently as possible?
“Of course I also like to get out of my tights every now and then,” says Ruby, “but there are different ways to do that. Sometimes I still combine LSD, then after six hours I sometimes add a little bit of ecstasy or MDMA and then I go crazy. At the same time, I also have to go out more consciously. I have a busy life and truffles are often a good option, because it doesn’t give me a dip or hangover and it brings me a lot.”
That is also a reason for Isabel. “If you go out two or three times a month and work five days a week it is mentally and physically untenable to use other substances, then you have to look at other options. The alternation with psychedelics ensures that going out remains fun and varied and in combination with work it remains sustainable.”
“At least it’s not like I think I want to go to hell, but let’s do it in a conscious way so I can feel good about it,” Nick says. “Mushrooms make me feel better than other drugs and they don’t hangover me. It’s a very different experience, but that experience is also a lot of fun. I firmly believe that psychedelics are more drugs than drugs, it just depends on how you use them. They have been used by indigenous peoples in ceremonies for millennia. There they danced around campfires, we dance at raves and in clubs. Actually, those are also a kind of rituals, only we use them for more hedonic and escapistic purposes, while they can also be used for deep insights and therefore personal growth.”
Professor Nabben emphasizes the danger of psychedelics in addition to the possible positive experiences that you can experience as a result. “It remains a psychedelic that can turn the world upside down. For example, you sometimes see in the news that someone gets psychosis and serious accidents happen. So that can happen. You may be overdosing and panicking. But on the harmfulness scale, they are less harmful compared to substances such as coke and alcohol.” Ruby, who has also had negative experiences with LSD, calls these moments an ordeal. “Afterwards you realize that it is a trip from which you also learn something. Everything you see or feel is in you. So some things can be experienced as scary, while it reflects something deeper. What I learned from this is that psychedelics hold up a mirror to you.” Nick names another adverse effect of psychedelics in the club. “When I’m at a party and it starts to wear off, I really want to go home,” Nick says. “You get tired faster compared to other drugs.”
Good to know: psychedelics can be dangerous in higher doses and for people who are prone to psychosis. The experiences described above are only experiences of a handful of people. Never use alone. Not every body is the same and drugs work differently for everyone. Therefore, always have your drugs tested to determine your dosage and do not take the experiences and dosages above as an example.
*Ruby is an alias, she only wanted to be interviewed anonymously for her privacy. Her real name is known to the editors.