By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
The first time Thomas Lyttle dropped acid,he had a bad trip. His high school friends had to sit on his chest just to keep him from flailing around the room. Terrified, the 16-year-old thought he was going to die, or at least lose his marbles. "I took too much," he says in retrospect.
But his explorations, which began with that 1974 incident, were far from over. Convinced his initial freak-out was just a fluke, Lyttle talked to seasoned users and read as much as he could on the subject of hallucinogens. The bad trip, he says, persuaded him to start doing research.
A few months later, he tried again. This time: cosmic bliss. "I had a wonderful, Zen-like, euphoric experience," Lyttle says. "For the very first time, I saw that everyone has a spiritual aspect."
Raised in a strict Catholic environment in Marietta, Ohio, the youngster's upbringing included attending school that was part of a convent. As a result, his curiosity worked overtime. Like a stubborn explorer determined to reach the North Pole even at the expense of losing a few huskies to the cold, Lyttle kept on tripping.
Millions of young people followed in the teenaged footsteps of Lyttle, now 46, a Fort Lauderdale resident and one of the world's foremost experts on psychotropic drugs.
The ballyhoo was that LSD was helping the thick-headed Western world finally catch up to the nuances of Eastern philosophy. As a cultural phenomenon, it gave users remarkable insights previously unattainable. Not only did it dilate pupils; it opened wide the mind's eye. For less than the price of a black-light poster, the entire universe could be explored inside one's bedroom. Visionaries like Lyttle contended that the drug had an enormous potential for good in terms of social change and expanded awareness.
Who knows how many frat boys reconsidered that impulse to jump on the Barry Goldwater bandwagon after ditching class and dropping a few hits?
In 1977, three years after Lyttle's first acid trip, the National Institute on Drug Abuse estimated that 6 percent of the population of the United States over the age of 12, about 10 million people, had used hallucinogenic drugs. In the 18-to-25 age group, the rate of usage went up to 20 percent.
Finally, Lyttle and other serious mind gazers said, everyday civilians had a chance to discover beauty in the mundane, to unlock the secrets of the cosmos, to unravel the mysteries of nature, to smell and taste and feel and touch their surroundings with the yoke of reality finally removed.
"Most people," Lyttle says, "just don't realize what lies deep down in the mind."
The young acid-tripper from Ohio has now developed into a respected scholar. Society, Lyttle reasons, could benefit from acid. To help the process along, he began his secondary career as an archivist, compiling data to supplement his own firsthand research. The amateur drug bibliographer gradually amassed a 5,000-volume library and a collection of 20,000 academic documents on altered states of consciousness.
Nowadays, Lyttle is best-known for the eight books he's put forth on psychedelic research -- the last two released through well-known Madison Avenue publishing houses. He continues to work with the creators of LSD and Ecstasy to get official acceptance of the drugs as research tools. He has also helped spearhead a movement in which sheets of blotter acid and their quirky designs have moved from street dealers' pockets to galleries of fine art. All of this he has accomplished with nothing more than a high school education and a passion for learning as much as possible about psychoactive chemicals.
His mission, after 30 years of study: to undemonize acid.
Ironically, Lyttle is achieving some success just as LSD has been virtually expunged from the underground drug landscape.
Despite the inherent trippiness and counterculture bent of his subject matter, Lyttle is adamant that his fascination with these compounds is scholarly in nature, his days of willful experimentation long past. He takes great pains to keep the two realms separate.
On a warm winter afternoon, Lyttle and his roommate, Scott Wollman, shuffle around their small Imperial Point apartment in bare feet. Lyttle's a big sheepdog in a baggy red sweatshirt, wire reading glasses, and damp gray hair. His only vices now are Coca-Cola classic and Rothman's Special cigarettes. Wollman, wearing an unbuttoned shirt festooned with pot leaves, looks like the friendly, balding uncle you'd sneak bong hits with in the basement.
Except for a few brass statues of Kali and Shiva, the living room is unpretentious, almost grandmotherly, with plush couches and carpet. Lyttle's bedroom is packed floor to ceiling with his book collection, his walls adorned with mounted, signed, and framed sheets of blotter-acid art that he and Wollman collect and sell.
"Scott's kind of a roving talent scout," Lyttle explains in a low monotone. "He finds unusual artists and gallery shows." Lyttle hardly ever cracks a smile; the playful Wollman, on the other hand, wears a silly smirk. He's got the faraway look of someone who's intimately familiar with more than a few lysergic adventures.
"Once, in Los Angeles, eight of us had this great group trip," tells 49-year-old Wollman. "We did about seven or eight hits apiece. That was really fun. We were all holding hands in a circle and flying around the universe, and I kept seeing Baby Huey laughing at me."