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Phencyclidine and Ketamine: A View From the Street

 

Here we are in the latter part of the 20th Century facing the most difficult global situation the world has ever seen, and quite capable of blowing ourselves to kingdom come. In an age of personal powerlessness there have to be some avenues for individual explorations of alternative futures. And, if we are of an ilk to have some basic faith that this is an amiable and loving universe and that the resolutions to many of our problems lie much closer to hand than we might imagine, then it falls on the more experimental and adventurous of us to examine all manifestations of the potential for a higher consciousness for members of our race.


From the Soma of the Vedas to the Mysteries of Eleusis, psychoactive drugs have been with us in one form or another for as long as mankind has been seeing visions, and have a profound and noble history of consciousness expansion.


The flood of entheogens (or, transcendogens - I use both these words for the more traditional “hallucinogen” or “psychomimetic” because the preprogram contained in the words offers a move positive trip) that washed through our culture in the late ‘50s and ‘60s, with their indications of a new society of peace and cooperation, seems curiously parallel in timing to the rise in global fear and hostility over the same period. From a wider perspective these two events appear quite connected. Entheogens, including PCP and Ketamine, have the capability, given sensitive “set and settings,” of allowing a great many people a glimpse of the miraculous. And more. For many, this vision goes very deep and ends up permeating their very souls.


Despite the difficulties we are experiencing, especially in our towns and cities, it is my observation that large numbers of young people, through the use of street entheogens, have very considerably expanded their consciousnesses.


In a more academic vein, Walter Pahke’s excellent research in 1966, following twenty theological students through a double-bind experiment with psilocybin, clearly demonstrates that entheogens have the capability, in the proper conditions, of delivering a mystical experience of lasting and substantial value.


We certainly threw the baby out with the bathwater with LSD in the ‘60s. The extraordinary results being achieved in Canada with terminal alcoholics through large single doses of Acid should have been enough evidence that we had an extremely powerful therapeutic tool on our hands. Don’t let’s make the same mistake with phencyclidine.


The speculations and experiences related in this article are, in the main, culled from approximately one-hundred self administered experiments with phencyclidine and ketamine over a two-year period. This breaks down into about sixty with PCP and forty with K. In addition to these personal experiences, I have been able to witness a number of colleagues using these substances in a wide variety of circumstances. I have also read a substantial number of the papers published on the subject since the 1960s.


The thought that readers of The Journal of Psychoactive Drugs might be interested in the firsthand accounts of somebody experienced in using these substances came after reading this Journal’s summary of phencyclidine research in their double issue at the end of last year. Among many reactions, I was struck most forcibly by the evident lack of comprehension shown by the majority of the researchers as to why any sensible or responsible person might seriously wish to experiment with PCP. Almost all the papers sought to investigate the dark side of the drug without really paying too much attention to the potentially positive effects. Since the two sides are intimately related, as they are in everyday life, the results were, in the main, a little inconclusive. I felt, and this may well be anathema to modern researchers, that had some of them taken PCP themselves, this might have avoided some of the more basic misunderstandings. Or at least, threwn some light on the more mysterious issues.


Violence in relationship to PCP usage is just one such misunderstanding. Many people have believed the media horror stories and have tilted their research so heavily in that direction it becomes self-validating. In my two years of PCP experimentation I have seen and heard little that would convince me that PCP is an inherently violence-inducing drug. Alcohol much more aptly fills that description.


Naturally, because it is a very powerful entheogen, there are factors within the dust experience that might lead the inexperienced or misinformed towards taking more aggressive roles in situations, but were more accurate information generally available then the confusion that can occur in the PCP experience, leading to panic, can be mastered.


After hearing many of the cultivated media horror stories about PCP it was extremely satisfying to read in John Neweyer’s paper, “The Epidemiology of PCP Use in the Late 1970s” (p. 215), figures which suggest that the actual problems with PCP are relatively small compared to volume of use. Inadvertently making the same point in another paper, “PCP and Violent Crime: The People v. Peace,” Ronald Siegel isolates six examples of PCP-associated violence presumably out of the forty-five cases examined. In three of these examples there is a clear case pointing to a previous history of violence. In one of them, the subject actually says “...l can’t stop shooting the gun even when stone sober.” (p. 328) In four of the cases guns were used, thus indicating a proclivity for violent behavior, in many cases no doubt invoked well before PCP.


At this point in time it would be most useful (although it would be hard to see funding for it quite yet!) is researchers active in this field might structure experimental situations that are designed to understand this drug’s potential. Perhaps that way we will find out why eight million (media figures and therefore undoubtedly exaggerated) people continue to think that PCP and ketamine are valid and sustaining experiences. This would be of far more value that concentrating on the relatively few cases of violence.


What follows is a slightly modified article written for a popular magazine in the drug culture. It is intended to help those who have either little information or misinformation (sometimes worse) on PCP from the perspective of someone who has had a number of trips. The speculations are largely my own and are often simulated by visionary material received in entheogenically induced metanoiac states of consciousness. In many of these regions there are no maps and one simply had to create one’s own. I freely admit that they may be delusional, but they have worked well for me and in the absence of any more substantive ideas, they will have to do.


One of my closest friends is an eminent psychotherapist and happily keeps a weather eye out for me. So far, so good.


High on the Hog: The Truth About Dust


PCP, Phencyclidine, Angel Dust, Hog, T, The Peace Pill, Bone, Tetch, Rhino, has been the secret and forbidden elixir of millions since first synthesized in the early sixties as an anesthetic. Needless to say, it was soon relegated to the status of an animal tranquilizer when those “unpredictable” side-effects started making themselves known.


The miracle, of course, is that it works at all! We all know that out brains, God bless ‘em, are notoriously selective in what they allow through the blood/brain barrier. After all, LSD and those first generation transcendogens had to masquerade as brain juice serotonin to burst their soft and gentle ways into our consciousness. And now there is evidence of PCP receptors right in our brains in or alongside our opiate centers, and this raises some ticklish issues. So what, we may justly ask, are our brains doing with receptors pre-coded and seemingly waiting for us to synthesize phencyclidine from fossil fuel byproducts? Now that’s a long way down the line from our early ancestors creating religion after chewing on magic mushrooms!


Bad Press


Let’s get this one out of the way to start with. Even High Times up to the last few months consistently referred to PCP as “devil dust,” “the pits,” or some pithy put-down. As for the rest of the press, they invariably present “silly-season” horror stories that predictably increase expectations of violence in the immature user as well as, in all probability, encouraging continued abuse. In general terms, the press, in its own strange cyclic way, has seen that Dust has taken the brunt of the second generation transcendogenic onslaught just as Acid did the first. Well, the Acid issue is being finally put to bed now, with, for example, the Dean of an eminent university pushing hard to bring back its use in research and psychotherapy and sincerely querying whether the authorities (and he’s one) totally overreacted. There is, of course, the dawning realization that Osmund’s startling record of terminal alcoholics redeemed by one or two super-micro doses of LSD-25 stands head and shoulders above any other existing therapy for what is by far the largest addiction in the United States.


Acid really dropped out of the news in the early seventies while we all watched in appalled silence as Nixon sprayed paraquat on our herb fields in Mexico. Well, he got his... and we got ours from the high valleys of California and the Ozarks. And little did anyone realize that with ‘Nam would come all that occult information on the preparation of sinsemilla, let alone seeds the like we’d never seen before, and give us an herb that can clock in at 17% THC content rather than the measly 2% or less for good Colombian and Mexican.


Back to the Hog. Now anyone with any experience of this profound substance has to admit that bizarre and strange things certainly do happen. add to that factor kids shoveling the ingredients together in a bath, snooting great handfuls at a time and, not surprisingly, going a little crazy and you have trouble on your hands. But this springs more from misinformation and it is this to that the media should be addressing itself, not the temporary psychotic interludes of a few courageous and probably frustrated kids. Incidentally, having read most of the scientific papers on Hog published over the last twenty years, I was somewhat surprised considering its reputation, to find no record of any long-term organic damage. No reactions that a few days cooling out couldn’t deal with anyway. So, herein let it be said -- the two cardinal suggestions for maximum PCP pleasure:


1. If you are synthesizing it yourselves, cut it at least 40 to 1, and if you do it straight then all you need to get very stoned is a matchhead.
2. Do your best to avoid being near people who are repressed. Due to the particular nature of Dust, the user is much more susceptible to manifesting the buried feelings of anger and violence in others than in a normal state. We will come to see why this is so later in the article. While I’d researched this article, I dropped in at one of New York’s newer and hipper after-hours clubs to check out the current attitude towards PCP among the young and beautiful. I found, and previous experience backs this up, an across-the-board fear reaction to even the name. The few who’d tried it invariably described overdose trips and the rest simply mouthed typical bad press rhetoric copped from Time magazine or the New York Post.
Personal chemistry connoisseur, Arkansas Billy, a longtime dusthead, puts the overreaction down to misuse and macho excessivism, underscoring the essential factor of intelligent dusting -- LESS IS MORE.


I left the club somewhat saddened by the hysterical rejection of this noble transcendogen and comforted myself with the speculation that PCP itself is in a wide-ranging holding pattern awaiting the time when correct usage will reveal the secret wisdom this drug has to offer.

 


The Roots of Dust


Phencyclidine is synthesized from piperidine along with some minor chemical ingredients, and it is piperidine that is a byproduct of coal tar. Stop to think a moment of what goes into the formation of crude oil and thus, coal tar. As any kid knows, it is the forests, swamps, and decaying material from millions upon millions of years settling deeper and deeper and, through a whole series of chemical changes, turning into what we know as fossil fuels.


So, using the experience gained eating Magic Mushrooms, Peyote, or Yage, those of poetic soul might agree it appears to be the spirit of the plant that empowers the user with the attributes of the particular high.


If this is indeed so, who then is the Mescalito of Angel Dust?


One answer, of course, is right there in the nomenclature, but I see also the presence of the planetary deity, Gaia, the spirit invested in those billions of trees and plants that gave their lives for our hearts and minds and noses.


My informants also tell me of the demise of the dinosaurs who became trapped in the tar pits. So, next time you smoke up a little Dust, taste it for the souls of our lizard friends who ruled the planet for 100 million years. Perhaps also, borrowing generously from the techniques of the monkey gland gerontologists, it is the distilled ingestion of the fermented flesh of those very dinosaurs that provided Cheech and Chong the observation that certain dopers can change into giant lizards.

 


Ego Loss and PCP


It seems a long time since I read that term “ego loss.” Ah, yes! The sixties. Dr. Tim and the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Jesus, remember how we struggled for the white light! Scared we’d stop breathing or float away and never come back. Acid made some things easy and others hard! It introduced us to multiple realities, to utterly new and unexpected spaces in the mind -- and many of us to God HIRself. But likely as not, we had to face and deal with ego loss, death, and sometimes worse, to taste the elixir. Only the bravest got through.


PCP is different. Ego loss is a breeze. Wham! Bang! and it’s gone. You’re fused with the washing machine, a tree, a family cat, and Aunt Millie. And herein lies the problem touched upon earlier. Put bluntly, since the user fuses so fast and, at first, so relatively unexpectedly with almost anything in the environment, and if there are people in that environment who are repressing violence, the dusthead will take on that violence and have somehow to discharge it. For the inexperienced this is very traumatic and can lead to the amnesed acting out of the repressed wishes of the other. In my experience, the only time there seems to be a potential for violence is when there is a very rapid loss of ego. Ego-loss always needs some explaining, particularly as it is not measurable by instruments and seldom articulated by test subjects. It seems that most of the ego programs are housed in the physical body, presumably centering on the brain. With most entheogens there is a period, generally very early in the high (in freebase parlance, it’ll be the “top hit”), when the essential “I,” the mobile consciousness, transcends the limits of the physical body. This is Ego loss.


Anybody who has experienced “white-light” with LSD or mescaline has experienced an ego-loss state. With those first generation transcendogens, however, there was invariably a “death and rebirth” experience which predetermined the manner of ego loss. PCP and Ketamine are somewhat different in character. On one level they are infinitely more benign. Ego loss is a woolly and rather amorphous feeling like breaking through a wall of cotton candy.


However, for the inexperienced user, it can seem excessively fast, and in this state the mobile consciousness can fuse onto almost any life form in its immediate environment. In a well-conceived setting this can lead to states of cosmic and planetary consciousness wherein this mobil unit, “I,” becomes identified with much vaster states of being. PCP and Ketamine can yield the most beautiful, serene, and godlike states, given the right conditions and experience. If there are others in the environment of the user who have repressed feelings of violence or indeed self-destructive tendencies, the user may well respond to those feelings accordingly. He will seek to “take them on” or “act them out.” This syndrome incidentally is quite well documented in mystical literature. Many sufi teachers, and Gurdjieff in particular, were well known for their seemingly irrational outbursts!


If these factors are known to the user, he has much more choice available to him as to whether he wants to “take on” the emotion or deal with it another way.


So, the tip is, don’t do it around uptight people. If it does happen that one wanders by, at least now you know what is happening.


Knowing the above about Dust seems to help by allowing the user a moment or two while the violent feeling is coming on. If you can use that time to pinpoint the source of disequilibrium, then the violence can be discharged without physical expression. This discharge can either be psychic (closing the eyes and visualizing the feeling passing through and out of the body), or can be gotten out of the system through intense activity -- drawing, exercising, drumming, dancing, for example. And for the religiously inclined, a prayer for the uptight person will generally work.


For more experienced travelers, of course, there are the joys of fusing with lovers and friends in weird and wonderful mythological amalgams. Since this fusing takes place in an essentially egoless condition, the users can, to a certain extent, take the vehicle of their choice to travel alone or with others in the out-of-the-body realms. I recall taking Ketamine once (a similar molecule to Phencyclidine) with four others after returning from the country in an open Porsche. The early part of the trip was taken up with replaying the journey at supersonic speed, each of us having fused with each other and the Porsche.


The Gaian Connection


Many millions of years ago, by some recent accounts, DNA in its apparent wisdom, saw fit to program two forms of consciousness into the replicatory chains of organic life on this planet. One, we can call Undifferentiated Consciousness, is the combined interaction of every living thing. Earth Scientist, Jim Lovelock, calls this undifferentiated amalgamated consciousness “Gaia,” and sees in her ebbs and flows a vast evolutionary intelligence who is constantly tending towards the survival of the life spirit.


Cunning as ever, we also see DNA contributing perhaps its most complex codings to an upstart biped with an enlarged cranial cavity. With the development of the prefrontal cortex came the developed recognition of the “I”-ness, of separation and differentiation. (For those raising the cetacean issue, I would say that we don’t know enough about dolphin intelligence yet to determine to what degree their large brains have led them towards a differentiated sense of “I.”) At a certain point in the development of our species we can assume that either accidental or planned ingestion of power plants must have had a profound impact on a race descending from the trees and rummaging around in the shrubbery for edibles. Gordon Wasson, Richard Schultes and others have made a convincing case that the Soma of the Vedas was Amanita Muscaria, the Fly Agaric Mushroom, and that the elixir drunk at Eleusis was an extract of ergot from which we derive LSD.


If we consider the role transcendogens have played in the history of Shamanism and early religious thinking, we have what looks like a consistent passageway to the world of Undifferentiated Spirit, and one which has always been available to the Hold Men and the courageous spirits of history.


Now, moving rapidly to the latter part of the twentieth century, we see the most phenomenal rise in the use of transcendogens. No longer are they the exclusive delight of the few but, with the synthesis of Acid and other chemicals, psychoactive drugs have become the province of millions.


I have little doubt that this extraordinary resurgence has to do with an upcoming mutation of consciousness on the planet with particular regard to fusing with and understanding undifferentiated Gaian consciousness. In other words, these drugs are a training ground for the extraordinary changes to come. Frank Herbert poses a similar issue in his “The Jesus Incident” and marvelously follows the interplay between Avatar, a Gaian consciousness form and the differentiated consciousness of a poet. Great reading for Aquarian Conspirators!
And, just as it was with the early use of power plants and Acid in the sixties, so it is with Dust in the eighties. This new transcendogen, synthesized from the life spirit of all plants, brings us unequivocally into rapport with the Spirit of the Earth herself. From there on, you’re on your own!


Some Tips for the User


Since almost all conventional information channels are down on Dust, here are some guidelines that will enhance the high:


a. If it comes on mint leaf, smoke it until you get that tingling feeling; you don’t need any more after that -- the high will take care of itself.
b. Be aware that if you ingest it in cap form, it takes about an hour to come on -- so don’t think it’s like Acid and that if you’re not stoned after half an hour you need more. Experience will show that the quality of the high will largely depend on the kitchen it came from because there are so many variations on the cut. When you’ve found a cut that works for you, try and stay with that.
c. However you ingest phencyclidine, be sure to drink plenty of cranberry juice. PCP is notorious for lodging in the body, and the combination of organic chemicals in cranberry juice helps to sluice the Hog out of your body.
d. Due to this property, if you go on a Hog binge (and it’s not call Hog for nothing!), be aware that you’ll need smaller and smaller hits since it accumulates in the body. They say after four days you can get a high eating lettuce!
e. Regressive loops: A curious quirk of phencyclidine that I have seen a few times is its capacity to induce in certain people regressive loops. In this state people appear like typically regressed subjects in hypnotic sessions, but with the difference that they get caught in a particular vision or phrase, oscillating forwards and backwards seemingly trapped in that moment. I have never seen anyone harmed by this experience and the best thing is to let them go at it until they return to “normal” consciousness. One user of my acquaintance turns into a duck quite regularly on Dust. One can be having an apparently extremely complex and intelligent conversation with him only to have him punctuate the points with a couple of quacks. “Quack! Quack!” he goes quite seriously and to the issue. We just have to wait ‘til the duck goes away.


A psychotherapeutic note: From a brief survey of regressive loops, it seems that certain people will retreat during the PCP experience to a point of stuckness in their development, repaying endlessly the focal point of their problems. Obviously, these people are unlikely to enjoy or want to repeat the Dust high but, is and when PCP becomes accepted as a psychotherapeutic tool, this factor could be very important as a way of locating blocks and barriers in the maturation process.

 


The Schizomimetic Effect


Anyone studying the lives of saints, prophets, mystics and seers will undoubtedly realize that the line between Cosmic or God-Consciousness, and full-blown schizophrenia is hard to define and yet unmistakably substantial. Both states can be traced to profound biochemical alterations and many of the apparent effects can be cross-identified but, from a subjective point of view and with few exceptions, God-consciousness is qualitatively wholly different from the trapped agonies of the schizophrenic.


What PCP can do, and probably more effectively that Acid ever did, is to yield an arena in which the user, through focused attention, can decide to explore states of expanded consciousness. (Actually Timothy Leary’s word, Contelligence, a word salad of consciousness and intelligence, is a far better metaphor for what it is that we are trying to expand.) Through this expanded contelligence the sensitive user will not only be required to cope with the ecstatic and rapturous aspects of God-consciousness but he must also be prepared to face all that is in our world.


With entheogens it is possible to envision these negative forces as mythological and sometimes demonic thought forms and beat them through courage and knowledge. (Interestingly enough, PCP is often called “Demon dope” on the street.)


This is an observed feature in the work of both Carlos Castaneda, who talks much about The Alley, and Dr. John Lilly, who has had more than one confrontation with the demons.
In almost every account in the literature and thoughout my own experience, I have found that these demons are an illusion, a very solid one granted, that is fed by fear. This is both the accumulated fear of all who have empowered the “demonic” and the user’s own fear. However, it is a fear that can be “gotten on top of” and the demons turn quite unexpectedly into angels or guides who will transport the user to new levels of transcendent consciousness. Whether these forms have some sort of internal “objective reality,” since they have been experienced by so many, depends on one’s mindset, but the fact remains that they are there! I can only presume that they form some sort of barrier that exists to keep all but the bravest from breaking through.


Street Etymology


As any cultural anthropologist might examine artifacts or the names for artifacts from a different time, so we might also catch a glimpse of what the street dusthead thinks of his drug from the many and varied street names for PCP.


1. Angel Dust. This is the preferred name of the cognoscenti and the dust of angels it certainly is. Of all the entheogens, PCP transports the user to the land of the angels. Angelic presence certainly does exist (even as one of mankind’s most persistent delusions) and they seem to be smiling on their dust.


2. Peace Pill, Lovely, Lovely High. Curiously benign names for a drug that has come through the media to be identified with violence! There is surely no more tranquil space in the pharmosphere than a full-blown, blitzed-out, Dust high!


3. Hog, Goon, Amoeba. All describe specific body sensations while in different realms of consciousness. Hog, because it can turn you temporarily hog-wild for more Hog; Goon, I reckon because of the stupidity of the regressive loops; Amoeba because that is an excellent sensory description of aspects of an egoless state.


4. “T” or THC. After the initial media down on PCP, it was sold largely in the homosexual community as THC to avoid the unfavorable possibility that it might be demon dust. Everybody knew what it was in their hearts, but went ahead anyway. The name is dated now because, as almost everybody knows, THC can only be suspended in an oil-based medium.


5. Surfer, Cadillac, Mist, Rocket Fuel. All these tend to be self-explanatory and indicative of a highly appreciative audience out there.

 

The Ketamine Molecule


Phencyclidine and Ketamine Hydrochloride are very closely related on a molecular level. Ketamine was developed during Vietnam as a quick and efficient battlefield anesthetic. It is still used as such in some medical contingencies, but in quantities about five times what you need to get high. Ketamine is like a courteous PCP. It comes on much cleaner and more pharmaceutical, but the essential similarities with the more sturdy phencyclidine are there. The optimum method for taking Ketamine is undoubtedly by intra-muscular injection, although it can be snorted. The i-m introduces two very different but equally interesting ways of dealing with the K high. Surrendering to it and sinking into the rush can provide an incredible intergalactic, space-traveling, out-of-the-body high, more vivid in my experience than any other comparable transcendogen, except Dust. The other option, that of keeping on top of the rush and allowing the drug to act like a rocket booster, provides a truly remarkable “open-eye” experience. Under these circumstances it is not unusual to have visitors from other levels and dimensions appearing within the “K space,” or the distinct impression that one has been transported to another dimension or planet.


Both applications seem important to a generation that will see the start of space migration as well as witnessing some of the first inter-species meetings.


PCP and the Future


Taking a wider view, the best, albeit fictional, analogue for PCP is the melange spice that permeates Frank Herbert’s DUNE quartet. Whereas Acid and Mescaline and the first generation transcendogens concentrate mainly on producing visual and spacial effects, PCP and Ketamine veer towards temporal distortions. This dilation and contraction of time raises some vital questions concerning the subjectivity of the time/space continuum and might possibly open the door to some rudimentary experiments in time travel.


The association of PCP with deathlike experiences undoubtedly relates to the inexperienced user’s attempts to cope with rapid ego loss. Once this is appreciated, breaking through the “skin” of ego-oriented reality into other realities becomes a much simpler and less scary operation.


It has been my observation that the use of both Ketamine and Phencyclidine will allow a much enhanced understanding of the potentialities of time travel and of fusing with undifferentiated consciousness forms. They will, in all probability, provide a meeting arena for inner-dimensional entities, spirit guides, extra-temporals and extraterrestrials, and can lead toward a reperception of the possibility of telepathy and teleportation.


The above essentially holds true whether or not these levels of perception have any objective or external reality. There will doubtless come a time when we will have to meet entities from different worlds and universes from our own. Supposing, for example, they are telepathic. Humans have a tremendous antipathy for telepathy -- all those little secrets! How does one relate to another being who knows you inside out? So little real thought has been given to the impact that a meeting with an intelligent alien species might have on the structure of reality as we now know it. PCP and K give us a substance, a pharmosphere in which we can enact these meeting and come to study in advance the implications of interspecies communication.


Any change in the consciousness of a race, let alone the imminent quantum leap in contellignece perceived by so many, emerges out of the extreme and stressful conditions which a growing species brings upon itself. The present is no different. The wise and sensitive use of these second generation transcendogens can go a long way toward helping make the Great Breakthrough.

 


© Ronald Cornelius -- July 1981

 

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