One bright morning in May 1953, Aldous Huxley dissolved four-tenths of a gram of mescaline in a glass of water, drank it, and waited to see what happened.
It wasn’t idle curiosity that drove the author of Brave New World to try the psychedelic alkaloid of the peyote cactus. Late in life, he had questions that remained unanswered. Chief among them were questions about perception, self-knowledge, and human connection.
“We live together, we act on, and react to, one another; but always and in all circumstances we are by ourselves,” Huxley wrote in The Doors of Perception, the 1954 account of his mescaline experiment. “The martyrs go hand in hand into the arena; they are crucified alone. Embraced, the lovers desperately try to fuse their insulated ecstasies into a single self-transcendence; in vain. By its very nature every embodied spirit is doomed to suffer and enjoy in solitude.”
For the second episode of the Brutal South Podcast, I brought on a guest who shared his experience with another psychedelic drug, the psilocybin mushroom, which has been compared to mescaline for its hallucinogenic and therapeutic qualities.
Adam F. Naughton spent much of his 20s working for Republican politicians in South Carolina before undertaking some radical changes in his life and worldview. He now considers himself a socialist, and he has gotten involved with disability activism. While no single experience pushed him over the edge, he says taking psilocybin while undergoing integration therapy helped him see the world in a different light.
I’m no drug evangelist, and I’ve never tried psychedelics, but I am fascinated by their potential. If you are interested in learning more, John Semley has an excellent piece on the state of psychedelic therapy in the May issue of The New Republic (currently it’s for subscribers only; sorry). I am also pretty pleased with this feature I wrote for the Charleston City Paper in 2014 about an Iraq War veteran who found relief from PTSD in a clinical therapy trial involving MDMA, also known as ecstasy.
The Brutal South Podcast is available via the Apple Podcasts library and most podcast player apps. Subscribe if you like it, and don’t forget to leave a nice review.
The image at the top is “Encounter” (1908) by the Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky.