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Here's my personal account about Cannabis, LSD, HPPD & benzos over the past 30 years. Maybe some of you will find it useful, I don't know.

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Life is a trip

A 30-year retrospective about my experience with cannabis, magic mushrooms, LSD, brain trauma, HPPD, alcohol, AA, psychopharmacology and benzodiazepines

Man with backpack looking at a psychedelic landscape

1] Background

I’m a 43 year old Franco-American guy and I grew up in Paris.

My parents took me on many backpacking trips from the moment I was born, and I got bitten by the travel bug at an early age.

I guess it opened my mind, stimulated my curiosity, and gave me an adventurous soul.

As far as my memory goes, I have been on the lookout for the beauty and peak experiences that can be found off the beaten track.

In school, I was a sensitive, self-conscious, obsessive and dissonant outsider.

Maybe because I am an only child, I hated being rejected and desperately wanted to belong to a group.

Therefore, I quickly became an unconventional attention-seeker, and developed a borderline personality with an appetite for exploration, experimentation and control.

Teachers repeatedly told my parents I was turbulent and provocative, without a clear sense of boundaries.

I think I was simply willing to take risks and test the limits to become popular.

2] 1994: First joint

So when I smoked hash for the first time around 13.5 years old, I loved it first and foremost because I had finally found a shortcut to join the tribe of cool kids.

But I also genuinely enjoyed getting high and escaping reality.

It had a soothing effect that made me feel euphoric, contemplative and creative.

Smoking pot lowered my anxiety, and it gradually became a daily habit.

It wasn’t long before my father, a former hippie, realized we could get stoned together, and we did that a lot.

To cover my expenses, I resorted to small-time dealing with close friends.

We would typically buy 12 grams of hash for 300 francs, and divide them into 4 pieces of 3 grams, we could then sell for 100 francs each.

This sort of proto-capitalism enabled us to earn 3 grams for our personal consumption, or even make money.

The quantities involved became bigger, and eventually I got busted twice, when I was 15.

To keep me off the streets and protect me from the cops, my Dad ordered marijuana seeds from the Netherlands, and we grew cannabis in our little Parisian apartment.

3] 1996: First trip

At the age of 16, I organized a weekend in Amsterdam with two friends, to taste the legendary Dutch hydroponic weed.

During our coffee shop tour, advertisements for mysterious “magic mushrooms” triggered my curiosity.

We ended up trying them at my initiative, and it turned out to be a truly unforgettable experience.

Everything was so absurd, we couldn’t stop laughing at the world and ourselves, for 3 hours or more.

If you have already asked yourself how it feels to be someone else, I believe this is the closest answer you can get, because that substance transcends your personality, not just your senses.

It was a fascinating and mind blowing journey, filled with discovery, resonance and sheer joy.

I talked about it to everyone when we came back, and was determined to do it again.

4] Bad trips

Over the next 2/3 years, I dropped LSD and ingested shrooms around 10 times altogether, with various people.

We would sometimes mix LSD, alcohol and pot.

But on several of these occasions, I completely freaked out.

All of a sudden, I would be very aware of how retarded we were, or how distorted our perception of reality must be.

I was scared of being trapped in that state forever, and knew damn well it would be a terrible outcome.

This kind of self-awareness while being high on acid seemed extremely dangerous, because it felt like my fear could quickly turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Luckily, as the effects of the drug wore off after a few hours, I managed to snap out of that mental feedback loop, and these bad trips came to an end without any consequences.

None of my friends went through such nightmares, I was definitely more anxious than the average.

5] Studying

In retrospect, unlike some other kids I used to hang out with back then, I didn’t go over the top drug-wise.

Despite my efforts, I wasn’t that popular, which forced me to continually adapt and cultivate self-discipline.

So I remained functional and at 17, during my last year of high school, I focused on my homework and graduated with good marks.

Some of my friends never stopped hitting the bong while playing video games all day long, other ones moved on to ecstasy and coke.

It seems like a lot of people took more dope than me, without having any problems.

Life is unfair, but everybody knows that.

Anyway, I went to university to study Math, Computer Science and Economics.

I wasn’t the brightest, however with a fair amount of work, I could sometimes be excellent.

For example, I got the best mark out of 200 students at a hardcore Math probability exam, when I was 20.

I would typically smoke a joint in the evening, after studying.

It was my reward and I liked it a lot.

6] 1999: Amsterdam brain trauma

My dear Dad moved from Paris to Seattle in 1999, and subsequently flew me over once a year, for us to spend time together.

I couldn’t take pot on the plane and my father had temporarily stopped smoking, so when I was 19, I endured an entire 3 weeks over there without getting stoned, which was a first in many years.

By the end of my stay, I was really looking forward to getting high again.

On the way back, there was a day-long layover in Amsterdam, between the transatlantic flight and the final leg to Paris.

My Dad had given me some melatonin to counter the effects of the jet lag, but I swallowed the pill that morning after landing in the Netherlands, instead of taking it before going to bed in France.

And of course, I went straight to a downtown coffee shop to smoke a joint.

I remember buying Jack Herer weed, highly potent stuff I had already tried in the past.

It was probably the combination of sleep deprivation, melatonin and discontinued pot consumption that caused the following phenomenon, but I will never know for sure.

After only 3 or 4 tokes, my heart started beating very quickly, and suddenly my head was caught in a vise!

I could feel the inside of my brain contracting itself like a muscle, and my racing thoughts were taking it to the breaking point.

For a brief moment, my sight was impaired and everything turned red and blue.

I reeled out of the coffee shop to get some fresh air, and spent several hours wandering the city, in a state of utter confusion.

It seemed like my consciousness was imploding, that I was going to die or be handicapped for the rest of my life.

And the more I thought about the possibility of such a disaster, the more vivid that vision became.

But how can you not think of your brain if it feels crushed like this?

I was experiencing something very similar to one of my LSD/mushroom bad trips, and my mind got stuck in a vicious circle.

By some kind of a miracle, after a couple of hours, I slowly managed to calm down, and made my way back to the airport to catch my connecting flight to Paris.

7] After effect

I fully recovered, but was never again able to enjoy pot after that first flashback episode.

Every now and then, I would give it another shot, and the result was inevitably the same.

Inhaling even just one tiny toke of hash, would cause a frightening LSD-like panic attack, and I was always afraid it could spiral out of control.

So I was sort of forced to stop smoking pot.

What a bummer, something irreversible had happened to me that morning in Amsterdam…

But I was fine, as long as I stayed away from cannabis, shrooms and LSD.

2 years later however, my Dad paid me a visit in Paris, when I was 21.

And on the eve of his departure, he smoked weed with my roommate in front of me.

I didn’t want to mess up the good vibe nor feel left out, so I took a few puffs.

It got me stressed out and anxious, as expected, but this time a sense of awkwardness lingered for several days.

8] 2001: Paris brain trauma

As soon as my father left, I studied hard to prepare for the upcoming mid-November 2001 university exams.

The night before they began, while I was lying in bed still disturbed by the recent pot intake, I started wondering if drifting off into dreamland was safe.

And right at the moment I was falling asleep, I saw a flash of light and woke up in horror.

I was bad-tripping with symptoms very similar to what I have described before, even though I hadn’t taken anything!

Somehow, I immediately knew this flashback was a different story, that it probably wouldn’t go away.

Something truly terrifying that changed my life forever happened to me that night.

There would be a before and an after.

I went back to bed, but every time I tried to sleep, I was afraid these head cramps could get out of control and result in my death.

I remember trying to read a book, to think about something else and calm down.

But I had a lot of trouble focusing or registering the words, and was only half as fast as before.

My cognitive abilities had definitely been affected in a major way.

I was completely restless, and eventually I slipped past my mother’s room where she was sleeping, to go out and buy some alcohol.

It was the only thing I could think of that might help me relax and fall asleep.

So I drank half a bottle of vodka and went back to bed.

It was incredibly difficult to overcome my fear of losing control and to let go, but I finally fell unconscious for one or two hours.

In the morning, I got up still bad-tripping like mad, and went to university for the first exam of the 2001 November session, as if nothing had happened.

Of course, I performed quite poorly, but as you can imagine, this was the least of my concerns.

9] Perpetual bad-tripping

I was in shock for several months and didn’t tell anyone.

Indeed, I was well aware that science only had a very limited comprehension of the functioning of the brain, the most complex object in the universe that we know of.

In other words, I was convinced that it was going to be impossible to fix me.

So why bother people with something they probably won’t understand, especially if they can’t do anything about it anyway?

I was afraid I would end up in a psychiatric ward, and be categorized as retarded or mentally deficient.

For all these reasons, I didn’t seek help at first.

But my new condition of perpetual bad-tripping was pretty dramatic.

Going to sleep became a struggle, because I was always scared of sinking into madness.

And if I managed to get some rest, as soon as I woke up, I had strange sensations of abnormal pressure in my neck, eyes and head.

I also had a lot of tension in my facial muscles, which made it difficult to smile, laugh or feel at ease in general, and in particular within social contexts.

For instance, I had trouble maintaining eye contact with someone, because it required the kind of mental control that made my brain cramps worse.

When I checked my pupils in a mirror, they were pulsing with craziness, exactly like while being high on acid.

Maybe that’s why to this day, people seem to have difficulties looking at me in the eyes when we talk.

I noticed that patting the back of my neck, or moving the glasses on my ears, helped relieve the pressure momentarily.

So I did it a lot…

I also observed that strong stimuli from the outside world like the wind, rain, cold or heat, appeared to cancel my internal fluctuations, because they got me out of my head.

Every day, I discovered new aspects of my brain damage while reading, digesting data, memorizing information, computing numbers or imagining solutions to problems.

I used to draw and paint well, but that gift had been partially revoked, because I couldn’t visualize objects and people anymore.

The extent to which my mental faculties had deteriorated was tragic.

What on earth had I done to deserve such a curse?

It was all so very unfair, and I felt devastated.

10] Alone in the dark

My suffering was particularly intense during the first months, and the frequent LSD-like panic attacks made me live in fear.

Life didn’t seem to be worth enduring these debilitating and almost constant symptoms.

I didn’t think I had a future, or simply wasn’t going to make it…

Nobody could imagine what I was living through, because my injury was invisible.

But somehow, I managed to hang in there and continued my studies.

I had switched from Math to IT and Business Management the summer prior to this tragic event, and it was a lot easier.

If I had had to carry on with the sort of hardcore Math I was studying before my brain trauma, I am pretty sure I would have dropped out.

My guardian angel hadn’t completely let me down.

A few months went by, and in March or April 2002, I found a doctor in a medical center for drug addicts in Paris, and told him my story.

He prescribed me an antipsychotic medicine called Zyprexa (Olanzapine), claiming that it would repair the short-circuits in my brain.

I started taking it, but apart from making me sleep heavily and gain weight, it didn’t change much.

11] 2002: Reaching out

During the summer of 2002, I went to the States to see my father, and did an IT internship in the company he worked for.

I kept falling asleep in the office (because of Zyprexa I suppose), had a lot of trouble focusing on programming, and performed pretty badly.

It was very embarrassing, so one day, I told my Dad everything.

He listened carefully and tried real hard to understand, but I am not sure I explained things well, which is one of the reasons why I am writing this account.

He nevertheless took me to a rather expensive American psychiatrist, who prescribed me Zyprexa, again, and to no avail.

After I finally finished my 2 months long internship, I went on vacation to Mexico with a friend.

I drank a lot of booze to calm my nerves, and there were some moments of joy and happiness, despite my harsh symptoms.

I was only 21, but I couldn’t imagine living like this forever, and deep down I thought I was doomed.

12] Hope

So when I came back to Paris after the summer, I disclosed my terrible secret to my mother, and she swiftly arranged a bunch of appointments with psychiatrists, neurologists and various brain specialists.

I remember doing an MRI and other scans, but nothing showed up and everything appeared to be normal.

Finally, in November 2002, I saw a neurologist who prescribed me Rivotril (Clonazepam), and that was the turning point.

It wasn’t a miracle drug and didn’t completely eliminate the symptoms, but rather made them more manageable.

Indeed, this antiepileptic medicine relaxed my muscles and alleviated my anxiety, which greatly diminished all the noise and weird sensations in my head.

It also enabled me to fall asleep comfortably and quickly.

And the panic attacks gradually receded.

The downside was a tendency to doze off during university classes, and an unreliable short-term memory.

I believe this is when I started finding it extremely hard or impossible to remember my dreams.

But these kinds of side effects were a small price to pay in comparison to the relief provided by the treatment.

In truth, I had stopped caring about my intelligence a long time ago.

All I wanted was to be happy again, and at last, I had found a glimmer of hope in this ocean of darkness.

13] 2003: Stabilizing

Hence, shortly after turning 22, I started taking that benzodiazepine on a daily basis.

When I ran out of Rivotril, I simply forged a new prescription.

I would adjust the dose according to my needs, depending on the severity of my head cramps.

My goal was to take as little as possible, but I soon discovered that popping a pill in the morning often prevented the symptoms from escalating throughout the day.

Indeed, once my bad-tripping reaches a certain threshold, it is difficult to stop and the day is lost.

It was always a catch 22 kind of situation: I didn’t want to take Clonazepam when I felt good, yet a minimal amount was needed not to feel bad.

I will never know if it was related, but 6 months later, I contracted a very serious meningitis, and spent 2 weeks in a hospital around March 2003.

I fully recovered and once again, the brain scans performed by the doctors didn’t reveal anything.

Things progressively became more normal, and during the summer of 2003, I even found myself a girlfriend with whom I stayed for 7 years.

Her love, kindness and empathy contributed a lot to changing my outlook.

The situation was far from ideal, and I still had some awful days, but life was enjoyable and worth fighting for, most of the time.

14] 2004: Work

In 2004, I completed my studies and started working as a developer when I was 23.

Soliciting my brain to analyze and write computer code certainly aggravated my symptoms.

But I had tried other jobs in the communication sector, and had noticed that constant public scrutiny made things far worse.

It was impossible for me to be consistent all the time, because I had good and bad days, a little bit like people who suffer from migraines.

Software engineering gave me more flexibility, so it clearly was the lesser of two evils.

For sure, I was slower than before the November 2001 flashback, but I had retained a sense of perfectionism and obsessiveness that helped me throughout my IT career.

Therefore, I persevered and have always been financially independent.

15] 2005: Taking a break

Life got easier, so when I turned 24, I stopped taking Rivotril for a couple of weeks.

But I soon started feeling weird all over again, and the panic attacks resurfaced.

The latter was always impossible to deal with, especially while working, hence I resumed my self-medication.

Despite the neverending treatment, work often made my symptoms more acute, so towards the end of 2005, I took a break.

Thanks to French unemployment benefits, I had enough money to travel.

Exciting physical activities like swimming and hiking really got me out of my head, and my brain cramps almost completely disappeared.

Not thinking too hard seemed to be the ultimate solution!

But all good things eventually come to an end, and after a year off, I went back to work in stressful Paris, for financial reasons.

16] 2006: Resilience

So at 26, I found a new job with a 3h long back and forth daily commute to a suburban area, and worked quite hard during the next 4 years.

My symptoms fluctuated a lot, and I even tried to keep a log of their degree of intensity at some point.

As I already said, work often made me feel miserable because of my condition, and I wanted to at least enjoy my free time.

Therefore, I started drinking heavily and partied like crazy during the weekends.

Indeed, alcohol is an anesthetic, and it temporarily removed my head cramps by numbing my brain.

I just wanted to get rid of the tension in order to socialize like everybody else.

As a matter of fact, I had been using booze to mitigate the bad-tripping since the onset of my November 2001 flashback.

But alcohol and benzos don’t exactly mix well, and I started experiencing systematic blackouts when I got wasted.

Entire nights would disappear into oblivion, and people told me later I did some pretty insane things.

Furthermore, the hangovers were awful.

Yet I continued to live this way for many years.

17] 2009: One last attempt

When I was 29, I got fed up with all these ups and downs, and performed another series of scans, amongst which a 24h long electroencephalogram to monitor my sleep.

As usual, nothing abnormal was revealed, and that was the last time I underwent physical tests.

I am not a neuroscience expert, but I am quite certain this field of study is still in its infancy.

Something as big as my disorder should not have gone undetected so many times.

But even if some cerebral anomaly had been highlighted, what were the surgeons supposed to do about it?

Open my skull to chop off a slice of my rotten brain?

Of course not.

They would have given me more of the same, meaning one of their highly experimental medicines that nobody fully understands, with an exotic name like “benzodiazepine”.

Because for better or worse, it empirically seems to help millions of people, and science hasn’t found anything else anyway.

In a few centuries, doctors will probably look back to nowadays neurology and psychopharmacology with a hell of a lot of contempt, a little bit like we see bloodletting today.

18] 2010: My darkest hours

As the years went by, my binge drinking increasingly became an issue in itself.

All my suffering had given me a sense of moral entitlement, a free pass to relentlessly seek peak experiences.

So I often drank the night away.

In 2010, my girlfriend and I decided to break up, and of course my problem with alcohol was a major factor for her.

But that wasn’t a loud enough wake up call for me, and I continued getting wasted because I didn’t think I had a choice, if I wanted to have fun.

Right after the separation, I started a new and more challenging job, so I stepped up my medication, which made things worse.

At 30, I was alone in the dark again, and during the next 2 years, my alcoholism reached new heights, before I hit rock bottom.

There were moments of pure bliss, but overall my behavior was reckless, destructive and almost suicidal.

In hindsight, I seldomly enjoyed these nights of intoxicated partying.

It was a very dangerous period of my life, and I am lucky to be alive and free, because I had violent impulses.

I lost quite a few friends, and at 32 years old I was really isolated.

My mother was extremely worried, and on her insistence, I went to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting on a Friday evening, the 22nd of October 2012.

After the discovery of Rivotril in 2002, it proved to be another crucial turning point in my itinerary.

Indeed, AA worked for me from the very beginning, and I haven’t had a single drink since that first encounter with the fellowship.

I think the collective therapy aspect made me realize immediately that an awful lot of people have some sort of brain damage, or mental illness.

Just like other parts of the body, the central nervous system gets injured and heels more or less well.

It is a simple fact of life which must be accepted.

In short, I wasn’t the only one to have limitations and secret wounds, and it was ultimately my responsibility to cope with them, rather than making things worse.

For a bad situation can always further deteriorate!

Some people I met in AA were truly inspiring on top of being altruistic, and they helped me reeducate myself.

We would go to the restaurant together after the Friday evening meeting instead of my usual solo bar hopping, and I was even invited to sober house parties, dinners or poker games.

My dear Mom had saved me twice in a decade.

19] 2012: A new beginning

To be honest, I was fortunate during the initial 6 months of recovery, because a lot of good things happened to me.

The promises, as they say in AA, materialized fairly quickly in my case.

For instance, after a contract termination, my IT services company couldn’t find me another assignment, so I got paid without having to work for some time.

I used that freedom to study the AA program and see a psychiatrist.

This latest doctor replaced Rivotril with Lysanxia (Prazepam), a similar benzo that I have been taking every day since then.

In general, it was a period of hope and positive energy, so I tried different things, and I even found myself a new girlfriend.

In the absence of hard work and alcohol, my bad-tripping became almost unnoticeable, and I reduced my daily dose of medicine.

All of this contributed a lot to consolidating my sobriety and restoring my self-confidence.

For many years, I had been thinking of leaving Paris to live in a better environment, but my fragility, lack of courage and alcoholism had prevented me from taking the necessary steps.

However, shortly after sobering up, I translated my CV from French to English, and managed to land a better paying and less demanding job in Brussels.

So I moved there at the beginning of April 2013.

20] 2013: Simplifying my life

Life in Brussels was calmer and more comfortable than the one I had in Paris.

The people I met were not party animals, and there was a much healthier atmosphere in general.

My job was easier and I quickly made new friends.

Simplifying things was a key element of my recovery, and significantly attenuated my symptoms.

I continued going to AA meetings for some time, and further reduced my daily dose of benzos.

On two different occasions, in 2014 and 2015, I stopped working, when I felt bored or overwhelmed, but I never again embarked on a path of self-destruction.

Later, the 2020 pandemic and work from home mandate, enabled me to take breaks when I needed to, which helped a lot.

In the right conditions, programming could actually stimulate my intellect and get me out of my head.

Staying idle for too long was definitely bad for my mental health.

I realized that one of the secrets to my happiness was to constantly alternate between work and leisure, the city and nature, or action and reflection.

Taking care of my physical fitness by practicing sports regularly, and tending to the quality of my relationships, also brought me a lot of joy.

I am utterly grateful I encountered so many kind people since I stopped drinking, because they had a huge influence on my well-being.

My brain cramps and very rare panic attacks still made me suffer, but the overall picture was fine.

21] My current state

I basically got a clean slate and have been enjoying a beautiful life since my relocation, 11 years ago.

But that doesn’t mean things are always easy.

In reality, I have been silently monitoring my disorder on a daily basis since the November 2001 flashback, which can be exhausting in itself.

My symptoms seem to be correlated to many factors like sleep, stress, anxiety or physical activity, but there is also an element of randomness.

As I have said previously, they vary a lot from one hour to the next, and it is extremely difficult to describe them accurately.

If it’s a good day, I will only have weird intermittent sensations in my head, and I know how to ignore that almost completely.

On a bad day, my brain is akin to a contracted muscle, which entails all kinds of problems, but at least I am not afraid of losing my mind.

However, an LSD-like panic attack is a different animal, because it feels like my fearful thoughts might disrupt the connection between my spine, neck and brain.

It is some sort of out of body experience, that could cause a system failure, or an everlasting critical bug in the brain-mind interface, to use a computer science metaphor.

As you can imagine, all of this had a deep impact on almost every aspect of my life.

Depending on my condition, I will interact with people more or less satisfyingly.

For example, if I have severe head cramps, it is painful and difficult to communicate.

And that creates a lot of frustration or emotional instability, hence I sometimes suffer from low self-esteem.

Also, I am deeply convinced that life is more difficult for me than the average, which is why I often give myself the right to cut corners.

Conversely, I have a tendency to overcompensate and be arrogant, when I am well.

Indeed, over the years, I learned a lot of new things and discovered that I wasn’t so dumb after all.

I have met enough truly brilliant people in my elite Parisian schools and the corporate world, to know that I am not one of them.

But the astonishing truth is that I am better than a lot of folks in many domains, despite my ordeal, simply because the average Joe is pretty stupid.

Plus I have become quite resilient, albeit not invincible.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and the one-eyed man is king in the land of the blind, are sayings that often come to my mind…

Therefore my ego can sometimes get out of whack.

22] 2024: Latest assessment

I am writing all of this because I got fired in December 2023, after losing a battle against mediocrity in the workplace, and have decided to use this free time to reevaluate my condition.

Indeed, I hadn’t really done that since moving to Belgium in 2013.

Hence in early 2024, I saw a new psychiatrist in Brussels, and told him my story.

He prescribed me an antipsychotic medicine called Quetiapine (Seroquel), but just like Zyprexa 22 years ago, it didn’t do much, so I stopped after 5 days.

Simultaneously, I tried real hard to control my anxiety in order to get rid of Lysanxia, and didn’t take any for almost 2 weeks.

But the bad-tripping suddenly surged, and in February 2024, I had some very frightening panic attacks at night and even during the day.

I hadn’t experienced such nightmarish episodes in over a decade, and it revived all the bad memories of my November 2001 flashback and its aftermath.

These moments of distress threw me off balance for a few weeks, and I am still unsettled as I am writing this account.

The underlying problem hasn’t gone away, and I have resumed my medication.

After 22 years, I thought benzos had become somewhat of a placebo, but they really make a difference, even if I don’t feel anything when I nibble half a pill in the morning.

I will probably have to take them for the rest of my life.

Also, for the first time, I conducted some extensive online research, to see if other people suffer from similar LSD-induced brain damage.

The Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD) diagnosis came up, and I read several heartbreaking stories on that topic.

The description doesn’t fully match my symptoms, because I don’t have visual snow and the head cramps are not mentioned, but it sounds close enough.

In essence, our doors of perception got smashed by psychedelic drugs.

Unsurprisingly, it is a rare and not well documented mental illness, which is why I decided to contribute to the knowledge base, by explaining to the best of my ability what happened to me.

If my story can help someone, then I will have achieved something worthwhile.

And of course, it is also a way of exorcizing my demons, because for people like us, the battle for normality will never end.

But as the saying goes, it’s not the destination, it’s the journey that matters.

Life is a trip after all.



Edited by Morgan Bryce
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