Acid Again

As LSD does a slow fade, a Fort Lauderdale researcher keeps the science trip going

Wollman giggles at the memory, as Lyttle stares at the ceiling, noticeably uneasy.

"It was green gel acid," Wollman continues cheerfully. "Windowpane. We were all scared that if we stopped holding hands, we'd lose contact with each other and be totally lost in space." Lyttle lets out an enormous sigh, shuts his eyes, and folds his arms across his barrel chest.

Wollman was 14 when he first tried acid. Born and raised in Miami Beach but later traveling the world as an Army medic, he returned in 1996 to Fort Lauderdale, where he unashamedly maintains his ties to those who dabble in mind travel.

Lyttle's library.
Colby Katz
Lyttle's library.
"Talent scout" Scott Wollman.
Colby Katz
"Talent scout" Scott Wollman.

"Scott was a shadowy figure, kind of an underworld type," remembers their mutual friend Robert Demarest, alluding to Wollman's "shady past."

By the time Wollman casually mentions his link to Lumonics, the Fort Lauderdale light museum known for its connection to the rave scene and Ecstasy subculture, Lyttle has had quite enough.

"I have nothing to do with anything illegal," he says with a dismissive wave of his hand. "All this stuff we're talking about, I have no interest in. Nothing. None." He crosses his arms again in finality, clearly anxious to maintain his goody-goody façade.

Wollman, taken aback, begins, "He's right, this is not my -- "

"No, it's not, Scott," Lyttle snarls, cutting him off. "I have nothing to do with the local underground or the illegal drug scene."

Steaming and monosyllabic, Lyttle calls a quick end to the interview but agrees to meet again in a few days.

And then, when he answers the door -- still barefoot, still nursing a Coke and a smoke -- he appears less hotheaded. Wollman's home but darts into a back bedroom. Lyttle makes it abundantly (and repeatedly) clear that his interest in expanded consciousness is never anything less than aboveboard.

"Even though," Lyttle is quick to point out, "I've tried a lot of these drugs."

Lyttle's reticence is understandable, considering the kind of resources law enforcement agents direct at illegal drug use.

Before LSD became the ultimate pop drug in the '60s, though, it wasn't illegal. After its power was unleashed in 1943, it was appropriated by the CIA, which undertook clandestine experiments with an eye toward using LSD as a mind-control drug. It was briefly used in a therapeutic context, lowering inhibitions and allowing the subconscious to be plumbed. Harvard researcher Timothy Leary saw a future where we'd all turn on, tune in, and drop out.

But in 1967, after rogue chemists took it from government-controlled pharmaceutical labs to the clandestine underground, the U.S. placed LSD in the category of a Schedule I narcotic. In the same boat with heroin and cocaine, it was labeled as being without any redeeming medical benefit to society. That drove the drug deep underground.

Even so, LSD remained until recently the most cost-effective method of watching walls melt or temporarily gaining the ability to taste colors. The average cost of a hit of acid was $2 to $5. Now -- if you're lucky enough to find a "travel agent" to hook you up -- a single hit of blotter can cost $20.

The sort of renewed interest that researchers like Lyttle have lent LSD is happening just as the drug itself is more memory -- for a large portion of the baby boomer and Gen X generations -- than reality. The demise of both the Grateful Dead and Phish as touring entities, of course, shut down one huge LSD pipeline. A massive Drug Enforcement Administration bust in 2000 landed two Kansas men in prison and closed down the nation's largest-ever LSD lab, which had operated inside an abandoned missile silo.

"Acid has not been in vogue in South Florida for many, many years," Lyttle reports. "It's harder than ever to come by."

The zing of the tongue tingle, that aching anticipation of impending liftoff, and those hours of laughing one's face off are fewer and farther between. It all adds up to a lot of minds not getting blown.

Associates of Lyttle's who do possess advanced degrees are quick to include him in their ranks.

"Thom is really dedicated to psychedelic research," claims Dr. Manolo Torres, an art-history professor at Florida International University with a particular interest in the psychedelic art of pre-Colombian civilizations in South America. "He's a great compiler of the contemporary culture of psychedelics. His archive will be a great resource in the future."

Lyttle's primary accomplishment to this end includes the five volumes of Psychedelic Monographs & Essays he has edited and published. In 1985, he started issuing these journals, which compile research pertaining to the scientific and medical study, religious use, and academic examination of the culture of mind-expanding substances.

Touching upon every possible aspect of psychedelic study, the books document close encounters with MDMA (Ecstasy), the harvesting and storage of mushrooms, techniques of "lucid dreaming," in-depth investigations into the teachings of Carlos Castenada, even discussions with William S. Burroughs and Timothy Leary. Lyttle's own contributions include heady essays along the lines of "Neurostructuralism and Hallucination."

His most recent compilations include 1994's Psychedelics and 1999's Psychedelics Reimagined. The latter features a waggish introduction, written by Leary shortly before his death, in which he explains, "Thomas Lyttle wanted to find out what's happening within 'Psychedelics 101,'" and refers to him as a "digital basketweaver who has collected all this e-fruit."

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